Test prep creates uneven playing field, unfair advantage

Maeve Plunkett, asst. opinions editor

Two sharp number two pencils, a non-CAS calculator, a school ID and pink eraser shavings can only mean one thing: standardized testing season. Last year, I chose a different path than many of my peers. I chose not to do any test prep *cue parental gasps and admission counselors’ horrified faces.*

It wasn’t because I was so arrogant as to think I’d get a perfect 36 on the ACT (I definitely did not – not even close) and it wasn’t because I was too lazy to take a practice test once a week. I did it to be honest and to stop putting my own interests ahead of our society.

When kids from amazing schools like GBS, or those who have other natural advantages on standardized tests, choose to pay for a tutor and/or practice tests to prepare for the ACT and SAT, it only perpetuates the privilege we enjoy and the disadvantages others suffer from.

When a college admissions counselor looks at an application from GBS, it is already at an advantage. We have one of the greatest public schools in the nation according to sites like usnews.com and k12.niche.com and benefit from countless outlets to help us succeed available to us. But, people will tell you, in this competitive day and age, that you need more to get an edge. You need test prep!

Many programs which offer test prep will tell you something along the lines of “anyone can learn how to take a test.” This is to suggest that it doesn’t matter how smart you are, but rather just how much money you can pay to train to be an Olympic test taker, thus defeating the purpose of standardized tests to begin with.

Standardized tests are designed to show what you can do without preparation. You prepare for the quizzes and tests you have in school, but the ACT and SAT are used to see raw knowledge, raw testing ability.

Our grades and recommendations are meant to demonstrate our work ethic and how well we can organize our lives to do well in classes. Standardized tests are meant to compare students from all around the country on a level playing field. But it isn’t level.

It isn’t level when the kids from the North Shore shell out $1500 for a private tutor. It isn’t level when kids without that option have to go into a test cold without any preparation. It isn’t level when those kids can probably only take a test once or twice because it costs so much in registration fees (and they don’t give out fee waivers for five retakes).     

I don’t intend to suggest that people with money should forgo their options just because they have an advantage. I don’t even mean to say that tutors are always elitist. But when it comes to standardized tests, we need to help create a level and honest playing field.

Get a tutor when you’re struggling with Chemistry or Pre-Calculus; better yet, go to the free TLC that you have access to! That is the time to show colleges how hard you want to work and how much time you are putting toward a goal. Focus on the real tests, not the practice ones.

I am lucky enough to have a natural thing for multiple choice tests. Give me that scantron and get out of my way because my brain already has oodles of test taking techniques, most of which are just subconscious after eighteen years of being probed by the school system. Yet, I could still raise my score if I took more practices tests and worked with a tutor.

But I shouldn’t, and that’s why I didn’t.

I’m not so presumptuous to think that after reading this article people are just going to stop enrolling in test prep courses. If education, and higher education in particular, is to be the “great equalizer,” then we need to assure that is it truly equal, and that begins with identifying problems like an advantage they may not have considered unfair until now.