Editing and Proofreading for the Busy Writer

If you ask any writer which part of their process they’re least fond of, editing and proofreading invariably feature at the top of the list. Disliked and even despised, proofreading your manuscript is a crucial part of your work. In the heat of the creative process, you try to type as fast as your thoughts flash in your head. You have little regard for grammar, spelling, or even cohesion.

But that’s the first draft. It’s rough around the edges, full of grammatical mistakes, and doesn’t look like something you’d dare present to the public eye. That’s when you have to run it through a grammar check, trim off the redundant words, cut down those run-on sentences, and rewrite that paragraph for clarity.

No matter how busy you are and how tight your deadlines are, editing your work before submitting it is vital for your success as a writer. Here’s the lowdown of how to edit and proofread your writing without putting in the long hours.

Make It a Habit

Most busy writers want to start editing their manuscript as soon as they’re done writing to get it over with. But you need to take a break and put some time between the end of the creative phase and the beginning of the editing process. You want to come back to the manuscript with a rested mind and fresh eyes. You want to read your writing as if this is the first time you’ve seen it. That’s the best way to catch all those hidden mistakes and style flaws that are not easy to detect. If you’re pressed for time, at least sleep on it and come back to it bright and early in the morning.

And once you’ve started your proofreading stage, don’t try to do it all at once. This might work for very short pieces, but a manuscript with multiple chapters needs a fresh and keen eye at different times. Work through a little bit at a time, at night, early in the morning, or during a break. Just sit down and read your manuscript out loud. There’s a big difference between trusting your eyes and listening to the words read out loud. You’ll be able to detect the flaws in pace, the clunky sentences, and the words that have no place in the paragraph.

It also helps to make a list of your most common errors. These could be spelling or syntax errors such as “affect” when you actually mean “effect” or the infamous “they’re” and its confusing homonyms. When editing, go through the list and search for each word in the manuscript to make sure you’re using it correctly. It’s a daunting task, but it ensures that you don’t turn in a piece with some embarrassing, and totally avoidable, mistakes.

Hone Your Process

Although editing and proofreading go hand in hand when it comes to making sure your writing is in the best shape possible, the two processes have huge differences between them. For one thing, you should do your editing on the screen, but proofread the manuscript in a different medium. When you print out the piece and hold it in your hand, you’ll be surprised at how many mistakes you overlooked while checking the same piece on the screen.

When you read your writing out loud, sometimes you can catch errors easily. Other times, you can feel the mistakes but just can’t put your finger on them. The problem is you have spent so many hours on the manuscript, you’ve become familiar with it. Too familiar in fact to see some glaring mistakes staring you in the face. To find those sneaky errors hiding in plain sight, read the sentences in reverse order. Start from the bottom of the page and read your way up. By taking familiarity out of the process, your mind doesn’t know what’s coming next. It will then treat each sentence as a single unit and find what’s wrong with it.

If you have recurring problems that keep popping up in your writing, go through them one problem at a time. If you struggle with keeping the pace and flow of your writing, then go through the whole manuscript removing redundant words and phrases, simplifying complex sentences, and making it easy to read. When you’re done with pacing, move on to the next recurring problem until you’re done with them all.

After resolving all the nitty-gritty details, and when you’re confident that to the best of your knowledge there are no hidden issues with your manuscript, take a step back and look at the big picture. Make sure that your manuscript has an intact spine. If this is a work of fiction, check that the plot has no holes, the characters are well developed, and that your plot twists are serving their purpose. If it’s a non-fiction book, then double-check your arguments and make sure that you stay on topic throughout the manuscript. Each chapter should add to the point you’re trying to prove and there are no redundancies or fillers.

Editing and proofreading are both sides of the same coin. But while editing is best done on the screen where it’s easy to rewrite whole paragraphs and fix the issues you find quickly, proofreading is more effective when you do it on paper. Try to engage your ears and mouth and not just your eyes when looking for syntax errors, pace issues, and hidden mistakes. Only then can you turn in your piece of writing with pride and confidence.

How to Take Full Advantage of Your College Education

It has been more than a decade since a steady number of around 20 million students have been enrolling in colleges across the United States each year. According to the Education Data Initiative, 40% of these students drop out of college. That’s roughly around 8 million students every year, of which, a whopping 30% fail to even reach their sophomore year let alone receive their degree.

We opened this article with these statistics not to paint a dire picture of your future as a student, but rather as a much-needed reality check to get you into the right mindset so you can improve your odds of long-term success while you enjoy your newfound independence and undertake its subsequent responsibilities.

The higher education system is far from perfect, but it is generally a good investment that can serve as a launchpad for those who have a plan for the path they are going to tread in the future. If you are reading this, chances are that you are cognizant of that fact, which is a fantastic start in and of itself.

A Means to an End

One of the mistakes that are prevalent among students is that they attend college without having made decisions about their majors or future careers. You might think that your goal is to go to college, graduate, get a job, and move from there but that is too broad to be a goal. College by itself is not and should not be your goal. Rather, it is a vessel that should help you move towards your desired outcome. From community colleges to more prestigious ones and everything in between, there are all types of colleges you can merely attend and graduate from.

The ultimate question that you should have a clear answer for even before applying is what is it that you want to accomplish that makes college worth its price of admission? What is the logical next step that you need to take after it? With no clear picture in mind, you are just doing what you think you are supposed to do which is not good enough.

Academic Advisors Are Invaluable

Even if you are goal-driven with your studies, you are still in need of good advice because you may lack the knowledge as to what courses in your academic path will fulfill your degree requirements and you may end up staying in college longer than is necessary. An advisor can tremendously help you set realistic academic objectives, progress successfully towards your graduation, and finish your degree on time.

A mistake that many students make is that they view their mandatory meeting with their advisors as an inconvenience rather than an opportunity. Determining your area of focus and how best to set up your coursework in order to gain the most work experience as well as academic knowledge along with getting a good understanding of your career and academic needs are some of the benefits this opportunity can provide.

Budgeting and Financial Literacy

As alien of an idea as it may sound, an isolated success within the confines of a college education won’t get you far. You need to develop other essential skills concurrently with your college studies to be able to put the puzzle pieces together. Things that usually are not covered in the American education system. As you gradually get comfortable with navigating through life as an adult, it is crucial that you work on your financial competence.

Just because you’re earning little or nothing at all at the moment, it doesn’t mean that you should not have a financial plan. This plan could be managing your small pocket money or earnings from your part-time job and budgeting your college and day-to-day expenses as a student. This is also a very good way to practice and get into the habit of managing your finances for when you graduate and get a full-time job. Not everyone can qualify for financial aid such as scholarships and grants so make sure you understand the details of the best private student loans and map out how you are going to repay them in the long run.

Career Counselors

While academic advisors provide you with guidance on how you should align your academic activities with your lifelong career goals, career counselors help you develop, evaluate, and pursue those goals in a way that is in line with your personal traits, values, capabilities, and interests.

Career counselors do this with a variety of standardized tools, strength assessments, and aptitude tests such as the Strong Interest Inventory and Self-Directed Search. They also utilize questionnaires, personality tests, and interviews to develop an understanding of who you are and your capabilities and self-identified skills to explore possible career opportunities based on their insights and experience.

Even if you have a generally good idea of your strengths, weaknesses, skills, and passions, a career counselor can help you with the other side of the coin which is understanding the job market simply because your capabilities don’t mean much if the demand for them is in decline. Staying on top of the trends in the market and the ability to reconcile your intrinsic qualities with the things that are in demand, is central to the success of your career life.

Iconic Destinations, Iconic Fashion

One of the things we miss most about the pre-COVID world is definitely traveling. Being able to experience the culture and customs of different countries is one of the most fulfilling and enriching things a person can do. Pent-up demand for travel is increasing, and once it’s safe to go abroad, tourism numbers are likely to skyrocket. In fact, people are actually planning to travel more post-pandemic than they did pre-pandemic.

Traveling abroad is all about new experiences. The food, music, culture, and even language are all things that we can learn from. However, something that you might not notice at first is fashion. Styles can often differ wildly from place to place, and it’s an indelible part of what makes a foreign country feel, well, foreign. Let’s look at some of the most iconic pieces of fashion from other countries, the history behind them, and the proper etiquette for wearing it as a tourist.

Hawaiian Leis

Probably the first thing most people think of when they think about vacations is Hawaii. And what’s the most iconic image of Hawaii? It’s someone greeting you at the entrance of a beach resort with Hawaiian leis. Leis are given for a wide variety of occasions such as weddings, graduations, important events, and to welcome people. They represent friendship, love, and peace. Leis are usually made of flowers, but can be made from materials like leaves or fronds. The type of flower used to make the lei is incredibly significant. Just like flowers have meanings, the flowers used in leis have meanings too.

Hawaiian people are extremely welcoming of anyone, including tourists, who want to use leis. So there’s almost no wrong way to wear a lei - you can even make your own! Just remember these two rules: don’t refuse a lei, and don’t take a lei off in the presence of the person who gave it to you.


Lederhosen are synonymous with one thing - Oktoberfest. What’s a trip to another country without tasting that country’s alcohol? Visitors to Oktoberfest drink up to 2 million gallons of beer every year! To complete the experience, many tourists dress up in Lederhosen, a traditional Bavarian outfit. Lederhosen were originally worn by the rural classes when they performed physical labor. The leather shorts meant that the Lederhosen was durable yet light enough to be comfortable. Lederhosen actually fell out of fashion in the 1900s, but were revived thanks to festivals like Oktoberfest, where Lederhosen and its female equivalent, the dirndl, have become nearly ubiquitous. Oktoberfest is one big party, so it’s totally fine to don a traditional costume. Everyone’s there to have a good time, and Lederhosens just add to the fun. Obviously there will be plenty of overpriced, low-quality clothes out there meant to take advantage of tourists who might not know any better. But as long as you exercise a bit of common sense, you’ll be able to find the perfect Lederhosen for your Oktoberfest bonanza!


The Kimono is one of the first things you think of when it comes to Japan. This elegant garment has a long and rich history, and is treasured as an important part of Japanese culture. There are types of kimono for every conceivable occasion, as they aren’t just meant for serious or formal events. While they aren’t as common as they used to be and are rarely used as everyday wear, they’ve become more popular of late, especially with tourists. Generally, there aren’t any problems if tourists wear kimonos. In fact, there are many shops who rent kimonos out, allowing tourists to have the experience of wearing one without having to buy one. You can even get your hair and makeup done to complete the look! However, take note that the kimono is a complicated garment. It’s also not easy to sit down in! So make sure you know what you’re getting into before you decide to try one on. As they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do. It’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to respecting the culture of another country.


A Sari is a long piece of cloth that is draped over the body. It is worn with a petticoat and a blouse, and is one of the national costumes of India. The sari is as diverse as its country. Every region has a different method of draping the sari. Saris are also made of many different materials and have different levels of ornamentation, depending on what occasion it’s intended for. Generally, locals love when you make an effort to adopt some of their culture, so feel free to wear a sari on your next trip to India! However, saris can be difficult to drape for beginners, so make sure you’ve got the technique down or know someone who can help you out. Also take note that India can be very hot and humid, so a sari might not be the most comfortable choice.

Top Types of Insurance Americans Have

Insurance is all about planning for the unexpected. Deciding on the type of insurance you need really depends on the greatest risks you have in your life. Here are the most common insurance types that Americans have to help them through the tougher times.

Fundamentally, insurance protects you from financial loss. By paying a monthly or annual premium, you are gaining the peace of mind that you will not have to pay a significant amount of money if certain situations arise. It is possible to get insurance for many aspects of life, which can make it difficult to decide which types of insurance to take out. You could insure yourself against every possible thing that could go wrong in your life, but the cost of this would add up to a considerable amount of money.

Making a decision really depends on your attitude towards certain risks, and your financial abilities if particular things happen. By identifying the things that are most important to you, as well as the risks you may have due to your individual circumstances, you can start to find the insurance types that may be most appropriate for you.

Here are the most popular types of insurance Americans have to help you make your own insurance decisions.

Medical Insurance

The one thing that everyone needs is their health, which is why medical insurance is held by many Americans. Everyone will have a medical issue at some point in their lives, and the likelihood of having medical problems increases as you get older. This is why medical insurance is so beneficial. Not all medical insurance policies are the same, so it is very important to shop around and check the details of the policies you are considering. Do your own due diligence by searching for terms such as ‘best medical insurance broker in Texas’ and see what people are saying about your shortlist of medical insurers on the internet. You’ll be thankful to have good coverage and a great company to work with when you need it.

Home Insurance

A person’s home is often the most valuable thing they own, so insuring it is more than a good idea. If you have a mortgage on your property, your mortgage lender will most likely have stipulated that you need home insurance anyway. This makes it important to renew your home insurance when it comes up for renewal too, as otherwise you could invalidate the terms of your mortgage agreement. Home insurance with good coverage means that if unexpected issues arise with your home, whether it is damage from flooding or extreme weather that causes problems, the insurance company will pay for it. Even if you don’t own your own home, home contents insurance is an important consideration for similar reasons.

Car Insurance

Simply put, if you drive a car or another kind of automobile, you need automotive insurance. This is stated in federal law so that other motorists and pedestrians are protected if there is a crash. Different states stipulate certain coverage criteria, so it is always important to ensure you have the right coverage for where you live. As well as being a mandated requirement if you drive a car, automotive insurance also protects your interests too. If you rely on your car for work, you’re going to need insurance coverage to make sure you are not without a car should you have an accident.

Life Insurance

Although life insurance is not necessary to your daily life as medical, home and automobile insurance might be, it is still a type of insurance held by many Americans for a good reason. The key reason for having life insurance is to account for the scenario that you might pass away, leaving loved ones with unmanageable financial commitments. Getting a life insurance policy that would provide a payout to ensure mortgage payments and bills could still get paid gives many people peace of mind. It means that your spouse and/or children could continue their way of life at a very difficult time. The key with life insurance is to make sure your policy covers the financial commitments you have, and that the beneficiaries are the most appropriate people to receive the money.

Disability Insurance

This kind of insurance – similar to income protection insurance – means that if you are unable to work because of disability or illness, you can receive a livable income. Something that many people worry about is what they would do if they were unable to work for a reason outside of their control, which is why disability insurance is a favored insurance type among Americans. Although you may be eligible for certain state benefits if you were to become unable to work for health reasons, having disability insurance gives a greater degree of certainty that your quality of life and living standards would not have to drastically change.

5 Surprising Facts From the Big Fashion Houses

Any fashion fan has a raft of designers they follow and watch out for. Whether for news on the latest season’s designs, collaborations or latest celebrity followers, there’s always something new happening in the world of fashion. But here are some lesser known facts that you may not have known about until now.

1. Armani and Bomber Jackets

Bomber jackets are fashion staples for many people, with a timeless style that people go back to whatever the era or generation. These types of jackets originate from the military, worn by pilots from the early 1900s. They were designed especially to keep pilots warm in typically cold and draughty cockpits. The design was also quite fitted and sat just above the waist, taking into account the limited space in cockpits, and the need to be able to move unencumbered by too much fabric.

While bomber jackets have been around for a while, it is believed to be Georgio Armani who created the first high fashion line of bomber jackets. This happened in the 1970s, when Armani’s bomber jackets were characterized by high-end leather and a suave fitted finish.

2. Versace, Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo Together

Once of the most iconic luxury fashion companies in the world, Versace is a brand known for the many celebrities it has helped dress. In the celebrity world, the brand has enjoyed a number of notable moments, such as the black dress worn by Elizabeth Hurley in 1994. In 2000 too, Jennifer Lopez wore a green Versace dress that went on to be voted the fifth most iconic dress of all time.

The brand certainly has a long and illustrious history, but many people might wonder what Versace has in common with Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo. The answer is that in 2019, Versace joined forces with these two brands as Capri Holdings Limited, a global luxury fashion group.

3. Dolce & Gabbana’s Beginnings on a Budget

The Italian fashion house currently worth around 1.3 billion Euros didn’t always have an easy ride. In 1986, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana launched their first collection at Milan Fashion Week. The collection was called ‘Geometrissimo’, but Dolce & Gabbana didn’t actually have the money to hire models, or any accessories to go with the show. They ended up asking their friends to model the clothes, and these models also provided some of their own personal accessories to go with the attire. Even the stage curtain was a bed sheet that Domenico Dolce brought from home!

The less than ideal circumstances of this event didn’t do the pair any harm. To the contrary, the duo went on to launch their first self-produced collection, which was called ‘Real Women’. Part of the reasoning behind the name was the fact that local women participated as models in the show. It turns out that Dolce & Gabbana were truly ahead of their time in their thinking, as more than 30 years later, the ideal of ‘real women’ as fashion models is very much the trend.

4. Professional Cycling or Paul Smith

The globally renowned UK fashion designer Paul Smith was originally intending to be a professional cyclist. He left school at the age of 15, getting a job in a clothing factory to earn money while practicing his cycling the rest of the time. However, Smith got into a major cycling accident at the age of 17 that was followed by a six month stay in hospital. During his recuperation, he found inspiration in clothing and fashion, and subsequently went on to find a job with an esteemed Savile Row Tailor in London.

Paul Smith’s brand is now a global success story. His fashion is sold in 70 countries, he is a named Royal Designer for Industry, and he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1994. He was also knighted in the year 2000, making him Sir Paul Smith.

5. Horses and Hermès

While the internationally recognized fashion brand Hermès has been thriving for years, not many people know about the company’s beginnings. Hermès in the early 1800s actually had nothing to do with fashion, and instead made harnesses, bridles and saddles for horse carriages. In the early 1900s, Hermès made a leather golf jacket, marking its first foray into the fashion world. The fashion brand had another exclusive accolade at the same time, as Hermès was granted exclusive use of the zipper for clothing and leather goods, thus becoming the first company to introduce the zipper to France.

By the 1920s, Hermès had added various clothing lines and a range of accessories to its brand, and later a range of handbags. In 1935, Hermès launched its ‘sac à dépêches’, which was later renamed the ‘Kelly bag’ after Grace Kelly famously had one. Nowadays, Hermès is the 7th largest fashion company in the world.

Website Maintenance Tips That Slot Seamlessly Into a Business

Keeping a business website in peak condition is something that is far easier said than done. Here’s the technology and processes you need in place to ensure website maintenance is taken care of once and for all.

Website maintenance is something that often falls through the cracks in terms of job descriptions. Website managers have multiple priorities to juggle, which often span from marketing to managing external agencies. IT professionals have numerous elements of a company’s technical suite to take care of, from networked systems to maintaining software. It’s often when an issue arises on a website that a company realizes that better care needs to directed towards the day-to-day maintenance of a website.

When you get into the nuts and bolts of website maintenance, it can seem like an extensive and laborious process. There is everything from security certificates to online shop processes to keep on top of, plus a variety of other website building blocks in between. Bugs, poor loading times and broken links can appear without any notice. So what is the most efficient way of managing the website maintenance process so that businesses can carry on without interruption?

Automated Testing

By far one of the best time-savers in the website maintenance world is to incorporate automated website testing into your business practice. Website testing is all about testing every bit of functionality on a website. In many companies, hundreds of hours are lost to extensive website testing processes that have a lot of manual elements. Website testing is most valuable in transaction-based website sections, because if a form breaks or someone cannot complete a purchase on a website, it can have hugely detrimental impacts on a business.

There are solutions such as the testRigor test automation tool where it is possible to have website testing almost constantly running in the background. With tools such as this, there is no website downtime, issues are flagged in a timely way, and employees can avoid spending more time than necessary on inefficient testing processes.

Check Your Content

Many websites have pages or whole sections of content that are embarrassingly outdated. The reason is that most businesses do not have the capacity for one person to be responsible for every single page of content on a website. However, a website is a shop window to the world, and a reflection of your brand to each and every person who visits. Website content must be a priority within the website maintenance process.

Often, a workable solution is found not in tasking one individual to take responsibility for an entire website, but for subject experts across an organization to share the load. It makes sense for individuals who know about a part of the business to take responsibility for keeping specific web pages up-to-date. Not only does this work from a business efficiency perspective, it also gives colleagues across an organization a vested interest in the website. This helps to make it a better website overall.

Review Hosting Services

If your website has problems with going down sometimes, chances are you need to review your hosting solution. Problems with hosts and downtime add extra but unnecessary tasks to a website maintenance schedule. Look into the reasons for any previous website downtime and interrogate the security of your host. Also work on solid back-up plans. Many robust businesses have a number of back-up servers, so as long as you backup your website frequently, you can switch to another version of your live website even if one server has problems. If you have a secure and reliable hosting solution, this will save you an abundance of time in the long run.

Check Accessibility

One element of website maintenance that many businesses forget is accessibility. If a website is working ok for a small group of individuals who manage and maintain it, the temptation is to think that it is working ok for everyone. In fact, ensuring a website is accessible for people with different accessibility needs is not only important, it is the law. And even if your website conformed to accessibility criteria when you most recently revamped or relaunched it, the rules may well have moved on since then.

Looking at the latest accessibility guidelines and using website checkers to see if your website conforms to them is something you should most definitely make time for. Make sure you look at federal laws and international bodies, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium. The information published by international bodies such as this help you create a better website for disabled people and for people accessing your website on different devices. Not only do you want to adhere to the laws, most businesses like to think of themselves as being inclusive for everyone. It is fundamental to ensure this is the case by regularly checking your website accessibility performance.

Duke Tech Talks Patents

We talk a lot about innovation in this publication. Today, we’re going to explore how patents apply to tech, and how it might be a good idea to secure a patent to protect your innovations, if you’re starting a startup or tech business, even if you’re still completing your undergraduate degree.

Innovation always starts with an idea. You may have noticed a problem that can’t be solved with current technology and you want to find a way to fix it. Your original idea is first refined and researched, before ultimately, you are able to develop a new product or service. That process, from idea to invention can take years, which makes it important to protect your intellectual property and prevent others from taking advantage of your hard work during the development of your business. A patent gives you the sole right to produce, sell or export your invention, for a limited time, and stops competitors from copying your new ideas. Patent protections are essential to making the most of your invention, however, can they also hinder innovation?

Patents have been used to protect the intellectual property rights of inventors for hundreds of years. The US Congress granted its first patent in 1790 for a unique method of producing potash. To receive a patent, technical information about the invention must be disclosed in a patent application, which is also made available to the public. If approved, the patent holder will have exclusive commercial rights to their invention for up to 20 years. Patented inventions must be new and involve some ingenuity or inventive skill, but they do not need to be complex or a major breakthrough. Even simple or small improvements can be patented as long as they still offer significant advantages over the existing technology.

Critics of the patent system argue that it hinders innovation because a patent holder can have rights over a broad subject matter. Most technologies are developed by multiple inventors over many years. They could be working independently from one another, while simultaneously contributing to the same idea. Inventors who successfully assemble the many pieces of a technology puzzle into a finished product must consult with a patent attorney to learn whether their invention is covered by one or more patents owned by others. For example, early inventors could have patented a small part of a new technology yet their protection will cover the entire thing.

If you want to use the technology described in a patent, then the patented technology can be licensed, usually for a fee. Alternatively, inventors can also choose to redesign their technology to steer clear of existing patents. However, these steps can be costly and time-consuming, which means it is no longer economically viable to continue with the new technology. Failure to secure license for the relevant patents creates a risk of litigation from the patent holder, which could also force the new technology out of the marketplace. A prime example of this is the “smartphone patent war” which took almost a decade to resolve. Smartphone technology can encompass hundreds of patents, including many that are not granted until long after the new product is launched.

Major mobile device manufacturers, including Apple, Google and Samsung, have contested dozens of lawsuits over smartphone patents. Patents can be a way to opportunistically hinder competitors (in this case) in the lucrative smartphone market. In fact, the amount that Apple and Google have spent on patents exceeds the amount spent on research and development of new products. Apple and Samsung have had a long-running patent dispute over claims that the slide-to-unlock feature on a phone was Apple’s invention. Apple convinced the courts to patent their version of this feature, despite evidence that inventors before Apple had already accomplished key steps to implement this feature. The two companies went back and forth for seven years before Samsung agreed to pay license fees to Apple to settle the case.

Innovation is crucial to the continuing success of any organization. It means coming up with new ways to do things which leads to more effective products and ideas. Patents help protect those ideas and allow the inventors to profit from their hard work. Without the patent system, there would not be the same motivation to spend time and resources on innovation. However, patents for minor improvements may also prevent others from building on the technology which in turn holds back the process of innovation. The patent system needs to ensure that the rights of inventors to protect their ideas isn’t at the expense of technological advancement.

Two Common Criticisms of Standardised Tests, Analysed and Debunked

Standardised tests. We've all fretted about them at some time or another, whether it be as young tots nervous about our parents' reaction to a sub-par report card, or as undergraduate hopefuls awaiting the results of their university entrance exam.

For many of us, testing (whether it be preparing for the test, taking the test, or nervously awaiting the final results of the test) is an uncertain, nerve-wracking event that is nonetheless accepted as necessary and inevitable in our skills-based world. After all, how else would the testers know exactly how much one has learned up to this point? How else would one know their own strengths and weaknesses? By what other method would the school system, college, or company know whether the testee is of good enough proficiency to pass the course, acquire certification, or be accepted into a certain role?

However, did you know that this norm was not always the norm throughout history? That there are many detractors now and then who criticise the very idea that we need standardised testing at all (or at least as often as we do now)?

Setting the Terms Straight

But before we delve into the arguments about it, let us first define what exactly we mean when we say "standardised tests". Standardised tests are a form of test in which the same test is given to all takers, in the same manner, with the same limits, and with the final results being graded in the same way. A standardised test can be a written test, oral test, or a practical demonstration of skills (for example, a test to obtain a driver's licence). Whatever the format, the most important aspect is the standardisation, which ensures that those who pass meet a certain minimum standard.

Case #1: It Encourages Tedium Over Genuine Interest

So what problems might people find with this system? Well, one frequently trotted out argument is that doing well at a standardised test has almost nothing to do with actual knowledge and skill in the subject. Instead, teachers fall into the habit of what is called "Teaching to the Test", which involves teaching how to best get the top grade rather than teaching to ensure a holistic understanding of the subject matter. This involves the teacher focusing unhealthily on rote drills and memorisation, rather than trying to ignite genuine interest in the subject from their students. This is a very valid point, and teaching in this manner does drain enthusiasm for the subject matter from both student and teacher.

However, counter-critics contend that it is only below-average teachers who engage in it, and teachers who are competent can both instil a well-rounded understanding of a subject, as well as prepare students to take a test in that same subject. Thus, "Teaching to the Test" is not an inevitable outcome. Plus, studies have shown that students that are taught using rote methods actually perform more poorly in real standardised tests. If such a factoid were more widely known, it's likely that rote learning would decrease, as such methods would be shown to be ineffective at its sole goal (to make students pass tests).

Case #2: It Can Intensify the Plight of the Disadvantaged

Another argument is that students from disadvantaged communities (e.g. lower-income families, marginalised ethic and religious groups) are also inherently disadvantaged in a standardised test environment because the test does not take place in a vacuum. The success of a student in a standardised test isn't determined just by how much a student listens to lessons, but also whether their home lives are conducive to studying, how supportive their parents and wider community is to academic learning, the availability of resources such as libraries and the internet, the presence of physical and mental disabilities, and well as stress, nutrition and well-restedness. All of these factors vary wildly between student to student, with better results coming from students from higher-income and less marginalised homes due to influence of these factors alone.

However, such an argument assumes that schools are rigid institutions that do not give allowances for less-abled students, and that there are no efforts to even the playing field by teachers, educational institutions, and the government alike. For example, many schools and private institutions offer scholarships and financial aid schemes, aimed at alleviating the structural disadvantages of circumstances such as coming from a lower-income family. Likewise, while the dictionary definition of a standardised test is that the test is administered in exactly the same way for each testee, in practice many schools give students with physical or mental impairments (e.g. injured hands, dyslexia) extra time to complete their tests, thus offsetting the extra time they need to write out their answers or comprehend the questions.


Despite all this, we should still listen to criticism about the current system, as that is one of the quickest ways to see the system from another perspective, and realise where we might be going wrong and unnecessarily making things harder for students. For example, we should have tests that actually reward true understanding of the subject, and not just rote memorisation (e.g. phrase questions in novel ways, and tell students to explain in their own words). Similarly, we should aim for our education systems to equalise student opportunity for learning as much as possible, both outside and within the confines of the test (e.g. do not word questions in such a way that it requires a specific cultural context to understand, unless learning that context is the point of the test, etc.).

In the end, the standardised test is a tool, and so it can be tremendously effective. However, one can only maximise its effectiveness when used with clear knowledge of its limitations and all the ways it can go wrong.