The Purpose of Achievement Tests

The Purpose of Achievement Tests

How do we determine what a person knows about a certain subject? Or how do we determine an individual’s level of skill in a certain area? One of the most common ways to do this is to use an achievement test. An achievement test is designed to measure a person’s level of skill, accomplishment, or knowledge in a specific area.

Closer Look at Achievement Tests

The achievement tests that most people are familiar with are the standard exams taken by every student in school. Students are regularly expected to demonstrate their learning and proficiency in a variety of subjects. In most cases, certain scores on these achievement tests are needed in order to pass a class or continue on to the next grade level.

The role of achievement tests in education has become much more pronounced since the passage of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. This legislation focused on standard-based education which was used to measure educational goals and outcomes. While this law was later replaced by the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, achievement testing remains a key element in measuring educational success and plays a role in determining school funding.

But achievement tests are not just important during the years of K-12 education and college. They can be used to assess skills when people are trying to learn a new sport. If you were learning dance, martial arts, or some other specialized athletic skill, an achievement test can be important for determining your current level of ability and possible need for further training. 

Examples of Achievement Tests

Some more examples of achievement tests include:

  • A math exam covering the latest chapter in your book
  • A test in your social psychology class
  • A comprehensive final in your Spanish class
  • The ACT and SAT exams
  • A skills demonstration in your martial arts class

Each of these tests is designed to assess how much you know at a specific point in time about a certain topic. Achievement tests are not used to determine what you are capable of; they are designed to evaluate what you know and your level of skill at the given moment.

As you can see, achievement tests are widely used in a number of domains, both academic- and career-related. Students face an array of achievement tests almost every day as they complete their studies at all grade levels, from pre-K through college. Such tests allow educators and parents to assess how their kids are doing in school, but also provide feedback to students on their own performance.

When Are Achievement Tests Used?

Achievement tests are often used in educational and training settings. In schools, for example, achievements tests are frequently used to determine the level of education for which students might be prepared. Students might take such a test to determine if they are ready to enter into a particular grade level or if they are ready to pass of a particular subject or grade level and move on to the next.

Standardized achievement tests are also used extensively in educational settings to determine if students have met specific learning goals. Each grade level has certain educational expectations, and testing is used to determine if schools, teachers, and students are meeting those standards.

So how exactly are achievement tests created? In many instances, subject matter experts help determine what content standards should exist for a certain subject. These standard represent the things that an individual at a certain skill or grade level should know about a particular subject. Test designers can then use this information to develop exams that accurately reflect the most important things that a person should know about that topic.

Achievement Tests vs Aptitude Tests

Achievement tests differ in important ways from aptitude tests. An aptitude test is designed to determine your potential for success in a certain area. For example, a student might take an aptitude test to help determine which types of career they might be best suited for. An achievement test, on the other hand, would be designed to determine what a student already knows about a specific subject.

A Word From Verywell

Achievement tests play an important role in education, but they have also been the subject of criticism at times. Some feel that excessive testing interferes with the educational process and places too much emphasis on passing a test while ignoring more important abilities such as critical and creative thinking. However, such tests do provide a fairly efficient way to get an idea of how well students are performing.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the “Everything Psychology Book.”

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