Strategic studying: Investigating the value of standardized testing

Anna Czech '23, Editor In Chief

CRAMMING Anna Czech ’23 poses at her desk, imitating the classic stress hunch seen in most SAT takers. (Amanda Frantz ’23)

As students polish up their college applications and press “submit” on the Common Application, the role of standardized testing comes to the forefront of school discussion.

Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors recently took the PSAT, which introduced freshmen like Viviani Ostrowski ’26 to the realm of high school testing. Ostrowski, who’s seen her siblings work through their college applications, thinks standardized testing should not be given as much emphasis as it is currently. She believes grades and extracurricular involvement should play a larger role in admission than testing.

“(Testing is) not a super accurate representation of someone’s intelligence,” Ostrowski said. “A lot of people take classes before the SAT or have private tutoring to learn how to take (the test) better. Some people don’t have access to that, so (the application process) is easier if you’re more privileged.”

According to principal Moussa Hamka, preparation methods can significantly impact how beneficial the testing process is for student learning. Hamka believes that the only way students will learn from their mistakes and fully benefit from the process is through skill-based practice problems, rather than learning test-taking strategies.

“(Students) can take a practice exam through some type of adaptive course and realize, ‘There’s an element of factoring or completing the square that I’m weak on. I’m going to brush up on that skill,’” Hamka said. “These programs are focused on skill development, and (they) help students move forward and continue to master more content and skills.”

Joey Drawbaugh ’24 is one South student using programs similar to the ones Hamka described. He practices for the SAT through Khan Academy, which provides practice tests and personalized questions, and is working on finding more opportunities to practice.

“I’m planning on setting a schedule, probably about 20 to 40 minutes each night, to study one specific topic,” Drawbaugh said. “I’m seeing how I can fit this into my schedule because it’ll definitely make (studying) easier to stick to.”

Acknowledging the imperfect nature of testing, Hamka highlights that eliminating standardized testing in the college process could make admissions more subjective, which he thinks could be detrimental for some South students. He emphasizes the overarching need for balance to create a fair admission process.

“You have to think, ‘Is your prompt politically aligned to the person reading your essay? Did you have help writing your essays?” Hamka said. “A holistic view (including standardized testing) is the best we can provide. It is ultimately the best route forward in the college application process.”