Test Stress: Standardized Testing Mayhem


The concept of standardized testing has been haunting students for ages, with hours-long tests that have the power to decide their futures. Most high school students are familiar with the main standardized tests – the SAT, ACT, PSAT, among others. Many begin preparing months or even years before the actual test date, spending countless hours with tutors and even more on practice tests, not to mention the added monetary cost. Studies have shown that standardized testing can cause high, even dangerous levels of stress amongst students having to take them. A lot of this is due to the significant weight of testing for college applications. Is it fair for one test to practically decide the rest of your life? Are they even a sufficient measure of intelligence? We’ve gathered research on the thoughts of students, teachers, and parents alike to consider the effects of standardized testing.
Many parents live by the idea that they want the best for their children, but how do standardized tests fit in? According to polls taken by US Weekly from over 1,000 parents nationwide, the consensus seems to be that most parents believe that standardized tests are necessary, but can provide unnecessary stress amongst teenagers. Around 44% of the parents who responded to the poll believe that standardized tests are fair, compared to 38% who disagree (along with 18% who are unsure). Some of these results may be shocking, considering many parents who were interviewed by other news sources claim that they wish standardized tests were more personal and catered more to the individual, instead of being a “one size fits all” test. Despite this, 49% of parents believe that their children take too many tests, whilst 40% think they take the right amount. There are many parents with the opinion that standardized testing is a fair way to make sure that each teen gets tested in the same way. On the other hand, many more think that testing puts added pressure on students and groups them into general categories instead of focusing on their specific strengths. One thing that all parents can agree on, however, is the large role that standardized testing plays in their children’s lives.
Many teachers also have opinions on what they think about the concept of standardized testing, and they have a whole different set of worries when it comes to getting students prepared. According to Maria Cima and Kendall Barber, “Most teachers agree that they are forced to teach what is on the tests, which isn’t really what students are interested in or what teachers believe to be the most important.” A poll taken in The Northwest Evaluation Association has shown that 70% of teachers felt that test-taking and preparation for test-taking have taken away from their teaching time and from students’ time to learn. “Preparing for the test takes a lot of time. Instead of possibly doing projects or more hands-on learning, we really focused on the testing format and preparing our students to be comfortable taking the test,” one teacher adds. In addition to standardized testing affecting what teachers teach, many have concerns about whether or not they are adequately preparing students to succeed in terms of learning valuable test-taking skills that they will need for the future. Most teachers that were interviewed all agreed on the fact that they all had one goal: to help their students succeed, and many have said that if teaching them skills for taking standardized tests and devoting time to preparing students with practice exams is the way to do that, then so be it. 

While many think to ask parents, teachers, even schools what their opinion on standardized testing is, no one thinks to ask students, the ones taking the test. Tests can harm students, increasing stress levels to an unhealthy level, affecting their physical and emotional well-being. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, or APA, shows that teens ages 13-17 reported stress levels that are considered far too high to be healthy, even higher than stress shown by adults. To no surprise, 83% of those students claimed the source of their stress was “getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school,”. And while we mainly focus on teens, testing can even affect younger children. Studies show that kids grade 3 through 8 are shown to spend the most time testing, with an average of 15-16 hours, and 10 tests a year. Stress isn’t even the only concern. The physical health of students can be negatively affected by testing as well. “Health consequences associated with standardized testing were cited as including stomach aches and vomiting, headaches, sleep problems, depression, attendance problems, and acting out,” according to Christina Simpson. Students’ anxiety was at the point of puking on their testing booklets, which happened so often that the PARCC’s Test Coordinator Manual for grades 3 to 8 included a procedure for soiled testing booklets. Standardized testing has also been shown to demotivate students and lower their belief in their abilities as “Many students in my class feel that, no matter how hard they try, they will still do poorly on the state-mandated test” (Simpson). It’s evident the impact testing has on students is not positive nor healthy.

Standardized testing has been in practice for years, and while many have questioned its effectiveness and effect on students, little to no action has been taken to change them. This is serious, as stress caused by standardized testing is steadily increasing. “The New York State Parent Teacher Association (PTA) surveyed parents and teachers and found that respondents reported that 75 percent of students, those who do not receive additional educational support, were more stressed about testing than they had been in previous years.” The few pros standardized testing may have don’t warrant or excuse the obvious harm to a student’s health, both physically and mentally.