Standardized Testing: The paradox of this determining factor

I am not one who enjoys standardized testing in the slightest.

When I was younger, I thought that my inability to sit through the 4+ hour PSAT or SAT or ACT was simply due to the rigid, totalitarian feel of the whole thing. You are required to sit in an uncomfortable chair at a dilapidated desk in a building designed by someone who made a living designing prisons, with a packet of obscure and ludicrous questions, two number 2 pencils, and a few pages of measly scratch paper. The score from this test, all while encroached by this scenario, will determine where you are able to go to college.

Seems pretty barbarian, doesn’t it?

I started preparing for college at the unfortunately early age of 15. Why, you may ask? I have no freaking clue. BUT, it did prepare me early on for the stress that would consume my life up to this point. During my junior and senior year, I took the SAT three times, the ACT twice, and ended up applying to a grand total of 11 schools. Luckily, I was admitted to six of those 11, and ventured off into the PNW for four years at a small Jesuit school with a heavy focus on a liberal arts education.

After nearly three years of the stress surrounding getting into college, I was lucky to take a breather, and just go through the motions of college, which is such an incredibly lackadaisical time*** (that’s sarcasm, kids).


Now, a 2015 college graduate with high aspirations of attending graduate school for a Master’s in Journalism, I am affronted by another standardized test, with the near same reaction: the GRE.

I knew pretty early on that I’d need to face this pesky test at one point or another—hell, I’ve known I’ve wanted a Master’s degree since I was 16, so of course I also knew about this test. Yet, while I knew that this test would soon be approaching into my nightmarish reality much like the Babadook, I had buried the torment of the SAT and ACT preparations so deep inside my memory that I didn’t remember just how bad a standardized test could be.

Regardless, I knew that, as an English and Film major, I also hadn’t been in the “game” of that type of testing for years (seriously—years). Instead of taking 2-hour multiple choice tests for finals, I wrote 14-page papers on two lines of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or recounted the history of the horror film genre through an analysis of John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing.

Truly, I am not one you want to put a packet of multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank problems in front of, because I would probably turn the test into analysis of our modern understanding of the education system (hey, that’s what we’re doing now!). And, yet, here I am, having to take a test that asks questions about enigmatic vocabulary I never learned in my four-year Bachelor’s in English Literature program, and pie chart / percentage questions on topics I (apparently) learned in 7th grade. I can barely remember when to buy new eyeliner, let alone remember something I never use in my day-to-day life.

Credit: Signe Wilkinson

So, how exactly is someone like me supposed to get into graduate school? The GRE is, supposedly, supposed to show graduate schools how well you will do in their programs. Yet, did my incredibly average score on the SAT or ACT show my prowess and determination in my Bachelor’s programs, which inevitably led me to graduate with 230 credits (more than the “average” student of 180) and a cumulative GPA of above 3.5, all while working approximately 25 hours a week? I don’t believe it did, not in the slightest.

You see, these tests are industries within themselves, creating utterly and entirely unnecessarily complex testing packets for students, all while charging top dollar for you to take the test, let alone attain the “necessary” study materials in preparation for a “better” score. Having utilized study materials and a course from a highly valued test prep “one stop shop,” I myself fell into the fantastical idea that I would get a higher score on my test if I just followed their advice and lessons to a tee. Ultimately, I wasted about $1K to listen to a misogynist advisor berate my classmates and I over our lack of knowledge surrounding 8th grade mathematics. Did I receive money back, or an explanation as to why the advertised promises didn’t match up with the actual results? No—and I now have no intention of returning to this supposed “miracle worker” of a test prep corporation.

So, having now taken the GRE twice and preparing for yet another day off from work to sit in a musty, grey, militaristic cubicle for a third chance, I am sure that this next test will only be further proof that standardized testing does not work, and should not be viewed as the main channel to your admittance to graduate school.

Feel free to read further articles on this matter to build your own opinion. You know where I’ll be until December, just as I have been since February—in the library, slowly accepting my fate as an indoctrinated GRE test-taker as I passively make my way through 100s of potential test questions.