Doubting Standardized Exams

I have never hidden my rather negative opinions towards standardized testing. I sincerely believe they are a useless tool in education, as they fail to induce the hunger to learn everything that can be understood, and rather coerce students into chasing after grades. This is a problem for several reasons, which I will attempt to elaborate further below. My main points of argument will focus on the effects of positive—the A’s and B’s—and negative—D’s and lower—scores. As each of them have contrasting impacts that are respectively useful and utterly disruptive.

Standardized exams have been an educational tool in Indonesia since 1969, switching its name a few times after its conception. At first it seems to be quite an invaluable tool, as it allows educators to quickly evaluate the capabilities of the plethora of students present in this growing nation—which, of course is no easy task. However, as time goes on, the value of this academic instrument have continued to lessen more and more. Perhaps even to the point that it has become nearly useless or at worst harmful to the development of pupils. To arrive at this rather blunt conclusion, we must firstly assess the repercussions of utilizing standardized testing. With the starting point of asking “why should anyone go to school?” To know whatever we wish to know, or to simply look for the highest points attainable? Let us answer these inquiries with hopefully satisfying responses.

The idealistic vision of establishing schools is to educate the general population. To teach them how to read, write, understand the universe via both the natural and social sciences. This purpose of course means that a pupil should attend his classes because of a desire to comprehend all that happens around him, and maybe affect the status quo of his area of interest. Hence, educational facilities should seek to engross students with the subjects they’re offering, pique their curiosity through any method available, but this effort falls flat with the advent of standardized testing.

One of the cruxes of the issue with standardized testing, is that it fails to give constructive criticism towards students. A pupil would get his scores, sometimes not knowing where, how, and why he got things wrong, thus forcing him to somewhat blindly guide himself through the next exams on his list. This is not how education is supposed to work.

Learning is a process, and one of its most crucial components to be truly effective is by allowing students to learn from their mistakes; by showing them how to perform better, illustrating comprehensively the errors and successes they’ve made, alongside granting them hope that they can always do better as long as they keep trying and keep their past experiences in mind. When a test paper comes back with just a mark and corrections without explanations, then said student would be left bewildered and likely ascribe himself as someone who is academically problematic, without knowing why he met such a hurdle. Moreover, there would likely be very few—as far as my personal experiences tell me—people who could hold on to hope that seems to be getting ever smaller, as the low scores keep on pouring in without them understanding exactly why they perform so poorly.

Then come the ‘grade-chasers’. At first, this category of students seems harmless and could be the justification of standardized testing. However, when we look deeper into their motivations we would begin to notice that they are not at school entirely to learn (in the strictest sense of the word). Instead, what they look for is prestige, glory, anything which might allow them to harvest the respect of their peers and the approval of their caretakers plus educators.

From what I’ve seen, there are obviously plenty of those belonging in the group of grade-chasers who are unquestionably bright. They grasp complex theories quickly, memorize the important events and dates of history, generally being model students. And they benefit from nearly continuous positive reinforcement, a much better alternative to the negative version. However, one should not judge another to be intelligent on the basis of a sparkling report card.

Why I nicknamed these individuals as grade-chasers is basically because that is what they are. They might have a sense of wonder and a need to explore the various postulations conjured up by scholars, but their central objective is to always strive for the highest scores achievable. Which means if the need arises, they will not hunt for understanding, but basic memorization no matter what the subject might be. In other words, learning becomes a second priority, while arbitrary marks are launched upwards in terms of significance.

Thus a question arises, “are these students truly as intelligent as their grades say they are, or are they merely adept at following the dogmas of formal education?” It is difficult to give a satisfying answer to this query, as I have seen graduates of well-respected high-schools  either struggle deeply or succeed effortlessly in their universities. What we can take from that admittedly limited observation though, is that getting good grades at school guarantees nothing in the higher-levels of education.

Standardized testing ruins countless opportunities to urge students into becoming more than what they perceive themselves to be. It reduces them into cogs that have no other purpose in school other than to get better and better scores. While what they should be doing is explore whatever subject interests them, delve as deep as they can into it, make mistakes and learn how not to repeat them, all the while having a sense of progress toward their hopes and dreams. With standardized exams, where they are hindered from all these wonderful constituents of learning, the ideal purpose of education becomes blurred.

We as a society must find an alternative to standardized testing. Let the younger generations and the next study for the sake of studying; seeking knowledge because they wish to do so, not due to reasons as insignificant as praying for falsely encouraging arbitrary letters and numbers. One does not need to be a jack-of-all-trades to succeed, he simply needs to know his talents and amplify them as best as he can.


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