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The cognitive appeal of high-stakes testing

Few people enjoy being evaluated through high-stake examinations, but like getting a check-up at the dentist or doctor’s office, they are necessary procedures. Standardized high-stakes testing provides admissions officers with objective evaluation on the knowledge and competencies possessed by an individual and whether they will succeed and flourish in a specific institution or program. The process is cold, clinical, and based upon decades of exhaustive scientific research. Unfortunately, most arguments against high-stakes testing are based on affect and appeal to emotion instead of cognition.

MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, GRE, SAT, TOEFL, IELTS. The mere mention of a test can cause a student who has not, or is years away from, taking one feel anxiety and apprehension. This is a result of the counter-intuitive emotion-based appeal against standardized testing. There are dozens of publicly available peer-reviewed longitudinal, cohort, cross-sectional, and case-control studies on essentially each major high-stakes examination; however, evidence from these studies are rarely used in counter-arguments. Unfortunately this leads to the public misinformation regarding the value of these examinations.

The role of high-stakes examinations is to provide each student the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and mastery of a subject in a controlled environment. Two students enrolled in a Bachelor of Commerce program at separate universities could graduate with the same grade-point average, but in reality possess different levels of knowledge and competency. A standardized test used for admission into the graduate business programs like GRE or GMAT ensure that all students possess the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed.

High-stakes examinations are not the barriers some make them out to be. If an individual possesses the adequate skills being evaluated they will likely be successful on the examination and in the program they are applying to. One way to lessen the anxiety associated with high-stakes testing is to ensure that students have access to all of the scientific research and resources explaining what the examination measures and why it is used. The emotion-based appeal has no place in this.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and marketing strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also a part-time faculty member at Centennial College and serves on the board of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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