Why are the SAT, GRE, ACT, GMAT, etc., designed to trick students into picking the wrong answer and to make sure many students don't finish on time?

For anyone that is preparing or thinking about preparing for one of the standardized 'high stakes' tests (you know which ones) -- the SAT, GRE, GMAT, ISEE, SSAT, and so on -- there's something you really should know about test development.
But first consider this. Wouldn't it be sensible for tests to discover what your strengths are and what you do well in?  Of course! But who said these tests or the test developers are sensible?  In fact, why should they be?  Here are two things test developers don't want you to know
1) Test developers usually (meaning not EVERY test is created this way, although most are) try to trick students into providing the wrong answer. Huh? 
2) Standardized tests are intentionally designed so that many or even most students will not complete them within the given time limit.
Now why would these nice testing companies engage in these practices?  Select the best choice below:
a) Test developers just wouldn't have enough time to write questions that most students could comfortably answer without a time limit.
b) Test developers try to "trick" students because students and parents spend a lot of time learning "tricks" to get high scores, so it's just "self-defense."
c) Test developers help their companies make more money by engaging in these practices.
d) Test developers realize that a good way to judge someone's insight and knowledge is to see whether the test taker can see subtle differences between the "correct" answer and one that is very close to being correct.
e) Test developers are angry because they work long hours and the work is tedious, so they take their frustration out on people that take the test.
And the answer is.....
Let's have some fun. I'm not going to reveal the correct answer right now.  So let's make this question into a mini-test. Respond with your answer in the comments section. I'm not being mean because a) you're not being graded; b) the answer doesn't "count"; and c)  getting the answer right or not has no reflection on your intelligence, knowledge, education, or perspicacity.
: < )
Until next time (when I'll give the correct answer)


From your choices, I pick "d" as the best one. Tho I would not be upset if a little of "b" were mixed in.
In my experience, making questions a little tricky (including answer choices) has to do with seeing not only if the student knows the material and has mastered the skill but can also think on his/her feet. In my experience, that is a vital personal quality.
Also, tricky answers make certain that you can read, understand, and REMEMBER to answer the actual question. 
Hi Joy!
You provide some excellent reasons why tricky answers could demonstrate critical thinking, but unfortunately, the "best answer" is C.  (if you notice on the language sections of these tests, the directions always say, 'Choose the best answer' and not 'Choose the correct answer.'
Test developers have a huge stake in creating a test that will conform to a certain "bell curve."  If the test is too "easy," then many students will get high scores, and colleges that use the test as part of the admissions decision would find the test unhelpful, and colleges pay a considerable fee in contracts with the test development companies for the privilege of receiving the test scores. Added to the variable of "tricky answers" is the time limit set for each test section. Does completing a section of a test with all correct answers in 30 minutes mean that you've scored higher than someone that needs 35 minutes?  It does in "high stakes" testing because the student requiring 35 minutes will not complete all the answers.  Hypothetically, the student that gets all the 30 answers correct within a 30 minute time frame has a perfect score. The second student may have answered all the questions correctly, but has only completed 27 or 28. That means the student will have a lower score when the test results are tabulated. Again, the reason for this test development strategy is to reduce the number of test takers that do very well on the test. If too many students got a perfect score or a very high score, the college admissions officers would find the test unhelpful in making entrance decisions, even if the test results are a small part of the decision-making process. "Small part" doesn't mean "no part."


Alan G.

PhD. All levels writing, reading AP English SAT/ACT/GRE thesis editing

1500+ hours
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