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How to Choose the Best Headphones for K-12 Student Testing

  • March 04, 2020

Child wearing headphones and looking at a laptop screen

Remember when student testing involved number two pencils and diligently scrutinizing each bubble in the booklet for anything that might cause a misread?

The perfect pencil was a big deal. We’d all spent several minutes sharpening ours to perfection (except that one kid who showed up with a mechanical pencil that blew our minds).

Student testing has come a long way. These days, it rarely involves bubbles to be filled with number two lead only. Instead, it’s much more likely to happen on a computer with the use of audio components.

Rather than searching for the perfect pencil, we’re now searching for the perfect headphones.

How to Choose the Best Headphones for K-12 Student Testing

Formal testing in the context that we know it originated in the 1840s. However, it wasn’t until the 1920s that standardized testing became a major part of the student experience. Today, most students still undertake standardized testing for placement, program entry and more.

As K-12 student testing gets more sophisticated, the technology around it does, too. Many different styles and models exist on the market. Make sure you’re giving students the best chance to shine by empowering them with the right tools to succeed. Consider these five things the next time you invest in headphones for your student testing center.

1. The Nature and Mode of Testing

Today, formal testing occurs in various ways and across many platforms. While much of it will happen at a computer, mobile devices like tablets are also becoming popular.

Consider both the type of testing that will occur and the device on which students test. That will affect things like:

  • What sort of audio jack or adapter you need for the headphones to work with your device.
  • Whether you need a microphone or if having only headphones will work.
  • What operating system your device runs and whether the headphone’s drivers will be compatible with it.
  • What percentage of your test will include audio material and whether clarity of sound or input matters to test results.

For certain types of testing, a standard USB Hi-Fi headphone set will work well. Others will require something more advanced to support student success.

2. Cost Vs. Quality – You Can Have Both

School districts are frequently expected to work within tight budgets, encouraging them to prioritize cost-effectiveness when investing in materials for students. That may make the cheapest options (such as disposable options) attractive but think twice before you go for them.

Balancing cost and quality comes down to what you need from your headphones. For K-12 student testing, those needs include:

  • Clarity of sound within a safe listening limit
  • Comfort for using during an entire testing period
  • Tangle-free cords that aren’t too long or too short
  • Durable components to withstand the rigors of student handling

In contrast, many very high-end headphones offer sophisticated features such as Bluetooth or advanced sound settings. In some cases, you’re paying for features rather than sound quality.

However, be careful when choosing an ultra-budget option. Lower-end components can dramatically reduce the sound quality as well as prove prone to breaking. Having to replace a set eats into savings quickly.

We recommend budgeting no less than $15 per set. Kensington offers several practical and cost-effective options that meet both your students’ and your budget’s needs.

Child wearing a headset with a microphone and looking at a laptop screen

3. Personalized Concentration

We’ve all heard the wisdom that listening to classical music improves mental performance – but what about silence?

Scientific research shows that different personality types concentrate differently. This study indicated that while most people will experience negative effects of background pop music on their concentration, others find silence or even white noise helpful. (Specifically, many other studies suggest that introverts find silence helpful and extroverts do better with quiet background noise.)

Testing, especially standardized testing, struggles with its ability to adequately adapt to the needs of students. The ability to let students control the amount of noise represents a major advantage that headphones offer.

Noise-canceling headphones can eliminate distracting background noises and make it easier to hear audio instructions. Likewise, testing that happens on the computer can take advantage of soothing white noise or even classical music played softly.

For students with conditions like ADHD, this can make a tremendous impact in the way they test. One study indicated that white noise improves the cognitive performance of students with attention challenges.

4. What Will Prove Useful in the Big Picture

Schools may be hesitant to bring more technology into the classroom simply because if it can break, it will. Unlike office technology, that which goes into the classroom sees much heavier – and rougher – use.

That’s why it’s a bad idea to pick the cheapest sets out there. They’ll break, and you’ll have to buy them again for the next set of testing.

However, it can also seem unnecessary from a budget standpoint to buy a dozen or three sets of headphones that serve one purpose only.

To counter that, assess the school environment before embarking on your search for the ideal K-12 student testing headphones to see if there’s not another purpose they can also serve.

Comfortable headphones with quality sound can also be used in:

  • The school library or computer lab where they can remain accessible to students for use.
  • Computer science, music, or graphics design classes where coursework occurs mostly on the computers.
  • Events, galleries, or installations with audio materials for self-guided tours (or reimagine a school dance as a silent disco).

Finding ways to keep the headphones relevant and in-use may help make the investment more approachable.

5. State and Federal Regulations for Student Headphones

Did you know that some states regulate what headphones may be used in schools? Texas has TELPAS, which lays out minimum hardware requirements for headphones. ELPAC, a similar legislature in California, also lays out minimum requirements.

Your selection of headphones may also consider the Americans with Disabilities Act, which expressly indicates that schools have a responsibility to provide compatible listening devices for students who need them.

Check with your state before shopping for new headphones to ensure you meet any existing requirements.

Get the Best Student Testing Headphones from Kensington

Technology is helping schools adapt mandatory testing to the styles and needs of students. Headphones represent an accessible solution that can help students concentrate and access the test in a way that suits them.

Whether you need comfortable, audio-only headphones or a cost-effective solution with a microphone, you’ve got plenty of options with Kensington. Enjoy quality sound, durable hardware, and a comfortable design that keeps your students engaged and performing well on their tests.

Check out our full line of Hi-Fi and noise-canceling headphones now.