They call this a test, but it's not just a test; it's THE test. It's the one thing that will judge every aspect of your character. It will tell your limits, your future, your fate, all spelled out in little black dots of number two pencil on a Scantron sheet. It's the Achievement Test That Will Decide Your Destiny.
In fiction (and in real life) Standardized Exams are Serious Business. Students will do anything to succeed. They might go to Cram School at the urging of their well-intentioned Education Mama. They might plot an elaborate scheme to cheat, but those who do likely Can't Get Away with Nuthin'. They might take (either with or without permission) their friend's ADHD medication to aid those all-night cram sessions. They might literally go insane. They might undergo stress to the point of doing things they'd never realize they'd do. And if you get saddled with a less-than-perfect score? Your only options are a job at the local Burger Fool or death.
Even the smartest kids in school might blanch at the thought of taking this test. There may be protests everywhere condemning how unfair it is and how a mere test score doesn't indicate everything about a person's character. The bane of many a scholar's existence. Most cases of this may use the Real Life SAT test, which many colleges have a minimum cutoff score to determine which students they will accept, though fictional and non-college-based exams can also apply.
Compare the Final Exam Finale, and the Final-Exam Boss. Contrast the Inept Aptitude Test, which will tell you that working at the Burger Fool would be your favorite career option, not your only one. Note that the Achievement Test of Destiny need not be a standardized exam, however in American school systems such is normally the case. See also The B Grade.
- Love Hina has early chapters about the main characters trying to get into Tokyo University (and failing, for the most part). Once they make it, the plotlines become much more diverse.
- Fushigi Yuugi opens with Miaka attending Cram School and studying for the entrance exams to the prestigious Jonan High School. She envies her best friend and later mortal enemy Yui, because she knows that Yui would be able to pass that test in her sleep. Miaka doesn't even really want to go to Jonan; she's only trying to get in to please her mother, although the chance to attend High School with Yui does help sweeten the deal. In a twist, it's revealed that Miaka passed the test with flying colors, but decided to go to another school, and Yui failed the test for Jonan but got into the school Miaka decided to go to instead.
- Given the main cast of Safe Havens were at one point in high school, the SATs are eventually taken. It's this trope for Dave more than most of the others because if his SAT score isn't high enough, he'd be ineligible for NCAA basketball, and a basketball scholarship is basically the only way he'll be able to attend the same university as his best friend Samantha, especially since he's dyslexic. He gets a high enough score to be eligible.
- It should be noted that technically Remora cheated. When she was still living as a mermaid someone dumped a SAT master sheet in the ocean and she memorized it, giving her a perfect score.
- The Perfect Score is about several teenagers who attempt to steal the answers to their upcoming SAT test, believing they'll be doomed if they fail.
- The YouTube Red original film The Thinning shows a dystopia, where the US has adopted a form of Population Control that executes children, who don't pass the annual test. Naturally, the rich and powerful use their influence to keep their own kids from ending up in the gas chamber, while throwing the poorer kids under the bus. The Governor of Texas even has his son's girlfriend, who he doesn't approve of, deliberately fail the test. It's not made better when the ending reveals that the kids who fail are used as slave labor instead of killed.
- Jack Blank features a PMAP: the Potential Mapping Test, which Ross Calhoun declares beyond reproach as it shows everything worthwhile about a child and decides their futures. Jack is less than excited when his test score amounts to "Toilet Brush Cleaner". Later on, Jonas Smart forces Jack and his other classmates in his superhero training program to take a 4-hour comprehensive, custom-made Total Personality Test that could single-handedly psychoanalyze anyone and had questions on every possible subject, complete with multiple rude questions implying Jack to be allied with the Rüstov. Smart is shocked when Jack's test comes back with the result "NEEDS MORE INPUT" and blames Jack for messing with the form.
- Harry Potter has two such exams in the Hogwarts curriculum: the Ordinary Wizarding Levels (OWL) and the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test (NEWT). OWL determines whether or not one is qualified to continue an education in a given subject at the NEWT level, and NEWT is there to prove full competency in that subject. Different forms of cheating (including potentially lethal fraudulent intelligence potions such as doxy droppings) and self-correcting quills are passed around and banned for these tests. Mrs. Weasley gets very upset that her sons Fred and George got dismal OWL scores and dropped out before completing the NEWT, and Harry's also concerned because his chosen career path requires a NEWT in potions and he learns Professor Snape won't accept any NEWT students who didn't get anything less than top marks on the OWL in Order of the Phoenix (luckily, Snape's successor Professor Slughorn is happy to accept students who get Exceeds Expectations).
- In Futuretrack Five, the E-Levels, which determine whether you get to be part of the Establishment, or get sent through the Wire live a nasty, brutish and short life among the underclass.
- Discworld: several examples...
- The Assassins' Guild final exam, presented in Pyramids as a parody of the British driving test.
- The Unseen University final exam plays a part in Moving Pictures. The pass mark is 88%; student wizard Victor Tugelbend has a generous allowance from his uncle for as long as he remains a student, provided he does not score less than 80%. So he takes great care to score exactly 84% and keeps this up year after year until the plot gets going...
- The exams set by the Agatean Empire in Interesting Times as an entry requirement for pretty well everything (a parody of the real-world Chinese exams noted in the "Real Life" section below), which stunt the country's technological development by ensuring that, for instance, engineers are selected on the basis of their ability to write irrelevant poems about lotus blossoms while requiring no actual engineering knowledge whatsoever.
- The Kingkiller Chronicle the University sets each student's tuition each term based on their performance in an oral exam. Since Kvothe is constantly broke and borrowing money just to stay in school, it becomes essential for him to do well. Indeed, he even cheats the first time by eavesdropping on over a dozen prior tests. Later, after he secures a wealthy patron and arranges a profit-splitting scheme with the bursar, these tension-filled tests become a joke.
- Way of Choices doubles down on this in the Grand Examination Arc. First, Chen must pass an entry exam into one of the six Ivy Schools of Cultivation, because only as a student can he participate in the Grand Examination. The forty-three highest tiered students will gain access to the Mausoleum of Books and priceless books, but only the absolute winner is allowed into the Lingxu Pavillion, where the rarest books are held that describe how to escape fate. Since changing his fate of young death is the entire point, the test really is life-or-death for Chen, but only because of circumstances beyond the test or it's design.
- An episode of Full House was about DJ freaking out about her SATs. The tester is her crabby neighbor, she gets every question wrong, she doesn't even get points for her name because "initials don't count", the only college she can get into Clown College, and even her Dumb Is Good boyfriend leaves her over the results. Subverted in the end. It was All Just a Dream and the actual test wasn't that big a deal.
- On Suits Rachel's dream of going to Harvard Law School are derailed by the fact that she has a Heroic B.S.O.D. every time she tries to take the LSATs. In contrast, Mike's Photographic Memory allows him to get perfect scores on the test and his future as a lawyer was derailed by a comparatively insignificant exam that he aced. He sold the answers to that exam to another student and was expelled from college as a result. As the series begins Mike is making money taking the LSATs on behalf of students who cannot get into law school without cheating and Rachel is getting desperate enough to consider hiring him.
- Eric on Boy Meets World was so worried about failing his SATs that he willingly made himself an indentured servant to his neighbor and teacher Mr. Feeny so Feeny would tell him the secrets to acing it. Feeny just strings him along, and reveals at the end that Eric should just get a good night's sleep and a good breakfast before taking it. Eric then says he no longer has to be Feeny's slave anymore, but Feeny adds that he only told two of the three secrets.
- Malcolm in the Middle warned his little brother Dewey about acing a particular achievement test. Dewey had the same potential to be classified as a genius as Malcolm, but Malcolm didn't want Dewey to be cursed with the same fate of being a socially-outcast Krelboyne if he aced. Instead, he offered that their much dumber brother Reese take the test for Dewey, which landed Dewey in a class for children they treated as mentally retarded.
- All Grown Up! featured a 5th grade standardized exam that was considered so horrible that even the teacher declared it scarred him for life. When the kids grill their older friend Chuckie, he confirms it was one of the worst experiences of his life. Phil believes that if he cracks under pressure, he'll become a mime. The stress from the test causes Tommy to steal items from all around the neighborhood in his sleep, and when police officers catch him, they sigh and sympathetically release him knowing he's another victim of the test.
- Batman Beyond featured an episode where the cast had taken the GAT. When a student learns he "only" got 2391 out of 2400 and that someone else had attained a perfect score, he gets so upset that he is willing to delete all the test records to even the score. Having a disappointed Education Mama chastising him for not having the highest score didn't help.
- Danny Phantom:
- The Career Aptitude Test is used as the catalyst for the special The Ultimate Enemy. Mr Lancer says the CAT is the most important test anyone will ever take and that it will determine a student's entire future. Danny is especially stressed because his older sister got the highest grade ever, and his Bumbling Dad claimed he failed "and didn't turn out to be a cat". Sam and Tucker aren't worried, but Danny is, so when ghostly intervention puts the answers to the test in his hands, he is very tempted to cheat, only to find that cheating is a Butterfly of Doom that would indeed destroy his future in a way he didn't expect.
- An earlier episode, "Fanning The Flames", played this for laughs. Casper High invests in new Cramtastic equipment to prepare everyone for an upcoming standardized test. Because Ember's concert is that day, everyone has Ember on the mind and doesn't focus on studying. However, Sam and Danny forced their friend Tucker into the Cramtastic to get Ember off his mind earlier in the episode, and the yolk was on their face when they all failed and had to stay after school while Tucker got the perfect score and was excused.
- Fillmore! featured the SATTY 9 test. The resident genius Ingrid Third was greatly expected to succeed, and she was confident, but she didn't like taking the test because she knew there were kids who weren't great test takers but had plenty of other great qualities that couldn't be judged by a test. There were protesters trying to boycott the test. The plot of this episode started when all the answer sheets to the test were stolen, and either Ingrid and Fillmore had to find them or everyone would have to take the test over again because they had to be sent to the government to be graded.
- In the Mission Hill episode "Kevin Vs. the SAT", Kevin becomes obsessed with cracking the "code" of standardized tests to guarantee a perfect score and thus ensure admission to a top-ranked college (the alternative suggestion of extracurricular activities doesn't go over so well with him and his friends). He succeeds, but then destroys the only public copy of the key because allowing everyone to pass would mean jocks would get to follow their favorite nerd punching bags forever.
- Parodied on Clone High with the PXJTs. Gandhi blows them off but is subtly prepared for them by a friendly, if creepy, trucker who may be a ghost. Abe helps Cleo study for them, ironically causing him to miss out on sleep and do poorly on the test himself.
- A lot of people feel this way when they have to gear up for any standardized test. The SAT, ACT, PMAT, MCAT, you name it. The score one earns on this test is an indicator that determines whether or not a student can attend a college or career program of their choice.
- It is a common misconception (especially popular amongst those who do poorly on said exams, or who oppose such testing for ideological reasons) that these tests don't well predict success, and their use is often decried. This is false, which is hardly surprising; colleges wouldn't use SAT scores if they didn't find them useful. While it is true that they appear to only account for 10-20% of variation in college GPA, the cause of this is that people who do poorly on the SAT don't get to GO to said colleges in the first place. Indeed, most colleges only admit students with a narrow range of SAT scores, because those who do better can get into better schools. The wider the range of SAT scores that a school has, the better a predictor SAT scores are of their college GPAs; when you're thrown in with a bunch of geniuses, being a genius is the baseline expectation. This is known as the paradox of skill; the more skilled everyone is, the more other factors tend to come into play, not because skill doesn't matter, but because you've already eliminated all of the unskilled people.
- Medieval China had an extensive meritocratic bureaucracy. In order to get a comfortable high-class position in the bureaucracy, one had to take an extremely long and time-consuming set of exams. These exams cover everything from philosophy to math to civil administration to military strategy to law to poetry (Confucians valued breadth over depth). Each candidate was strip searched and locked into a special isolation room for the duration of the three day long test in order to prevent them from cheating. These tests were serious business; people have been known to die from stress while writing the test.
- Modern China isn't much better. The Gaokao is a nationwide standardized test for third-year high-school students (high school lasts for three years in China) that determines which university they're assigned to, which can pretty much determine their future position in life.