Do standardised tests measure your abilities?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2012, 12:00am


Melody Cheung, 16, St Paul's Secondary School

Open your eyes and look around. Tests are usually standardised. As a student, you will have taken many academic, sports and music tests.

Academic exams measure a wide range of abilities, including critical thinking and language skills. They are quantitative evaluations, in which students receive scores that indicate the level of ability. Because everyone is evaluated according to the same scale, the results can be compared.

The score of a standardised test reflects a student's ability if the student takes the test seriously. Otherwise, the score might be low if a student is not prepared, or it might be extraordinarily high if a student happens to be lucky at guessing on multiple-choice questions.

However, some skills cannot be quantified, such as art and creativity. If creativity cannot be interpreted into a score, it is difficult to standardise. Still, such skills make up only a small proportion of subjects.

In most situations, standardised tests do reflect ability. But, frankly, test scores should not be the only factor in judging someone's competence. Other performance indicators should also play a role in determining actual ability. Standardised test scores and subjective reviews should be combined to evaluate a student.

Charmain Li, 18, Imperial College London

I don't believe standardised tests are a comprehensive measure of ability. How well students score in these kinds of tests typically has more to do with their level of preparation, 'test taking' experience and memorisation skills. They do not test thinking abilities.

Many times, good marks on standardised tests are not a good measure of people's true understanding of a subject area. To save time and effort, standardised tests often encourage students to memorise facts that appear regularly on the syllabus. Gone is a passion for the subject itself. What is lost is the skill and knowledge that would be valuable to students beyond school life.

Every student also deals with tests differently - many bright students break down during tests. How a student feels on the day of the test also greatly affects the results. External factors such as falling ill during the exam period, or receiving unexpected emotional news, is generally out of students' control. It is unfair to evaluate ability based on one exam day.

Although standardised tests do generally assess students fairly and give teachers feedback on what their students have learned, I don't think they are the best measure of abilities. The practice bases people's value on their performance during a one-off, highly stressful situation.

Standardised tests should not be the only measure of academic performance and should be balanced with other assessed work across the year. This allows students to demonstrate their skills and abilities without time limitations or crippling pressure to excel in a standardised test.