Difference Between Standardised Tests and High-Stakes Tests

Standardised tests and high-stakes tests are used to evaluate students' performance and skills, but they differ in their objectives, consequences, and associated pressure.

Standardised tests and high-stakes tests are used to evaluate students’ performance and skills, but they differ in their objectives, consequences, and associated pressure. The purpose of standardised tests is to measure a student’s knowledge and abilities uniformly across test-takers, institutions, and regions. The purpose of these tests is to evaluate students based on a standardised set of criteria, which typically includes mathematics, fluency, and science. The results can inform curriculum, instructional practices, and resource distribution. The stakes of standardised tests can be minimal or high, depending on the significance of the results.

In contrast, high-stakes tests have significant consequences for students, instructors, and schools. Students’ graduation, grade advancement, or college admissions may depend on the results of high-stakes tests. These assessments can put students and teachers under pressure to perform well, leading to a narrowed curriculum, test-based instruction, and even cheating. Although most high-risk tests are standardised, not all standardised tests are high-stakes. In short, the primary difference between standardised and high-stakes tests is the associated pressure and consequences. Standardised tests consistently measure student performance, whereas high-stakes tests have substantial effects that can influence the educational experience and decision-making processes.

What are Standardised Tests?

Standardised tests are meant to measure students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities in a way that is consistent and fair across various populations, schools, and areas. Most of the time, the structure and material of these tests are the same, so all test-takers are graded using the same criteria and questions. The education system often uses standardised tests to see how well students do in essential subjects like math, reading, and science. They can be used at different levels of schooling, from elementary school to college.

These tests often serve more than one reason, such as:

Monitoring Student Progress

Standardised tests give a snapshot of a student’s academic success, which helps teachers and parents figure out what the student is good at and what they need to work on.

Evaluating Educational Programs

Standardised tests can help educational administrators, and policymakers figure out how well the curriculum, teaching methods, and allocation of resources are working. This can lead to improvements in education.


Standardised tests allow comparing schools, towns, and states to determine what works best and what needs to be changed.

College Admissions

Standardised tests like the SAT and ACT are used in higher education to see if a student is ready for college-level work and help with the admissions process.

Standardised tests can tell us a lot about how students are doing and how the education system works. Still, they have been criticised for emphasising the subjects being tested, encouraging teachers to teach to the test, and not considering each student’s needs and ways of learning.

What are High-Stakes Tests?

High-stakes tests are tests where the results significantly affect students, teachers, or educational institutions. The word “high-stakes” refers to how the results of these tests can substantially affect the people and groups involved.

High-stakes tests are usually given for the following reasons:

Student Evaluation

High-stakes tests can affect whether a student moves up a grade, gets to graduate, or gets into college. Because of this, students may feel more pressure to do well on these tests.

Teacher and School Evaluation

Teachers and schools can be judged by how well they do on high-stakes tests. Test scores can affect how much teachers are paid, whether they stay in their jobs and their chances for professional growth. They can also affect how much money schools get and whether or not they are accredited.


Administrators and policymakers often use high-stakes tests to hold schools and teachers responsible for how their students do, using the results to decide whether to punish or reward them.

High-stakes tests can ensure that basic standards are met and that people are held accountable, but they have been criticised for several reasons. Opponents say that they put too much stress on students and teachers, support teaching to the test, narrow the curriculum, and don’t consider that everyone learns differently and has different needs. Some critics also say that high-stakes tests might not show students’ natural abilities and achievements or the quality of the teaching they get.

Difference Between Standardised Tests and High-Stakes Tests

The stakes and stress of high-stakes tests set them apart from standardised tests. Standardised tests aim to be objective and comparable by measuring students’ knowledge and skills in the same way across a wide range of demographics. However, the results of high-stakes tests can have far-reaching implications for students, teachers, and schools in the form of choices like advancement to the next grade, graduation, teacher pay, and school finance. High-stakes tests are typically standardised, although not all standardised tests have the same level of importance to those affected by the results. Below, we’ve summarised the key differences between the two.


Standardised tests aim to create a uniform method of assessing students’ knowledge and abilities across schools, districts, and even entire regions. Their main goal is to evaluate students using the same standards. Instead, high-stakes tests decide significant outcomes for students, instructors, or institutions, like moving up a grade level, graduating, or receiving financing.


Standardised test scores are often used to guide policy and funding decisions in the classroom. High-stakes tests are critical because they can affect a student’s future or a teacher’s job.


The stress of taking a standardised test depends on whether or not the test has high stakes. Since the outcomes of high-stakes tests matter greatly, they tend to increase anxiety levels among students and teachers.


Schools and teachers are often held financially or otherwise accountable for their students’ performances on high-stakes tests. Although standardised tests are helpful for comparisons and analyses of educational initiatives, they may not always result in tangible outcomes for classroom instructors and educational institutions.


Although most high-stakes tests follow a conventional format, this is not always the case. High-stakes tests tend to zero in on exams with substantial ramifications. In contrast, standardised tests can include a broader range of evaluations with various degrees of influence on students, instructors, and schools.