Breaking Book Barriers: Inequality in Standardized Testing

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Standardized tests like AP exams, the SAT, and the ACT are no doubt extremely important. They help colleges and universities decide who to admit and what sort of material students have mastered in high school. These tests are high stakes, nerve-inducing, and can also be unequal. However, students who prep for these tests often do much better than those who do not. Studying can get expensive too! It seems like there are endless ways to study for these tests that take up time and money. As much as we wish this wasn’t true there are barriers associated with standardized tests.

Student is hunched over a desk, taking a test

Breaking Book Barriers: Inequality in Standardized Testing

By Tanya Manoj

Yellow number 2 pencilsHi! My name is Tanya Manoj, and I have always valued education, and have done activities related to education access throughout high school, including tutoring both students and adults in STEM and technology awareness. However, my interest in standardized test prep access did not start until I began my own standardized testing journey. I was studying for multiple tests at the end of my sophomore year – including the SAT, AP exams, and Subject Tests. That was when I realized how much taking tests cost, from paying a registration fee to spending money on test prep books. I decided to try to mitigate this issue by helping make test prep books cheaper for students. Breaking Book Barriers went through several name changes and website iterations before we landed on our current model. I strongly believe that students should all have an equal opportunity to succeed, which is ultimately why I started Breaking Book Barriers.

Breaking Book Barriers is written in large red font

Breaking Book Barriers is an online platform for students in the US to trade in their old prep books for new ones. SAT, ACT, and AP books are incredibly expensive, particularly when students need several of these books throughout their high school careers. Libraries often don’t have enough of these books, and even if they do, students cannot keep the books for longer than a few weeks.

Users can register on the website and choose the books that they need. These books will then be shipped out to them for free. Users can keep books for as long as they need, and then re-list them when they are done with their test. We keep up our inventory by asking for donations of your used books.

The other component of Breaking Book Barriers is the content that the Breaking Book Barriers team creates. Many students do not have access to expensive test prep tutors, so we create blog posts and videos explaining various concepts related to SAT and ACT. Over the next few weeks, we will be partnering with several student run organizations that offer free test prep tutoring so that our students can have the benefit of an online tutor.

Want to get involved?

There are so many things that you can do to help! For instance, tutoring students of all levels, but especially on the SAT and ACT is really helpful. Additionally, you could reach out to local nonprofits and tutoring centers to ask if you can volunteer there. Finally, reach out to lawmakers on all levels to petition for better support for low-income students. Increased funding to programs that mitigate the education gap is the key to eliminating this important issue.

We are currently looking for team members, both to work on the initiative virtually(marketing, content creation, etc.) and to start a chapter of Breaking Book Barriers in their community. Please email if you are interested!

A picture of the author

Resources to learn more:

This is a great article to learn about the CollegeBoard’s attempts to reduce inequality in the college admissions process – and why those attempts did not work.

Opinion article that addresses both sides of the question: Is standardized testing an ethical way to evaluate college applicants? It focuses on the UC system.

Research paper describing influences of income and race on standardized test scores. I recommend reading the Literature Review section if you are interested in the issue from an academic perspective.

#PassTheMicYouth aims to spotlight youth activism! Have a story you want to share? See how to submit it.

Questions for Extended Dialogue

  • What has been your experience with standardized testing? Has it been largely positive or negative?
  • Do you believe the amount of time someone spends preparing for high-stakes tests correlates with their score?
  • Do you think standardized testing needs to change? If so, how?