Standardized Stress

STA students take the PSAT, SAT and ACT tests to measure their preparedness for college— something many students are feeling anxious about.

by Tierney Flavin, Snapchat and Twitter Editor

Our school is so academically challenging and competitive that we tend to compare each other’s grades or scores,” Senior Ellie Bolch said. “I’ve seen a lot of stress in my peers surrounding these tests. I usually see it when they talk about programs or the schools they want to get into or the scholarships they want to receive.”

Standardized tests such as the PSAT, SAT and ACT are right around the corner for STA students. These tests measure a student’s knowledge and preparedness for college. The Preliminary SAT (PSAT) and SAT are measured on a 1600-point scale – the math and English sections respectively scored out of 800 points. The ACT is a composite score from 1-36 based on a student’s performance in each section (math, English, reading and science). 

Oftentimes these tests determine scholarships and opportunities for college. This, alongside time limits and being numerically compared to peers, is assumed to cause anxiety in students. According to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, students have 15% more of the stress hormone, cortisol, in their systems the period before a standardized test than a day without any high-stakes testing. 

Junior Emery Danker says that the preparatory classes and extra ACT/SAT tutoring has helped to mitigate some of her stress, but she is still aware of the anxiety in herself and her peers.

“The pressure being put on us to complete all of these questions in a certain amount of time is so stressful,” Danker said. “Also, [these are] tests that everybody takes and so I don’t think it’s necessarily fair for everybody’s knowledge and skills to be scored on a standardized test that only a certain amount of people do really well on.”

Bolch believes that schools becoming test-optional is also beneficial to students, allowing them to highlight their personal strengths.

“[Test-optional] can allow [students] to shine in their transcripts or essays,” Bolch said. “For me, writing essays is a strength so I’m hoping that helps.”

This year, around 1600 schools have sustained their test-optional policy according to college counselor Debi Hudson. While maintaining its benefits, Hudson notes a decrease in acceptance rates likely caused by optional score submission policies. 

With test-optional, there has been a significant increase in applications at many highly selective institutions,” Hudson said. “For example – Tulane University’s admittance rate went from 13 percent to 9 percent and Boston College’s went from 27 percent to 19 percent. With the application increases, it’s not possible to predict what will happen.” 

However, Danker is feeling good about this change in the application process. 

“There’s just like all of the stigma that’s around [these tests],” Danker said. “[The idea] that you have to get this perfect score to be able to succeed in life is just totally false. So many people have so many other talents that you can’t show in a test that only has one possible answer to each question.”

Senior Lucy Wade is also in favor of test-optional applications because she believes that standardized testing can be unfair. 

“If you can’t afford test prep and all of the test books and practice tests, that sets you back a lot in how you’re going to [score],” Wade said. “It really differentiates itself socioeconomically.”

The National Bureau of Economic Research has also concluded that, “Students from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, with both the highest rate of poverty and crime, saw the largest changes in cortisol in advance of testing, suggesting that their scores were the most affected — and therefore the least valid measures of what they actually knew.”

From a student’s perspective, college testing policies are moving in a positive direction. 

“I think they’ve realized that these tests are meaning less and less of a student’s ability and even overall knowledge,” Danker said. “So a lot of colleges are going to keep that forever now. It makes me really happy that colleges are wanting to learn more about students’ strengths in other categories whether that’s sports or drama or whatever that you can’t necessarily learn from a standardized test.”