Standardized Tests: All You Need to Know

August 2, 2023
By AdmissionSight
Group of students taking an exam.

Standardized Tests: All You Need to Know

Standardized tests are a crucial part of the educational journey for many students. These tests can determine college admissions, scholarships, and even career opportunities.

What is a standardized test

What is meant by a “standardized examination”? A test is considered to be standardized when the questions, conditions for administering the test, scoring technique, and interpretations all remain constant throughout the testing process.

The administration and grading of standardized examinations follow strict protocols that have been established in advance. When all of the students taking a test are required to respond in the same way to a predetermined list of questions, we say that the test has been standardized. Those who look at the results can then make comparisons between the various groups of students because of this.

The majority of the questions on these examinations are of the multiple-choice or true-false variety, since doing so increases the likelihood that the outcomes will be impartial and objective, leaving less room for subjectivity or preference in the grading of the responses.

A student sitting on the desk while taking a test

What is the purpose of a standardized test?

What are the goals of taking an exam that is standardized? Exams that are standardized are administered in schools as a means of providing teachers with an objective and impartial evaluation of the effectiveness of their instruction.

Standardized testing makes it possible to determine which natural aptitudes each child naturally possesses. They also make it possible to measure one’s progress and skill improvement.

In addition to this, the outcomes of assessments can be used to evaluate the overall effectiveness of a school.

The findings provide evidence of the degree to which the students are learning and comprehending the fundamental concepts that are presented in the classroom.

Even though standardized tests cannot provide a precise picture of a student’s most important talents, they can indicate which subject areas the student excels in.

If the opportunity is provided, they can also assess which pupils need additional support in certain courses and which ones are ready to move on to study more difficult areas.

The following reasons for administering standardized examinations are discussed in detail below.

Reason 1: Objectivity

Standardized examinations are designed to objectively measure a student’s theoretical understanding of specific subject areas.

Students are graded based on their performance on a test that consists of the same questions, is given in nearly identically controlled conditions, and is either graded by a computer or by a reviewer who remains anonymous.

They are meant to produce an accurate, unrefined evaluation of a student’s knowledge without any kind of filtering.

Reason 2: Comparability

The objectivity of standardized examinations makes it possible to make meaningful comparisons of students’ levels of success, which is beneficial for educators and the student’s families.

Many parents, for example, are curious as to whether or not their child is meeting the requirements set forth by the state or how their child fares academically compared to students from other parts of the country.

Educators frequently utilize countrywide test results to compare students’ academic standing across different schools and districts.

Reason 3: Accountability

Whether you agree with it or not, using data from standardized examinations is currently the method of choice for holding schools accountable for the level of educational quality they provide.

Using scores on standardized tests as a basis for state accountability mechanisms can help identify those with a high level of achievement.

How does standardized testing influence college admissions?

Students answering a tests on a table.

Standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT have long been a prominent factor in the college admissions process in the United States. However, the extent of their influence can vary significantly between institutions and over time.

Let’s explore how admissions officers use these scores and their overall impact on the admissions process.

A Standardized Measure of Academic Ability

Standardized test scores provide colleges with a uniform metric to compare students across different schools, states, and even countries. Unlike GPAs, which may vary in rigor from one school to another, standardized tests aim to measure students’ abilities in subjects like math, critical reading, and writing on a common scale.

Weight in the Admissions Process

The weight that standardized test scores carry in the admissions process varies by college and can change over time:

  • Highly Selective Colleges: Many elite institutions may place significant emphasis on high test scores as they seek students who excel in all areas.
  • Test-Optional Schools: Some colleges have adopted test-optional policies, meaning submitting test scores is not mandatory. This approach acknowledges that standardized tests may not reflect every student’s potential.
  • Holistic Admissions Process: Many schools look at the whole applicant, including grades, extracurricular activities, essays, and interviews. In this context, standardized test scores are just one part of a multifaceted evaluation.

Different Tests for Different Programs

Some specialized programs or majors may require specific subject tests, such as Math Level 2 or Biology for STEM programs. Understanding the requirements of each college and program is crucial for applicants.

Impact on Scholarships and Financial Aid

In addition to admissions decisions, standardized test scores may influence scholarship opportunities. Some merit-based scholarships have specific score requirements, meaning that higher scores can translate into financial incentives.

SCHOLARSHIP sketch on notebook

Controversies and Changing Perspectives

The role of standardized testing in college admissions has not been without controversy:

  • Criticism of Bias: Critics argue that standardized tests may favor students from privileged backgrounds who can afford expensive test preparation.
  • Shifts in Policy: The COVID-19 pandemic prompted many colleges to temporarily drop test requirements, leading to ongoing discussions about the future role of standardized tests in admissions.

Balancing Act for Applicants

For students, understanding how standardized testing fits into the admissions picture for their target schools is essential. It’s about balancing the effort put into test preparation with other vital components of the application, such as essays, extracurricular involvement, and academic performance.

When was standardized testing implemented in the US?

When was the first time that standardized testing was used in the United States? The extensive use of standardized testing is mostly a phenomenon of the 20th century in the American education system, even though standardized examinations have been a feature of the American education system since the 1800s.

In the 1970s, states first started conducting tests on populations of significant size. In the 1980s, the United States of America began to conduct nationwide assessments.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 mandated that all students attending public schools take standardized examinations.

Standardized testing was made a prerequisite for receiving public school financing under US Public Law 107-110, also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

The outcomes of the examinations were factored into the distribution of cash and other resources among the schools. The purpose of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which President Barack Obama formally enacted into law on December 10, 2015, was to make it possible for students to accomplish and succeed to a greater extent.

What are examples of standardized tests?

an answer sheet

What are examples of standardized examinations? Here are some examples of standardized examinations that are commonly used for college admissions, scholarships, and other educational opportunities.

  • Achievement tests are used to evaluate either the academic growth a student has made over a given time period or the information and skills that a student has acquired while attending school. The tests may also be utilized to determine the appropriate academic placement for a student, that is, which courses or programs may be deemed most suitable for them, as well as which types of academic support they may require.
  • Aptitude tests aim to anticipate a student’s ability to succeed in an intellectual or physical effort by examining, among other things, the student’s competency in mathematics, language, abstract reasoning, motor coordination, musical talent, and musical ability.
  • College admissions tests are utilized as a part of the selection process to determine which students will be allowed to enroll in a particular college or university. These tests are used as indicators of intellectual and academic potential. Some may consider them predictive of how well applicants will do in a postsecondary program.
  • International comparison tests are given regularly to representative samples of students in a number of countries, including the United States, to monitor achievement trends in individual countries and compare educational performance across countries.
  • Psychological tests measure a person’s cognitive ability and mental, emotional, developmental, and social qualities, such as the IQ test. In most cases, trained professionals, such as school psychologists, are the ones in charge of administering the examinations, which may require students to complete a series of tasks or find solutions to several difficulties.

The identification of students who have learning difficulties or other special requirements that would make them eligible for specialized treatment frequently makes use of psychological exams.

How can students prepare for standardized tests?

Standardized exams like the SAT or ACT play a significant role in college admissions, scholarships, and more. As a result, preparing for these tests can be a stressful endeavor for many students. Here are some actionable strategies to help students best prepare for these important exams.

Understand the Test Format and Content

Every standardized test has a unique format, and understanding it is key to success. Break down the test into sections, identify the types of questions you’ll encounter, and review the subjects that will be covered.

  • SAT: Divided into Math, Evidence-Based Reading, Writing & Language.
  • ACT: Consists of English, Math, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing section.

Create a Study Plan

Procrastination is a common pitfall. Creating a study schedule that spans several weeks or even months before the exam date can make the preparation process more manageable. Break your study time into sections that align with the test’s various subjects, and include time for reviewing challenging topics.

Utilize Study Materials

There is no shortage of study materials available for standardized tests. Many students find success with:

  • Official Guidebooks: These are produced by the test creators and offer practice questions and full-length practice exams.
  • Online Resources: Websites like Khan Academy provide free tutorials and practice questions.
  • Flashcards: Great for memorizing vocabulary, formulas, or key concepts.

Consider Professional Tutoring or Prep Courses

For students seeking more personalized guidance, professional tutoring or prep courses might be beneficial. These services often provide:

  • Diagnostic Testing: To identify strengths and weaknesses.
  • Customized Study Plans: Tailored to an individual’s needs.
  • One-on-One Attention: For targeted improvement.

Practice with Real Timed Exams

Taking full-length practice exams under timed conditions can help you get used to the pressure of the test day. Analyze your results to identify areas for improvement, and focus your study efforts accordingly.

Focus on Your Well-being

Preparing for standardized tests isn’t just about studying. Eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep can boost your cognitive functions and overall well-being. Don’t underestimate the importance of taking regular breaks to rest and recharge.

Join Study Groups

Sometimes, studying with peers can make the process more engaging and collaborative. Study groups can provide moral support and allow you to learn from others’ insights.

students sitting on a staircase while studying

Seek Help from Teachers or Mentors

If you’re struggling with specific topics, don’t hesitate to seek help from teachers or mentors who are experts in the subject. They can provide personalized insights and guidance.

Stay Informed about Test Day Logistics

Knowing the test location, what to bring, and what time to arrive can alleviate unnecessary stress on test day. Be sure to have all required materials ready ahead of time.

Preparing for standardized tests like the SAT or ACT is a multifaceted process that requires planning, practice, and perseverance. By understanding the test format, creating a study plan, utilizing various resources, and taking care of your well-being, you can approach test day with confidence and poise.

Remember that preparation is not just about cramming information; it’s about developing skills and strategies that will help you succeed. Whether through self-study or professional guidance, the right preparation can make a significant difference in your performance and outcomes on these crucial exams.

Are standardized tests fair and equitable for all students?

Standardized tests have been a longstanding component of the education system. They offer a metric that can be used to compare student performance across the board. However, the fairness and equity of these tests are subjects of continuous debate, especially when considering diverse student populations.

While standardized testing presents some challenges when it comes to fairness and equity, there are ways to improve and ensure equity in the testing process.

Firstly, making high-quality test preparation resources widely available can help. This could involve expanding test-prep programs in schools, offering online resources for free, or implementing school policies that allow time for test preparation within the school day.

Secondly, continuous review and revision of test questions to minimize cultural biases can contribute to making these tests more equitable. Test makers should strive to create questions that are culturally neutral and relevant to students from all backgrounds.

Thirdly, accommodations for English Language Learners and students with learning disabilities should be readily accessible and adequately comprehensive. Clear communication about these accommodations and a streamlined process for obtaining them can ensure these students are adequately supported.

Lastly, considering multiple measures of student ability — such as grades, teacher recommendations, and extracurricular involvement — can give a more complete picture of a student’s capabilities and potential, rather than relying solely on standardized test scores.


In conclusion, standardized tests can play a significant role in shaping a student’s future. While these exams can be stressful and challenging, they can also be conquered with the right preparation and mindset. It’s important to remember that these tests are just one aspect of a student’s abilities and should not define their worth or potential. At the end of the day, success on these exams is about being well-informed, prepared, and believing in oneself.

Here at AdmissionSight, we can assist you in finding universities that are a good fit for you and guide you on how to prepare for standardized examinations such as the SAT or ACT.

By having a personalized plan and a trusted expert to guide you, you can increase your chances of success and feel more confident in your college admissions journey. Book your consultation today and take the first step towards realizing your college dreams!

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