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Standardized Test

A test administered to a group of subjects under exactly the same experimental conditions and scored in exactly the same way.

Standardized tests are used in psychology, as well as in everyday life, to measure intelligence, aptitude, achievement, personality, attitudes and interests. Attempts are made to standardize tests in order to eliminate biases that may result, consciously or unconsciously, from varied administration of the test. Standardized tests are used to produce norms—or statistical standards— that provide a basis for comparisons among individual members of the group of subjects. Tests must be standardized, reliable (give consistent results), and valid (reproducible) before they can be considered useful psychological tools.

Standardized tests are highly controversial both in psychological circles and particularly in education because true standardization is difficult to attain. Certain requirements must be rigidly enforced. For example, subjects must be given exactly the same amount of time to take the test. Directions must be given using precisely the same wording from group to group, with no embellishments, encouragement, or warnings. Scoring must be exact and consistent. Even an unwitting joke spoken by the test administrator that relaxes the subjects or giving a test in a room that is too hot or too cold could be considered violations of standardization specifications. Because of the difficulty of meeting such stringent standards, standardized tests are widely criticized.

Critics of the use of standardized tests for measuring educational achievement or classifying children are critical for other reasons as well. They say the establishment of norms does not give enough specific information about what children know. Rather, they reveal the average level of knowledge. Secondly, critics contend that such tests encourage educators and the public to focus their attention on groups rather than on individuals. Improving tests scores to enhance public image or achieve public funding become more of a focus than teaching individual children the skills they need to advance. Another criticism is that the tests, by nature, cannot measure knowledge of complex skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. "Teaching to the test"—drilling students in how to answer fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice questions— takes precedence over instruction in more practical, less objective skills such as writing or logic.

Achievement tests, I.Q. tests, and the Stanford-Binet intelligence scales are examples of widely used standardized tests.

Further Reading

Houts, Paul L., ed. The Myth of Measurability. New York: Hart Publishing Co., 1977.

Wallace, Betty, and William Graves. Poisoned Apple: The Bell-Curve Crisis and How Our Schools Create Mediocrity and Failure. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

Zimbardo, Philip G. Psychology and Life. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1988.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Tests & Methods