The Stress Behind the Test: How Standardized Testing Affects Mental Health

Courtesy of Cloud Front

Courtesy of Cloud Front

Ashley Chase ‘18, Staff Writer

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Assuming you have experienced a standardized test, like thousands across America have, it is probable that the anxiety and distress they entail are not a foreign concept to you. The majority of America’s students have suffered through four-hour testing periods with high consequences. Filling in circles is a widespread practice, and yet its effects on mental health are devastating.

Since when did mandatory suffering determine our futures? It turns out that this prison-like punishment dates back to the mid-1800s. The fairly recent No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 ordered that testing be carried out in all fifty states, every year. With the intention of leveling playing fields for students and raising America on the global scale, there, unfortunately, has been no evidence of improvement. In its place, depression levels have steadily increased among young people, and may be enough to cancel out the good.

There are multiple ways in which standardized testing negatively affects a student’s mental well-being. First, students are placed under expectations of perfection and suffer under too much pressure and competition. The consequences of doing poorly on a test are often over-exaggerated by society so that students feel that their future college, future job, future family all ride on how well he or she does on the exam. Simply put, it is a completely unrealistic and unhealthy burden for any person – let alone a teenager- to handle. Over the years, high-achieving students have performed increasingly well on such exams and many feel that they must receive perfect scores to stand out among so many intellectuals. The bar is raised higher every single day in a staggering inflation of talent. Suddenly, universities’ acceptance rates have decreased substantially; students are under the impression that they must cure cancer and start service organizations to be accepted into a good college. If they do not achieve such groundbreaking successes, they “must” receive near-perfect scores on the SAT, AP Exams, etc. to make up for it.

According to The Teenage Brain by Frances E. Jensen, such outside pressures can cause high activity in the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA), which is essential in the management of stress. CRF, a corticotropin-releasing factor, is created to regulate the HPA, and is overproduced in times of stress. When nerve-wracking situations like standardized tests create an excess of CRF, it results in over-activation of the HPA and causes clinical depression and anxiety, which are serious disorders that can impair a person’s quality of life.

The ensuing competition of scores is a disturbing lesson to students forming relationships around them. Receiving a low or less-than-perfect score can be debilitating, as students have spent so much time preparing for the SAT, AP Exam, etc. that they feel that their learning is characterized by the scale of points.

Too often, we evaluate our worth as a person by the measure of our intelligence, so we place excessive importance into a score meant to assess knowledge. The result is a generation of students who feel that the number on their test is a reflection of their character; they are blind to the fact that standardized tests are not measuring their creativity, strength, kindness, persistence, curiosity, self-discipline, integrity, and other characteristics. When a student witnesses their peers receive higher scores, the student feels incompetent and unintelligent in comparison. On the other hand, when that student realizes that some of his or her friends achieved a lower score, they are given a feeling of superiority and comfort in beating someone else.

In addition to the heavy stress and mountain placed on students’ backs, the nature of the test itself sends off harmful and insensitive signals. It is a soul-crushing method: students sit in a room for hours in absolute silence and torturous pressure, forced to focus without repose. In addition, the tests supposedly evaluate how much they have learned in a class when it fails to encapsulate the complexity of the material. No matter how much a student studies or retains information, they are confined to explaining historical events by picking A, B, or C. These tests cause a student to negatively assess their learning of a material when they should feel proud of all they have learned.

Standardized testing does have something to offer, but at what cost? As a community at Marymount, we must not allow standardized testing to affect our students in such a negative way. If you are a teacher, make sure to remind students of the light at the end of the tunnel and of the bigger picture as they enter their exams. If you are a student reading this right now, stressed out about an upcoming exam, you can take this piece of advice from myself, as a second semester Junior. Study hard. Make flashcards. However you study, though, you must always remember that your future success does not rest on the outcome of your test. Value all of the lessons you have been taught in class, and know that your best is always enough.

 

Works Cited:

http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/1107412

http://standardizedtests.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=006521

http://www.collegiatetimes.com/opinion/test-focused-education-detrimental-to-student-mental-health/article_5c020b70-e80a-11e6-af3f-93d401a2fb8e.html

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The Stress Behind the Test: How Standardized Testing Affects Mental Health