The Truth about Testing

By Austin Lammers

Our high school years are striding on, bringing frequent and mandatory presentations on ‘post-high planning’ and questions from elders and relatives about what we would like to do with the next 50 years of our life, even if we have not the slightest clue. Though some of us are unaware of what we are destined to pursue in our adulthood, whether it be nuclear physics or removing trash from a nearby highway, the majority of us are focused on the place that can help us figure it out: College.

Throughout our schooling, we have all heard, religiously, about the importance of college and how finishing homework at 2 a.m. on a school night is not only crucial for us to get there, but also foreshadows the homework experience after we step onto a new campus. Teachers and various counselors have embedded a checklist in our skulls about this plan for post-graduation day, which includes visiting campuses, applying for scholarships, requesting financial aid, trying to retain sanity, losing said sanity, and a plethora of other headaches. The list seems endless and can be a pain to keep track of. But at this moment, I’m going to dissect another one of these steps that has found a way to hang over our heads day after day: standardized testing, and its real amount of significance.

As we students have grown from kindergarteners to upperclassmen, the importance of standardized tests has grown with us, particularly the Midwest’s flagship component, the ACT. Sitting through countless appearances from guests around the state, and even inside of our school, I have recognized a central thesis from their stances on testing, something along the lines of ‘the ACT is important and will dictate how many options will be open to you after you graduate.’ I don’t particularly remember sitting in a 6th grade classroom listening to my teacher tell me this Dakota Step test would ruin my chances of a successful future, so the pressure was never present and I penciled in bubbles to the best of my ability. However, things have changed.

Unfortunately, this change hasn’t been for the better. Now, instead of testing during the school day and being showered with gifts of miniature bottles of water, warm cheese sticks that taste like tires, and small bags of Scooby Snax as we did in earlier years, annoyed shepherds corral us around a building like lost sheep and push us into a bare room with white walls and a single chalkboard resting upon it. Next, they give us an extensive test whose questions lack easy interpretation, requiring our minds to be sharper than the No. 2 pencils we brought, and that’s if we stand a chance of  answering these questions accurately within a short amount of time. Sounds fun for 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning, right?

So, as always, I questioned this concept. Colleges want to know our level of intelligence, resulting in the creation of a test which measures the amount of information we have obtained throughout our schooling. This test, which rushes students to answer incomprehensible questions within a small window of time, in a desolate environment, early on a weekend morning, with little time for rest in between segments, is supposed to measure accurately what type of student we are and what we will accomplish in our futures. I’m starting to believe this test isn’t meant to calculate intellect, but to measure what results students can produce inside miserable surroundings. Clearly, I needed some questions answered.

ACT_logo.svgApproaching its testing date, the ACT is responsible for ample amounts of student fretting, stressing, or, using a more popular term, ‘totally freaking out.’ Whether it’s reading prep books, taking practice tests, or attending small programs provided by our educational institution, students are doing everything they can to add another point or two onto their score. But do those two points matter as much as they seem?

The average ACT score for students in the state of South Dakota is 21.9, one point more than the national average, one point less than the average in the Rapid City Area School district. Most public universities require an ACT score of 18 for undergraduates to be eligible for admission, making a score of 23 and a score of 20 indifferent, just as long as it falls into the range. However, more advanced schools, such as SDSM&T, require a score anywhere between 20 and 25. What happens if a student receives a sub-par score? Has their future been tarnished because they drew a blank during a four hour test as a high school student? Though that thought has been ingrained into our minds, it’s not true.

I recently contacted multiple universities around the Midwest, asking what they take into account when studying students’ academic backgrounds, along with the significance ACT scores hold. Two schools, Montana State University (MSU) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), did respond.

An admissions officer from UNL explained,

Obviously, test scores like the ACT and SAT are very important when evaluating a student’s academic resume. However, that is not the only factor we take into consideration at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln… A high ACT score alone will not be enough to award students the highest scholarships.

Similarly, an admissions officer at MSU stated,

MSU utilizes ACT and/or SAT as more of a guide when working with students than the ultimate decision maker when it comes to admissions. MSU recognizes that test scores are not the only measurement of success for college students.

Although these are only two colleges out of the thousands across the nation, many likely have the same views toward standardized testing and how it compares against other student attributes. Even if your ACT scores are not where you’d like them to be, don’t give up hope. ACT/SAT scores are usually just one of three or four requirements provided by a school, giving you multiple ways to make up for it, including grades, GPA, or class rank.

Tests like the ACT are not unimportant, but they do not deserve the heavy amounts of anxiety and pressure we allow test day to bring, even if it is as exhausting as completing homework at 2 a.m. And we will do well to remember that unless it is the career you want to pursue, you will not be picking up soda cans and deceased animals along an interstate for the remainder of your life due to a bad day.