“This is it. I might as well just kiss my dreams goodbye and say hello to community college, because with these scores, it looks like that’s where I’m headed.”
Those words are verbatim from what one of my close friends told me in an emotional phone call back in May, when scores for the March 2016 administration of the SAT were released. She was absolutely devastated because her scores were not where she wanted them to be, and had overanalyzed everything that could have gone wrong: her nerves distracting her during the test, fallible study methods, and even the incessant ticking of the clock that had been hung on the back wall of the classroom.
Her statements to me, albeit on the dramatic side, are similar to the panicky thoughts that a lot of rising seniors, including myself, are having as the new school year quickly approaches. With the notion of not being good enough for colleges when it comes to standardized testing constantly looming over students’ heads, it is easy to see why so many get caught up in and are discouraged by their scores.
Headfirst Into the Abyss
It is the case for many students to feel as though they have been suddenly thrown into the real world without a parachute during their final two years of high school. I remember having a breakdown near the end of my junior year regarding my own future as I signed up for standardized testing, feeling like I wasn’t adequately prepared for the heavy expectations of the future.
We are taught that standardized test scores are the foundation of a college application and that if they are not satisfactory, our chances of getting into the university that we desire go down exponentially. Our parents shell out the hefty fees for the SAT and ACT and we walk into our testing rooms on the assigned dates with the frightening idea that our futures are dependent on a mere few hours full of scribbling inside of small bubbles and reading passages that we will later joke about on social media in order to ease our stress.
When scores are finally sent out after a nail-biting period of time, students are sent into a frenzy and adolescents pace the floors of their bedrooms in panic. The fact that so many of us are petrified of checking our scores in fear that our aspirations will crumble in front of their eyes is heartbreaking, for we should not believe that simple numbers on a computer screen dictate the rest of our lives.
We do not have to allow ourselves to be hindered by outrageous expectations. We have the power to set standards for ourselves and be comfortable with who we are, not who we are not.
The Value of Valuing Yourself
There is a saying that goes, “It is not what you are that holds you back, it is what you think you are not.” I love the way that Maimuna Abdi Yussuf puts it in her article, Dear Rafiki, You Are Not Your SAT Score, in which she states that nothing is really what it appears to be and that everything is what you make of it, meaning that you should not take your scores at face-value and should instead use them as merely a catalyst that will propel you into your future that will mean so much more in the long run than what you made on your SAT. I reiterated this to my anxious friend, and asked for her to remember everything that she has accomplished over the duration of her high school career; when she finished her list (and boy, was it long), she was wiping away her stress-induced tears and reaffirming the validity of her dreams.
I am writing this to tell you, whether you are an upcoming freshman just beginning to get your feet wet in the depths of high school or a senior feeling like you are about to drown, that your standardized test scores do not define you as a person. As human beings, we are sums of many parts, and as students, we have a lot more to put on college applications than our scores on a couple of cumulative tests.
The journey to realize your self-worth can be a hard one, especially when us students are being pitted against each other all the time when it comes to things like class rankings and test scores, but it is necessary to go down that path because it is ultimately up to you to make the decision of whether you will allow your test scores to represent you as a whole or not.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin your quest for self-worth:
1. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
It’s an old mantra, but an important step in realizing your self-worth is becoming aware that when you are not satisfied with something, you have the ability to change that. Even if you refuse to allow your test scores to define you as a person, it is important to know that you are in complete control of how you handle them. Be proactive. Skip the nervous breakdown and sign up for the next scheduled test. Find study methods that work for you. Make a study schedule and stick to it. It truly is simple; as long as you pace yourself and work hard, the results will come. Don’t focus on the scores that you didn’t get; concentrate on those you did instead, for you made them yourself with your own hard work and effort and you should be proud of them no matter what.
2. Don’t take the bait of others.
Many students are of the Type-A personality: ambitious, competitive, and aggressive. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but the problems come when they need constant validation, like that one friend in your English class who always turns to you and asks what you made on the most recent test when they know that they completely aced it and that you struggled with it a bit. People like these are always trying to find ways to fuel the rat race that exists in all schools, but you have the ability to keep yourself out of it. Know that your standards may not match up with theirs, and that it is completely possible that what they think is horrible may be perfectly adequate to you. As long as you are happy with your scores and the progress that you are making, what they think should not matter to you. If they ask you how you did on your standardized tests, you have the right to keep the actual numbers to yourself and tell them that you are satisfied with what you made instead.
3. Remember everything else that you can bring to the table.
Let’s face it: anybody can be in the top ten of their class or make above a 30 on the ACT. In order to truly value yourself, you have to keep what makes you unique in mind. For example, you may not have the highest test scores, but you’re the surefire editor of you school’s popular newspaper, or maybe you’re a piano virtuoso behind the scenes. Colleges do not only look at your scores, but at your extracurriculars as well. They want to know if you can contribute something extra to the school and that you aren’t just another intelligent student who is going to graduate with nothing to provide them with except another brain. If you are a well-rounded student, you don’t necessarily have to have the best test scores or fall in the top five percent of your class; you just have to be aware of your assets and use them to your advantage by putting as much emphasis on them as you can. Colleges don’t look for perfect students because there would be no reason for them to further their educations if they were on that level. They instead search for students with unique perspectives and experiences who can further the minds of the people around them.
Whenever you are in doubt of yourself, recall this advice and the fact that standardized tests do not measure your worth as a human being. You are so much more than the answers that you bubble in inside of a testing room. As long as you try your best, it is impossible for you to be labeled as a disappointment. You have so much more to contribute to the world, and as long as you are determined and assert yourself, you are definitely bound to make changes in it.
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