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As both an SAT tutor and a college instructor, she’s seen testing’s downside

A student in Florida used a study guide to prepare for the SAT.
A student in Florida used a study guide to prepare for the SAT.(Joe Raedle/Getty Images/File 2013)

Like Scott Lajoie (“Don’t dread the SATs,” Opinion, April 26), I too have been an SAT tutor. As an instructor of English in a state university, I also deal with the end product of the college admissions process that relies heavily on these instruments. Lajoie overlooks a couple of factors in his analysis of the value of standardized testing.

While he asserts that the tests represent “pretty well a student’s knowledge of what they should be learning,” and that this is often a stated objective of these tests, the tests are not created by educational institutions, but rather by a testing industry that reaps income from both the institutions that use them and the parents who pay for them.

As a tutor who was trained by one of the agencies that offers test prep skills, I learned many of the tricks to help students succeed. Among them were strategies such as skipping more difficult questions at the end of a section to avoid the quarter-point penalty for answering them incorrectly. A good test’s purpose should be to demonstrate the taker’s knowledge, not to play punitive mind-games with the learner.

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As an English instructor, I have seen students who have memorized massive vocabulary lists to pass the exam, but are unable to use the words in the context of their own writing. The critical reading section of a test, with its insistence on only one correct answer, eliminates the idea that a text can carry ambiguity.

Lajoie claims that the test helps students exhibit problem-solving skills, but I have also seen examples of students who scored well on the SAT struggling in college because college success involves multiple skills beyond test-taking strategies, such as organization, time management, and social skills.

Rosemarie Buxton
North Andover

The writer is an adjunct instructor in the first-year writing program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.