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Why We Secretly Love Tests 

By Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.

“How can I say that other people also love tests? I notice how my children obsessively play video games. They love the challenge and repeat scenarios in order to master the levels.”

I love tests. I have a Ph.D. in Psychology with a specialty interest in standardized tests. For half my life, I have helped students prepare for the ACT and SAT college admissions tests and graduate and professional school admissions tests such as the GRE, LSAT, and GMAT. I consult with companies to make and evaluate new tests. I have written my own test preparation study guides. My students and their parents assuredly think I am a strange person. As I explain my own fascination with tests, I want to share another unusual thought: I believe that we all secretly love tests!

Psychologists are responsible for modern tests. Alfred Binet constructed the first intelligence test in 1905 in Paris. Lewis Terman modified the test for English speakers in 1917 and created the first version of the Stanford-Binet. Two Princeton psychologists constructed the SAT in 1926 as an Ivy League admissions exam. Personality tests were devised that measure aspects of normal personality (such as the Myers-Briggs and California Personality Inventory) and abnormal tendencies (such as the Rorschach Inkblot Test and the MMPI). Psychologists have expanded into many other areas: employment tests, ability tests, attitude and interest inventories, and even measures of attraction. While in graduate school, I was enthralled by how a test could measure my “intelligence” or posit that I was an ENTJ (Myers-Briggs shorthand for Extroverted-Intuitive-Thinking-Judging personality type). I actually liked taking these tests, hoping to learn more about myself. I also discovered that I could help others prepare for important exams, such as the GRE, which is used for graduate school admissions. So I did not mind being “tested” in the sense that I could learn about my interests, abilities, and limits.

How can I say that other people also love tests? I notice how my children obsessively play video games. They love the challenge and repeat scenarios in order to master the levels. You might say “But this is not a test!” I would say that it is because it “tests” my children’s ability to solve problems. Furthermore, the popularity of game shows (such as Jeopardy or Are You Smarter than a 5th grader?) or the abundance of “personality” tests in popular magazines indicates how much we want to measure ourselves against others. Teachers also love tests. They are constantly giving students tests: quizzes, assignments, projects, and papers. How else would teachers know how their students are performing? Finally, most people love athletic “tests”: these tests are called games or contests but their essence is to determine how much ability individuals or teams possess.

I think we love those tests in which we are willing participants in the endeavor. If we agree to be “tested”, then I think that most of us are eager to find out the results, whatever these results indicate about our interests or abilities. On the other hand, there are many “tests” that we despise; I believe this dislike stems from us not being willing participants in the testing situation or not understanding the purpose of the exam. Students hate tests for which they are not prepared. Teachers hate tests that evaluate their performance, especially when they do not understand how tests can be used for this purpose. Starting in 2015, many states will use new Common Core assessments that measure these new standards. These new tests will not be liked if students, teachers, and parents do not understand their purpose, their content, or their results.

So let us make this secret love affair with tests more open. Let us admit that we love being “tested” as long as we agree to the exercise and we will know the results. Only by being tested, can we truly discover who we really are and what we can really do.

Michael K. Smith, Ph.D., is owner of TESTPREP EXPERTS ( ) which prepares students for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He is also a consultant to Discovery Education Assessment. He can reached at

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