Standardized tests are a common and popular way to evaluate the academic achievements of students, teachers, and school districts. They are used in many areas, such as in the army, civil service, medicine, and so on, but primarily standardized tests are associated with academic performance. Many arguments in favor of the usage of these tests have been put forward, as well as a number against, since this method of monitoring and evaluating academic success has both benefits and drawbacks.
Standardized tests are most widely used in the field of education to assess the academic performance of students. Two commonly known types of standardized tests in the USA are the SAT and the ACT. The SAT evaluates skills in vocabulary and mathematics, while the ACT has more to do with a broader range of knowledge and includes additional subjects, such as science. Among the other most-known tests are the PSAT, National Achievement Tests, and SAT II examinations.
One of the main purposes of testing is to set a standard: a performance baseline of progress for all parties involved in the educational process—students, teachers, and school districts, and to hold them accountable for achieving it. The idea is to detect areas where students usually fail, or fall behind and promote improvement, not punish them (Strong 24). Besides, tests help remove bias some teachers may exhibit towards students and make the evaluation process more objective. This is usually achieved by using special automatic machines that score exams. Also, due to the usage of these methods, the potential of human error is decreased, or even eliminated.
On the other hand, the exploitation of the system of standardized testing is linked to a number of issues. Thus, many feel that tests do not provide accurate evaluations of a student’s knowledge and learning capabilities, particularly due to the fact that in order to pass a test, rote memorization is preferred to critical thinking and higher learning (Strong 254). Critics of standardized testing often claim it contributes to the rise of academic dishonesty, as the pursuit of knowledge becomes a pursuit of higher test scores. Besides, the emotional state of students may be destabilized due to test-taking. The environment, fostering constant competition and even rivalry may create excessive stress and test-anxiety. A person who gets a low test score may become discouraged from pursuing further academic success. Perhaps one of the most serious drawbacks of using standardized testing is connected to discrimination. Holding all schools and students to the same national standards may infringe on the rights of students with disabilities, lower socio-economic statuses, those who learn English as a second language, students of different nationalities, and so on.
One can see that standardized testing is a universal method of evaluating those skills to which tests are targeted, which aim to reduce or even excludes bias, partiality, or the potential of human error. Standardized tests are meant to set a high standard and promote objectivity. However, this method is not perfect and involves a number of issues. The most critical among them are the preference accorded to memorization over critical and analytic thinking; the encouragement of academic dishonesty; infringing on students’ emotional state, and even some elements of discrimination. Evaluating both sides of the argument allows for improvements to be made, while still encouraging students to strive for the highest academic achievement.
Strong, Malena. The Truth about Standardized Tests. New York: Big Tree Publishers, 2004. Print.
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Back to Helpful HandoutsoWriting Center Home PageBefore the Exam: Prepare and Practice
Writing a good essay requires synthesis of material that cannot be done in the 20-30 minutes you have during the exam. In the days before the exam, you should:
- Anticipate test questions. Look at the question from the last exam. Did the question ask you to apply a theory to historical or contemporary events? Did you have to compare/contrast theories? Did you have to prove an argument? Imagine yourself in the role of the instructor--what did the instructor emphasize? What are the big ideas in the course?
- Practice writing. You may decide to write a summary of each theory you have been discussing, or a short description of the historical or contemporary events you've been studying. Focus on clarity, conciseness, and understanding the differences between the theories.
- Memorize key events, facts, and names. You will have to support your argument with evidence, and this may involve memorizing some key events, or the names of theorists, etc.
- Organize your ideas. Knowledge of the subject matter is only part of the preparation process. You need to spend some time thinking about how to organize your ideas. Let's say the question asks you to compare and contrast what regime theory and hegemonic stability theory would predict about post-cold war nuclear proliferation. The key components of an answer to this question must include:
- A definition of the theories
- A brief description of the issue
- A comparison of the two theories' predictions
- A clear and logical contrasting of the theories (noting how and why they are different)
Many students start writing furiously after scanning the essay question. Do not do this! Instead, try the following:
- Perform a "memory dump." Write down all the information you have had to memorize for the exam in note form.
- Read the questions and instructions carefully. Read over all the questions on the exam. If you simply answer each question as you encounter it, you may give certain information or evidence to one question that is more suitable for another. Be sure to identify all parts of the question.
- Formulate a thesis that answers the question. You can use the wording from the question. There is not time for an elaborate introduction, but be sure to introduce the topic, your argument, and how you will support your thesis (do this in your first paragraph).
- Organize your supporting points. Before you proceed with the body of the essay, write an outline that summarizes your main supporting points. Check to make sure you are answering all parts of the question. Coherent organization is one of the most important characteristics of a good essay.
- Make a persuasive argument. Most essays in political science ask you to make some kind of argument. While there are no right answers, there are more and less persuasive answers. What makes an argument persuasive?
- A clear point that is being argued (a thesis)
- Sufficient evidenct to support that thesis
- Logical progression of ideas throughout the essay
- Review your essay. Take a few minutes to re-read your essay. Correct grammatical mistakes, check to see that you have answered all parts of the question.
Essay exams can be stressful. You may draw a blank, run out of time, or find that you neglected an important part of the course in studying for the test. Of course, good preparation and time management can help you avoid these negative experiences. Some things to keep in mind as you write your essay include the following:
- Avoid excuses. Don't write at the end that you ran out of time, or did not have time to study because you were sick. Make an appointment with your TA to discuss these things after the exam.
- Don't "pad" your answer. Instructors are usually quite adept at detecting student bluffing. They give no credit for elaboration of the obvious. If you are stuck, you can elaborate on what you do know, as long as it relates to the question.
- Avoid the "kitchen sink" approach. Many students simply write down everything they know about a particular topic, without relating the information to the question. Everything you include in your answer should help to answer the question and support your thesis. You need to show how/why the information is relevant -- don't leave it up to your instructor to figure this out!
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