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The Psychological Impact of Tests


Do we need midterms? What is the point of sitting with a pen and paper for 90 minutes? What does the score mean? Does it actually test your knowledge? These questions arise in every student’s mind as we reflect upon those dreaded midterms. Yet, midterms as well as standardized testing are the mainstay of American education. How can this be possible when it seems to cause an extreme amount of stress for high school students? 

I am specifically referring to academic stress, which is defined as the reaction to certain academic events (like tests) in a certain physiological, behavioral, and emotional manner. Students often have symptoms including headaches, excessive sweating, strong palpitations, memory problems and low motivation. Sound familiar? With these effects, and especially during the pandemic, many schools decided to make the switch; instead of doing traditional exams, they opted for big group projects or presentations. 

A popular argument exists that just sitting through lectures and studying meaningless memorization doesn’t actually help students retain knowledge. Moreover, students tend to memorize what they need to know and forget it the day the test is over. When it is time for midterms, students are left to pore over their notebooks once again, creating a cycle of stress and short-term memorization. So came projects, which certainly reduce stress, as well as creating better teamwork and communication skills – which some might argue are more important than any exam –  but do they really test your knowledge in that class? 

Let’s begin with the pros. Standardized testing creates consistency throughout American high schools: every school takes a similar test, implements a similar measure of students’ success, and numerically measures the effectiveness of education programs. Schools can use this information to identify areas that need improvement and refine the curriculum accordingly. Testing data can help address imbalances in education, especially for marginalized communities.  It is a tool for holding educational systems accountable and advocating for necessary resources.


But alongside these benefits come the cons. As mentioned above, testing can inflict extreme amounts of stress on students, which is often overlooked. Standardized tests also provide a limited scope of learning and may not capture skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving that are demanded in real-life scenarios. Thus, they provide a narrow view of a student’s abilities. The largely unequal education system also plays a factor; students with greater resources have access to test preparation and tutoring. The inconsistency between what is taught and what is tested can result in unfair evaluations. 


Now turning our attention to the pros and cons of projects


The pros include the opportunity for students to apply their theoretical knowledge to real-life situations and can deepen their understanding of the subject matter. They also provide creativity skills by requiring students to analyze a topic and come up with unique situations/solutions. Having a project also allows educators to tailor an experience to a student’s learning, rather than holding the same exam. Realistically, students might gravitate towards a hands-on project and will thus devote more of their attention and time. This also benefits collaboration skills as some projects require different people to work collaboratively with new peers.


The cons of projects firstly relate to the duration: a project might take more time than just a 90-minute test. Grading a complex project can take longer for the teachers than if they were to grade a multiple choice sheet. In addition, grading might be subjective considering the difficulty in ensuring equal evaluation of all projects. This also contributes to the fact that the work can often be distributed unequally, unlike tests. Depending on the scope of the project it could potentially underrepresent certain aspects of the curriculum that a test would most certainly cover.

So comes the question: should we have projects instead? Do we need standardized testing? What other test should we take? It is unlikely that there is one perfect solution; nonetheless, this debate is sure to persist for a number of years.

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About the Contributor
Zoya Malik
Zoya Malik, Staff Writer
Zoya is a sophomore at Harriton, she is excited to dive into writing fun articles with interesting stories. She hopes to improve her writing skills and enjoy Banner. Outside of school you can find her hanging out with her friends and family traveling and documenting interesting places. Zoya enjoys reading and painting in her free time.

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