You Are Not Your SAT Score

Alexis Yang, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Year-round, high school students walk into testing centers with calculators and number two pencils, jittery with nerves, ready to take the SAT and ACT. These tests are stepping stones toward college, as most colleges require them.

I am currently a senior and have finished taking the SAT and ACT. Did I have an enjoyable experience? Certainly not. Do I have a positive opinion of grand-scale standardized tests in the college admissions process? No, and here is why.

If you’ve ever taken an SAT or ACT, you’ve been through the experience—months of preparation (for me it was practice on Khan Academy), then the nerve-wracking test day, then sitting in your first-period class, refreshing the College Board page over and over until your score appears on the screen.

Now that I am finished taking the SAT and ACT, I’ve learned one thing: students believe that their score defines them.

To me, this is a big problem. I’ve seen my classmates searching their dream colleges online, seeing the bracket of average SAT scores, and fretting because their scores don’t fall within that slim band. I’ve seen them get angry with themselves because they scored a few points lower than they did previously. I’ve heard of Long Island students traveling all the way to the boroughs of New York City, to New Jersey, and even to Philadelphia for an available spot to take the SAT. And I’ve felt the pressure and anxiety when my friends asked me what I got on the SAT when their scores were much higher than my own.

The pressure of scoring high enough, especially when compared to classmates, is toxic to students. It makes us feel inadequate. It makes us judge ourselves harshly. It makes us believe that we are a number, which we absolutely are not.

I realized that students feel this way right from the beginning. I took old SATs for practice, and without intending to, I found myself becoming stressed about my score. I felt disappointed in myself if I slipped up or scored lower than I’d wanted.

Test anxiety is another problem. If you’re like me, you may feel pressured by time restraints and the intimidating scantrons. On my first SAT, I was so nervous that I panicked during the grammar section—which is usually my best area—and stared at the gray paper, unable to comprehend its jumble of letters. I scored 100 points lower than my typical score on the test, while my brother and classmates excelled. That was when I realized how standardized tests make students feel like they are a number.

Although some schools such as the University of Chicago are now test-optional, the SAT and ACT still function as measures of academic performance. I understand that standardized testing allows for evaluation that high school transcripts can’t offer, as secondary schools differ greatly in terms of course offerings, quality of teaching, and educational resources. In that sense, I see the purpose of standardized testing. However, I support test-optional schools because students are more than just numbers—we’re people with unique experiences, viewpoints, and character traits that can enrich a college campus.

Taking the SAT and ACT is a stressful process. If you’re newly embarking on the journey or are taking your third ACT, remember to relax. Try your best, but remember that you’re not a number. And please, don’t ask your classmates what they got on their SAT or ACT. You could spare them a whole lot of stress.