Taking the test

For high school students around the nation, few things are scarier than standardized tests. Whether it’s the SAT, the ACT, or state standardized tests such as the FCAT, anyone that has taken these tests knows how intimidating and stressful they can be. Test day is always the same. After days of anticipation, I reluctantly get out of bed and begin my morning routine. Most days, I would do this without thinking, but on test days, I feel that I must replicate other days exactly. Anything out of the ordinary may throw off any rhythm I have. In the end, this is always done in vain as my worrying about morning procedures puts me behind schedule. I end up running out the door, only to trudge back in to grab the pencils and erasers I forgot. Before every test, proctors have a very strict script that they must recite. This script usually includes prohibited behavior, test instructions, and a schedule of the next few testing hours. Upon commands, students are required to fill in information on test books and check to make sure every page is included (though they may not look at the questions on each page). This instruction period is long and repetitious. Sometimes, it feels harder to stay awake during this period than to actually finish the test. Before the proctor even says “go,” pages are turning. I think I speak for most when I say the written instructions in the test book are skipped, as most students have taken enough tests to know the format.
Questions generally have three steps: 1) read the question; 2) find the answer; 3) correctly mark the answer. Sometimes, step three can be the hardest. Answer sheets with bubbles are the most common way to answer, though they come with some challenges. First of all, bubbles must be completely filled without marking in any other close bubbles. I’ve found that a dull pencil is very useful for this. Also, answer sheets make it easy to skip problems. A student’s worst nightmare is to finish the last question on a test book, and realize there is still an open line on the answer sheet. Finding the skipped question is a very frustrating and time-consuming process. Written answers are the easiest to record, however students tend to sigh when they see them as they know more work is expected. Math questions are often answered on number grids, which come with their own rules such as which side to start on and how to enter fractions and decimals. In middle school, my math teacher taught a whole lesson on how to enter various numbers into these grids. Conversation with fellow test-takers after the test either validates responses or makes the tester nervous. Over time, I’ve convinced myself that once a test is done, it’s no good to worry about it any longer. Students their own strengths and weaknesses when taking these tests, but I still feel they are ineffective as a true measure of academic ability. Obviously, some kind of testing is needed to assess students but what if a student has a bad day? Too much weight is put on a single test to weigh this possibility. Also, these tests encourage “teaching to the test” because teachers are graded as much as students by performance. These tests are stressful, intimidating, and often inaccurate about students. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein