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Questions are swirling around about standardized tests and college entrance exams, in particular. With the cancellation of many exams this past spring and the confusion that Covid-19 has caused, many families are wondering what this next year will bring. Some colleges are not even requiring prospective students to submit a college entrance exam.  

Here are some of the questions being asked: 

  • If the college my child is considering makes submitting entrance exams optional, should he/she even take one?
  • What should we do if many college entrance exams close their testing sites again? 
  • What college entrance exams should we even consider?
  • Schools won’t let my child take the PSAT there. Are there alternatives? 
  • I have never liked exams. Why should my child take one if they don’t have to?

I do not have the answer to every one of these questions. However, I think they are questions worth contemplating. In order to do these questions justice, we really need to take a step back and ask ourselves three preliminary questions: 

  • What is the purpose of education? 
  • Does my homeschool reflect that?
  • What are our standards for excellence?

If the purpose of education is to simply do well on exams for the purpose of getting into a good college and pursuing a good job, then the education received has prepared the student for a career, but maybe not for life. What if, instead, the broader purpose of education is to learn to discern truth, to think critically about important questions in life, and to develop a good work ethic? This type of education would lay the foundation for excellence in any career path. 

Does this view of the purpose of education mean that college entrance exams are useless?

Not necessarily. Consider asking yourself the following questions while you contemplate the usefulness of college entrance exams.

How can exams encourage our children to discern truth, think critically, and work hard? I’m afraid good questions always prompt more questions. This is the case here. Do the standardized tests and college entrance exams you are considering test more of a specific body of knowledge, or do they actually test aptitude, skills, and critical thinking? If your homeschool’s content and model of teaching does not even remotely line up with the exam’s purpose and philosophy, then it might not be an accurate gauge of learning for your child.

How can exams help our children strive for excellence if they create pressure and stress and a sense of failure? Let me suggest that maybe the problem is not the tests but instead, the attitudes of the test-takers. The attitudes of all of us. You see, in our society, we have come to equate mistakes and low test scores with failure. This is simply the wrong view to have. 

Mistakes are learning opportunities, and test scores simply reveal areas for improvement.

My children’s first violin teacher was dedicated to helping them understand that mistakes were learning opportunities. She praised them frequently, and when she corrected them, her tone was gentle and matter-of-fact. She let them know that she expected them to make many mistakes and that learning from those is precisely how they would improve.

Mistakes give us information. In the same way, exams give us information and can be tools for learning. Thankfully, college entrance exams can be taken multiple times, so they can give students information about areas that need improvement. Then, they can be taken again.  Thomas Edison said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Striving for a goal can be a great motivational tool.

Will more and more colleges make entrance exams optional or will the exams stick around? I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that as much as some of us homeschoolers would enjoy throwing these exams to the wind, they can help support a purposeful education and encourage our students to strive for excellence in all they do. 

Abigail Adams once wrote, “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.” She was a wise woman who sacrificed to ensure that her children understood the value of education and that it was worth working for. 

Will we always need to prepare our children for exams? Maybe. Maybe not. Do we have choices about which exams and what kinds of exams our children can take now? Yes, we do have choices now. 

You may not have had many of your questions answered, but my hope is that you will have a renewed vision of what education is and a new desire to strive for excellence in teaching your children, with or without college entrance exams.

Choices for College Entrance Exams

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