A Closer Look at Standardized Exams
Career Tests and What They Mean For Your Child
The administration of a student aptitude test has become protocol for most high schools and colleges. In fact, a student can expect to be tested twice while on campus: first upon application and the second one upon senior year in preparation for career placement. If you’re in secondary school, you’ll even go through aptitude tests four times, with the additional ones during government-mandated Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) and the actual SATs.
With all these testing going on, has somebody even bothered to ask if we can trust these exams?
The straight answer is, as with most assessments, a big “it depends.”
No psychological test is perfect, and people are naturally just so sophisticated that even a rigidly constructed exam is likely only to scratch the surface. The scary thing is: so much is at stake depending on the results of these tests. The SATs, for example, account for a sizable influence in college administrators’ choices in student admittance. The very young high schoolers rely on these tests to pick which college courses suit them. College seniors get these tests to find out which profession they should apply to. That’s a lot of power surrendered to a pen-and-paper exam.
The good news is: these tests can be valid and reliable if certain caveats are being followed. Consider the following tips to increase the effectiveness of guidance from a student aptitude test:
The goodness of a student aptitude test starts from the very beginning: from the time it’s conceptualized to the time of crafting the final draft. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone can come up with a good psychological exam --- even though the questions would seem to the layperson as just everyday stuff. Anyone who has ever created a survey questionnaire can attest that respondent can answer off the researcher’s intended response if they so much as misunderstand a word or the intent of the instrument. Careful planning and skills are needed to craft questions that directly measure what the test intends to regulate.
If you want to be able to trust a student aptitude test, therefore, look for the seal of the American Psychological Association (APA) on the protocol. It means that the test had been created by someone recognized by the highest professional body in the country, and passed through rigorous screening before getting approved for use in schools. Anyone can fake research data and statistics to support a phony test, but the APA-seal of approval is hard to get.
The best way to benefit is to always triangulate the results of a student aptitude test with an interview/vocational counseling and self-reflection.
For one, these tests make judgments based on information within the examinees' immediate consciousness --- which means that if he or she is not that aware of skill or aptitude he or she possesses, it will not get reflected on the test. An interview or counseling session can better dig for abilities and interests lurking below the surface. Second, variables in the test-taking situation, such testing jitters or a poorly lit room can influence the results of the exam. Having to attend to an emergency, for example, the day of the SATs, can mean that the results would be different than what a person would typically get if tested on a healthy frame of mind.
And remember: at the end of the day, you can only measure the accuracy of psychological tests result regarding how much it resonates with what you and people who care about you know about yourself. If the analysis points you to a career that you have no interest in, that you know, you would not be good at, or only you just feel no chemistry with, then go after what’s in your heart. You cannot rely on a pen-and-paper test to make significant life decisions.
In summary, to fully trust a student aptitude test, you must find one: check if high standards were followed during test creation, and two: triangulate the test results with the results of an interview/ vocational counseling session and self-reflection. Without these things, the results are just useless information.
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