As reported by, W. James Popham, former president of the American Educational Research Association, defines a standardized test as "any test that's administered, scored, and interpreted in a standard, predetermined manner." Standardized tests take many forms. Usually, they include multiple-choice questions, which are scored quickly and automatically by machines and computers.

Standardized tests are designed to provide every test taker with the exact same questions in exactly the same manner. By doing so, standardized tests are able to, presumably, measure a large group of individuals based on identical criteria. Proponents of standardized tests say this is a way to provide teachers, administrators and parents with objective measurements of a student's aptitude. Standardized tests, supporters argue, hold teachers as well as students accountable for their performance.

Critics of standardized tests say that the tests do not appropriately challenge young students and do not encourage development of critical-thinking skills. Rather, according to critics, every student is encouraged to memorize standardized information and recite it on a test. Critics of the tests also argue that, while standardized tests may indeed hold teachers accountable, they also encourage an atmosphere in which the teachers are only measured by their students' ability to perform on the tests. "Teaching to the test" has become the focus of many classrooms, say critics, where teachers are now afraid of losing their jobs because of poor testing.

Most states administer annual grade-level standardized tests to students from grades 1 to 12. Many high school students elect to take national standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT. In addition to these tests, which some colleges and universities use as admissions criteria, other forms of standardized tests allow young students to earn college credit or professional certification.