What's the point of timed tests?

Standardized tests are usually timed. SAT, ACT, in Florida we have the FCATs and they’re all timed. You have a specific amount of time to complete each section. In the case of the SAT and ACT usually you’re at a testing center for the duration of the test so there’s no class schedule to contend with but each section of the test is timed. I remember there being guidance as to what to do if you’re stuck on a question and the advice is always move on or you’ll run out of time.

So, I find myself wondering who decides how much time to give test takers and why it matters so much.

My sister was recently struggling with the math portion of the teacher certification exam. A good part of her struggle was the stress of being timed. Being under the gun and now allowed to take “her time” doing the problems.

If you and I start the same math problem and I finish in 5 minutes and you finish in 15 and we both get the right answer haven’t we both proven mastery of the material?

I’m sure this is a point that could be debated but I do wonder why these test are timed so strictly. I nosed around on the SAT web site but didn’t really find an answer.

It matters so much because for a lot of people given say 8 hours to complete the SAT they would get 1600. I’ve tested this hypothesis myself by taking two different verbal sample test sections a few years ago. One timed, the other untimed. The untimed took me I believe 2x time to complete, but I got a perfect score, the timed one I didn’t do so well on. Basically it comes down that if you don’t immediately remember something, even in verbal you can derive it by looking at word roots, trying to think of similar words and such. It applies more to math though, since you are guaranteed to pretty much get 100% if you have infinite time.

Plus they want to maintain test security, and letting people go at different times would probably affect that somehow.

No. We’ve proven that we can recollect enough terminology to understand the problem. Any math solveable problem given some basic foundation of math, and knowledge of everyhing required to understand the problem can be solved in finite time. SAT/ACT/GRE tests your problem solving skills(i.e. speed) rather than knowledge of what whatever rudimentary math they use.(it’s assumed everybody knows all the math material required to solve all math problems on the SAT/GRE)

I never thought of it that way. It seems like if you don’t know the material, then you don’t know it, no amount of more time is going to help.

I’d still like to know how they arrive at the amount of time to give each section. Maybe it’s as simple as averaging.

It wouldn’t matter as much as you think it would that they get the time right, since the scores are normalized and curved after the test. If a given section is too hard or too easy for the time alotted, the normalization for that particular edition will fix that within a reasonable margin of error. They probably just give it to a sample of people with different times and then analyze the distribution, finding the time where the score average of the sample matches the expected score average for the demographic.

Mastery of the material means to me that you have it at your fingertips, and you don’t have to root around in the attic of your brain, or to resort to trial and error, to come up with a method of solving a problem.

In Real Life[sup]TM[/sup], there are some situations where being able to do something is all that matters, and time is not an issue; but there are other situations where it’s important to come up with an answer quickly and/or while under pressure. For example, a teacher in a classroom situation would want to be able to answer a student’s questions quickly, or come up with an explanation on the spot, without spending too much time thinking it over.

Standardized tests, like the SAT and ACT, are just that—standardized, meaning they try to make the test-taking conditions as uniform as possible for everyone everywhere who takes that test. The strict timing is part of that standardization.

I am not an epistomologist or neurologist or any of that, but it would seem to me that most reasonable definitions of “intelligence” would include at least a degree of pattern recognition ability, and the ability to recognize connections between a problem one has solved in the past and the likely best solution to a new but analogously-structured problem.

All of us can eventually recognize such patterns – but the people we regard as intelligent can recognize more of them, more accurately, and usually more quickly.

Isn’t this how we often define “smart” people – someone who can anticipate and (often annoyingly) counter your argument or question before it’s halfway out of your mouth?

If you don’t agree with this definition of intelligence, the more prosaic reason is that these tests are given as predictors of academic success, career success, etc., and in academic and vocational settings, extended (or unlimited) time to recognize and solve problems is rarely available. Also, the person who correctly answers “more” questions in an arbitrary time period than his peers may have been able to do so because he is glancing ahead at upcoming problems, considering two problems at once – in short, effectively multitasking/parallel processing, which is almost always regarded as a plus in school and work settings.