An Open Letter To The Student Stressing About Standardized Tests

Written on March 3rd, 2016

This is not the end of the word, even if it feels that way. You are more than your test score. I understand that society’s expectations of how you should be able to demonstrate your learning are weighing heavily on you right now; I understand that you’re stressed. But I’m here to tell you that the ACT and SAT can’t measure the most important things about you. One number will never define you. One number never could.

The ACT doesn’t know about the way you comfort your friends when they’re down. It doesn’t know how you’re willing to drop everything to help someone in need. It has no idea about your respect for the people around you or the way you make people laugh. The ACT knows one thing: what answers you’ve selected to a variety of multiple choice questions. It doesn’t even know why you chose the answers that you did – and the logic behind your choices is much more important than the choices themselves. The ACT measures your ability to conform yourself to the traditional standards of learning. It knows nothing about your creativity, about your ability to innovate, about your passions and drives and experiences. All it knows is how quickly and efficiently you can fill in multiple choice bubbles according to certain standards that you personally might not even find relevant. The ACT doesn’t know your past, and it can’t solely determine your future. It has no idea how hard you worked to get here, or how much you’ve struggled, or how much you’ve had to overcome. It doesn’t understand your privileges or lack thereof. It doesn’t get the overwhelming weight of being a teenager trying to navigate high school and prepare for the future in a whirlwind of chaos. At the end of the day, the ACT knows next to nothing about you. Remember that the things this test doesn’t know are infinitely more important than the few it does.

Moreover, any college worthy of your enrollment will not let a single score make or break their decision. I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to attend a university that sees its students as nothing more than a number. You are a holistic individual – you are more than any single piece of yourself. A college that deserves your presence will acknowledge you as multifaceted and multitalented, and they will not limit their admission decisions simply to test scores or numerical ranges. They will look at your involvement, your class rigor, your essays, your countless other measures of achievement. Yes, your standardized test scores will play a part – but if they’re the entire decision, then you don’t want to go to that college anyway. I promise.

Your ACT score truly doesn’t matter as much as the prep courses and advisors and testing companies want you to think it does. Now that I’m in college I could be sitting in class next to someone who scored an entire ten points below me and they could still be outperforming me. No one knows what you scored just by looking at you, and honestly, no one cares. Although standardized tests are a measure of college readiness, they don’t know everything – and as long as you’re willing to work hard and put in the effort, you will find success regardless of whether you were below the national average or in the 99th percentile. The truth is that you are no more lovable or capable or amazing than anyone who scored lower than you, and you are no less than those who scored higher. Your worth is not determined by your ability to make educated guesses and interpret graphs and memorize vocabulary. Your success in life is based on what kind of person you are – not what kind of test scores you receive.

In addition, standardized tests primarily test your reading ability – even the science section is more about reading comprehension that it is about actual scientific knowledge. This is great for those who read speedily, but it can be detrimental for the multitude of students who take a little longer to understand a passage or who simply haven’t had as much time to read while growing up. You are completely normal if reading is sometimes difficult, and there is nothing wrong with you. The timed nature of standardized tests makes it seem as though there is one speed to comprehend something, but that’s entirely false. Your abilities might fall outside the realm of reading, or you might have a different method to approach articles than the test expects. These things do not determine your value – they are simply a part of your holistic self and make you who you are. The ACT doesn’t know this, but you do. Don’t let yourself forget that you are infinitely more than this four hour test can measure.

So take a deep breath, and do your best. Study a little. Take your time. Accept that standardized tests are a part of your life, but understand that they are by no means the beginning or end of it. There are so many worse things than scoring in the bottom percentiles of a test range – and your worth will never be able to be represented by a single number.