5 Surprising Skills Measured by Standardized Tests

A multiple choice test answer sheet

As we’ve said before, tests like the SAT, ACT, LSAT, ISEE, and SSAT are designed to differentiate. But people often mistake what they seem to test for with what they actually test for.

These exams appear to be measuring knowledge and intelligence, but they’re actually designed to test for several other – more important – things.

1. Mental Endurance

The exams are long.

Can you keep performing your best for several hours?

Why do they design them this way? Because earning a college degree involves long hours of mental labor, and the careers that come after university require mental endurance too.

An exhausted student napping at their desk

2. Persisting Through Boredom

In addition to being long, the exams are boring. (Some of the reading passages seem deliberately designed to induce yawns.)

Can you stay focused even though it’s not interesting?

Why do they make standardized tests boring? Because every major and every career involves at least some boring, tedious work, even if you’re pursuing a passionate calling.

3. Mental Flexibility

The questions aren’t always asked in the way you expect.

Can you still understand them?

The answers aren’t always presented in the way you expect.

Can you still determine the correct one?

Sometimes, your first approach fails, and a new one is needed.

Can you switch gears quickly?

Why do these exams demand mental flexibility? Because the world is a dynamic place where cognitive flexibility is an essential skill.

A thoughtful student considering how to solve a problem

4. Risk-Taking

Because the exams are difficult, you’ll be unsure about some (probably many) of the questions.

Can you engage anyway? Are you willing to try when you’re unsure if you’re doing it right?

Why do standardized exams test for risk-taking? Because life is full of uncertainty and learning requires risk.

5. True Mastery

Reading comprehension passages demand true understanding of the author’s intended meaning.

Have you been reading widely over the years? Have you been challenging yourself with difficult books and articles, both fiction and nonfiction?

a library

Math sections require that you’ve done both massed practice and interleaving, so you can quickly solve a wide variety of problems.

Have you been practicing mastery learning over the years? Or have you been faking your way through?

Why Standardized Tests Are Still Around

The fact that standardized exams measure these skills is one reason schools still use them. While they might seem outdated or irrelevant, the big-picture skills they test for are still very important for success in the modern world.

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