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Anything but standard

November 3, 2023 at 4:00:00 PM

Audrey Hua '26

It’s 7:43 a.m., and I’ve been standing in a line of fifty people that moves every forty minutes, a sticky note in my hand and a half-buttered bagel in my stomach. Why was half the school waiting restlessly in the field house on a Wednesday morning? You guessed it – the PSAT. Every year, all tenth graders and a handful of eleventh graders are herded into plastic seats in the athletic center, where they sit for three hours, sweating profusely over their exams while trying to remember the volume of a cylinder. 

The PSAT, like other standardized tests, is no longer believed by all to be a true measure of a student’s ability. With the rise of expensive preparation courses, like the one used by Academy students, Revolution Prep, standardized testing is, in my opinion, no longer an equal game. These courses and camps coach students about the specific things that come up in a standardized test and how to attack them, boosting the scores of those with more training. Those who do not attend the camps or take the courses are significantly disadvantaged. 

Recently, many colleges have become test-optional, and schools all over the world, including our very own Mercersburg Academy, emphasize “intellectual curiosity” over getting good grades. This is why, on that fateful Wednesday morning, I found myself wondering why a college-preparatory high school was having me sit through a test (which wasn’t even the real test), instead of letting me “build my academic portfolio” or frankly, buttering the rest of my breakfast bagel.

After talking with college counselors Michael Conklin, Cindy Fowler, and Rachel Mallory, I was offered the school’s perspective. “Consider where testing is on your college list,” Conklin said. Although most colleges have become test-optional, standardized testing is still required for certain colleges. Consult your college list – is testing required, and how much will it affect your application? Last year, Conklin revealed that 44% of Mercersburg seniors applied without test scores, and 75% went test-optional for at least one school. 

Am I saying that we should abandon any type of testing? No. In fact, I think it’s actually helpful to take the baseline. With a baseline, if your initial score isn’t as high as you want it to be, you might not consider preparing and retaking it. “I’d rather you spend 300 hours pursuing genuine interests than sitting for a test,” Fowler said. There is no major in college called “I got a perfect score on my ACT” or a job called “ I scored a 5 on my AP.” Tests can show your knowledge and how much you’ve prepared, but they are no longer the leading factor when colleges are accepting or rejecting students. 

We’ve grown up hearing that good grades, high scores, and test-based performance matter more than our own interests. The issues with standardized tests aren’t just present within our school– their roots stem from the families. Parents of independent school children will be the last to let go of testing. Admission officers may have let go a long time before, but this parental mindset still endures. Unless we change the way we think about colleges, about testing, and what we really want (and not what the “I got accepted into Harvard!” YouTube videos make us want,) standardized tests will continue to play a useless role in society. 

Even though colleges are becoming more and more test-optional and schools are encouraging the pursuit of interests more than high scores, the problem still lies within the minds of students and parents. Colleges want to see good scores, yes, but even more, they want to see a dedicated and honestly interested student.

Keep up with your classes. Try a new PGA. Educate your family and friends, and let the younger generations teach the older ones. You have a life full of taxes and being in the workforce ahead of you; why grow wrinkles when you could be enjoying your childhood? And if you ever find yourself, like me, crying over the fact that you only have 2 minutes left to finish the 20 questions in the math section, just remember – a 400 on the SAT isn’t gonna kill you. (Your mom might, though).

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