Diary of a Professional Teen is a weekly column of #deep thoughts by twentysomething teenager and youth expert Taylor Trudon. Every Thursday, she’ll talk about her feelings in relation to what it’s like to be a Young Person in 2016.
I bombed the SAT. Twice, to be exact.
I was sitting in a neighboring town’s high school cafeteria where the test was being administered on a Saturday morning in November. We were instructed by the proctor to start filling out our Scantron sheets with our personal information. While coloring in the bubbles with my No. 2 pencil, I realized I could not remember my zip code. My mind blanked. It was something so basic, but the lapse in memory was enough to send me into a spiral of panic, self-doubt, and paralysis. I hadn’t even started the test yet.
A few weeks later, I received my test results. I got a perfect score on my essay, but all the other sections were garbage. I took the test again a few months later in hopes of improving my score. I earned an even lower number. The same thing happened when I took the ACT.
“We’re going to have to rework this,” my college counselor told me, sliding my list of dream schools across her desk. Despite having a lot going for me — AP classes, a solid GPA, and leadership roles in extracurriculars — it was clear that my test score was going to be the “make it or break it” factor standing between me and most of the schools I desperately wanted to attend. I felt dumb for performing so poorly and dumb for thinking that my other qualifications would convince admissions officers to overlook my shortcomings.
Years later, whenever I see #PSAT and #SAT trending on Twitter, I am reminded that my problem with this test (and standardized testing in general) goes beyond my personal experiences. Sure, the SAT works against bad test-takers like myself, but these tests best serve the privileged. They cater to the students whose families can afford private tutors and expensive prep classes and thick practice books. It makes me crazy that even though there is substantial research proving that the SATs do not fully capture intelligence, we still use them as measurements of success. We know these things and yet, in just over a week, thousands of high school students will sit down to take a test that has disproportionate power to influence their future.
I wish I could tell you that the SATs don’t matter. For many of you, it’ll matter a lot. Your particular school or program might have stringent test standards. Your score might help you win a scholarship, or it might be a deciding factor in whether or not an affordable school with in-state tuition decides to admit you. Should it be? I don’t think so. But as Queen Rihanna sings, “Life’s a game but it’s not fair.”
The reality is, tests don’t stop once you graduate from high school. You’ll continue to take exams in college and if you choose to go on to grad school. If you go on to work in an industry like media, you’ll likely submit an edit test when applying for jobs. Tests, like traffic jams, internet trolls, and clementines that claim to be seedless but aren’t, are inevitable. But they’re certainly not everything.
When you’re sitting in the midst of a four-hour exam with a hand cramp, it’s worth remembering that while the SAT can test your ability to solve for “x,” it can’t measure things like emotional intelligence. Your emotional intelligence is what’s going to help you ace that interview, be an effective leader, and be aware of your strengths and weaknesses.
No matter how you score on this fall’s exams, that number will be a very small piece of what makes you you. Maybe you are a walking encyclopedia of Harry Potter knowledge. Maybe you can play three different instruments or are bilingual. Maybe you can do Oscar-worthy impersonations of Kylie Jenner on Snapchat. If you want to go to college, you’ll still go to college. It might not be your first choice or even your second, but it’s gonna work out. You can get to where you want to be — you just might have to work a little bit harder. Where you end up in life and what you end up doing will ultimately not be based on that one test you took that one November, though it may seem hard to believe at the time. It will not determine how successful you will be, so don’t allow yourself to think otherwise.
When you wake up on that fateful Saturday morning, eat something tasty and filling for breakfast. Take deep, yoga-style breaths. Do your best. Most importantly, don’t obsess over it. And when you’re done, do something really nice for yourself. The test is over. So in that moment — until you tackle your next big exam — give yourself permission to be over it, too.
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