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Standardized Tests, Anyone?

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By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer

Once again, strange things happen in the year 2020: we experience not only the coronavirus pandemic but also its repercussions, some of which are only starting to surface.  Through these, we can understand a lot more about the values of some of the things that we have taken for granted.  One such thing is the standardized tests like SAT and ACT.  We all know that these tests have been cancelled until late summer, and other tests that have also been cancelled include the International A-level Exam, which a lot of universities use to base their admission criteria on.  The way that they handle the cancellation of these tests is worth a closer look.

I am speaking from my own experience here because my daughter is one of the students in this year’s A-level tests.  Since the cancellation of these tests, the universities have no way of assessing the abilities of these students.  Therefore, after much delay, they came up with another scheme.  The process goes something like this: the schools will first submit the predicted grades of the students.  Together with these submissions, the schools will also have to rank-and-rate their own students.  After that, they will submit these results to the test centers, which then will rank-and-rate the students for a second time and submit the results to the Exam Board.  The Exam Board will again rank-and-rate them for the third time and give these students their A-level grades.  It is not difficult to see that throughout this whole process, there is very little transparency.  What criteria do the test centers and the Exam Boards use to rank-and-rate all these students?  Nobody knows for sure.  What are the final grades going to look like?  This is the whole mystery of the process.  How will the universities look at these grades?  This is the million-dollar question.

Under such circumstances, I would rather take the standardized tests and take my chances.  At least in that way, I have a higher confidence of what my scores will be (based on previous tests), instead of leaving them to the test centers and Exam Boards to do their own ranking and rating.  I am using the A-level tests in this case to illustrate that students are better off taking standardized tests in order to have a “fair fighting chance” to show how good they are, rather than relying on some other third-parties to determine their scores based on some unknown criteria.  College application in the US works in the same way.  For many years, pundits have been saying that the SAT/ACT should be abolished because they are unfair to certain categories of students.  There is obviously some truth in this, but do we have a better alternative?  Without these tests, how can we have a better and fairer way of evaluating these students?  Without these tests, how can students show they are just as good or better than the students who go to other schools?  Without these tests, wouldn’t universities just admit those students who have good grades from more prestigious schools?

In the US, half of all high school students graduate with an A average.  How meaningful is an A then?  For adults, eighty percent of people think they are above average.  Is this really possible?  The only way for universities to differentiate students is still by using the standardized tests to tell them who is average, above average, or below average.  These tests are not perfect, but I believe they are the best assessments that we have.  Those universities that do not require SAT/ACT scores only tell us that they care more about other things than their students’ academic abilities.  For those that care, the standardized tests are still more democratic, transparent, and accessible than other rank-and-rate schemes.

Mr. Paul Lim

Mr. Paul Lim

Kaplan SAT and ACT Trainer

MBA, National University of Singapore

B.Sc., Harvey Mudd College

TBE

TESOL

  • Over 15+ years of experience in teaching SAT and ACT
  • Graduated from a prestigious U.S. college
  • Proven record in helping students achieve a perfect subject section score of 800
  • Author of a book on effective learning strategies for mastering vocabulary

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