The Truth about the Power of Standardized Test Scores

Published   February 11, 2009 |
Learn about the true importance of standardized test scores in today’s competitive college admissions process.
After hours of cramming, attending test prep courses, and enduring long hours of practice exams, students do have to wonder: how much do standardized test scores really matter? 
  
Some experts argue that standardized test scores are not an accurate measure of a student’s intelligence, while others assert that these scores help to more accurately gauge a student’s abilities. With this raging debate, recent studies are revealing the true influence of standardized test scores on a high school student’s college application and acceptance. 
 
Why Take Standardized Tests?
 
With a rising number of students applying to both community colleges and universities, most schools are now requiring that all applicants complete standardized tests. The most popular standardized tests include assessments such as the SAT or the ACT. In fact, according to Scholastic, American students today are among the most tested students in the world! Studies show that students, all combined, in the United States take nearly 100 million tests each year.  
 
With the excessive testing forced upon American children and teens, many are led to the question: what’s the point? As Scholastic further explains, there is an array of reasons and purposes for these tests. Specifically, standardized tests are “Viewed as a measure of teacher and school competence and, in some cases, can affect a child's future placement in a school.” 
 
Some tests are solely designed to ensure that all students are meeting average progress rates, while other tests are targeted at assessing each student’s unique abilities as they continue on to apply for higher education institutions. All of these standardized scores are assessed and scrutinized for various reasons and purposes; however, some experts debate over whether or not these scores truly play a role in a college applicant’s acceptance or denial to one’s school of choice.
 
Peering Through the Collegiate Looking Glass
 
According to Time Magazine, colleges look at more than an applicant’s mere standardized test scores. Specifically, colleges examine each applicant’s overall GPA, course work, extracurricular activities, and the entry essay. In addition to these elements, of course, a college does in fact take note of a student’s test results. The main answer as to whether or not one’s test scores really matters is totally dependent upon each school and university’s acceptance standards.   
 
Essentially, each university designates a specific percentage of weight for each element of an applicant’s information. For example, one school may count a student’s test scores as 50 percent of their application weight, while another school may only designate 25 percent of value to the SAT. With unique acceptance standards, each individual school has a different formula that determines the significance of the various application factors, including GPA, test scores, recommendation letters, and other considerations. 
 
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, over 60 percent of schools in the United States designate more weight to an applicant’s standardized test scores than any other category.  In addition, it appears that universities, especially the elite ones, are giving increased value to the SAT score in their admissions evaluation. For example, over 78% of freshmen entering into Yale University in 2007 had math and verbal SAT scores over 700 – which is a stark contrast to the numbers in 1989, when only 33% of freshman had verbal scores of 700. 
 
Penn College of Liberal and Professional Studies is one example of a school that denotes a large portion of weight to standardized scores. According to Penn, various standardized tests are required for a student to send in his or her application for review. As Penn reveals, these various tests and each student’s scores play a major role in whether or not an applicant is accepted or denied. 
 
Are My Test Scores High Enough?
 
As a potential applicant begins to seek out schools of interest, it is highly recommended that all students review each school’s average acceptance rates and information. For example, most universities post their average accepted student’s SAT/ACT scores, in addition to the average accepted student’s GPA. If you are far off from these average rankings, then you may want to consider re-taking your standardized test, or you may even want to begin looking into additional back-up schools for an alternate plan if you’re not admitted. 
 
The best approach when applying to any college is to plan ahead. Allow yourself to take the required standardized tests multiple times if needed. Also, even if you’re average scores put you in a position where you’re confident you will be accepted to your school of choice, always prepare for the possibility that you may be turned down. As schools are receiving an increasingly large quantity of applicants each year, the acceptance standards continue to soar. Apply to several schools so you don’t find yourself trapped without a back-up agenda.

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