Most of the world looks at tests as, at best, necessary evils. Some hold exams of every stripe even lower in their esteem, considering tests malicious wastes of time. However, considering how pervasive assessments are in academic and professional circles, we can all benefit from a bit of perspective. Before you condemn a test, consider its context and intrinsic merit.
This is not to say that all tests have value. If we’ve learned nothing from the opt-out movement inspired by Common Core exams that seemed to test students but grade schools and teachers, it’s that some exams truly are pointless. But most as instruments of education and assessment serve their purpose admirably, whether you respect them or not. Anyone aiming to ace their big tests might want to stop sneering and start understanding why the tests matter in the first place.
For example, most colleges and graduate institutions require some sort of entrance exam as part of their application process. Complaining about exams like the SAT and ACT or railing against standardized testing in general misses a critical point: institutions of higher education find value in the data produced by these assessments. In fact, most schools find that they make better admissions decisions when they include test scores than when they leave them out. If that’s the case, the tests themselves must have value.
For example, think about the process to get a driver license in New York. Before you can get a license, you must take the written test. The Department of Motor Vehicles helpfully advises that you can prepare by reading the New York State Driver’s Manual and taking practice tests. Once you’ve passed the written test, you must have supervised driving practice and take a pre-licensing course or a driver education course before you take your road test. Pass that road test, and you’ve earned your ticket to ride.
Some may reasonably argue that some of the content of the written (braking distance) and road (parallel parking) tests seems irrelevant to success as a driver. Others may complain that the road test is nerve-wracking and that driving hopefuls would perform much better in a less stressful environment. Still others could accurately point out that some drivers without licenses drive safely whereas many drivers who pass all the tests still get into accidents. While all of these points have merit, who would argue against the individual and collective benefits of an educational process that includes specific assessments to ensure that those who seek a license to drive prove their ability to operate a vehicle safely?
How can you determine whether a test deserves your respect? Consider the following important questions:
- Is the test valid, reliable, and fair?
- Is the test designed by real experts in both subject matter and test design?
- Is the test integrated into a larger educational or assessment process?
- Does the person taking the test derive direct benefit from the experience and/or results?
Every well-designed test in this world presents an opportunity to prove, prevail, assess, or advance. Rising above ignorance and emotion to learn to respect and ultimately trust such a test will improve your ability to prepare yourself or others for it.