I write the following as a voice for the general population of high school students currently going through the college process. Not all of the feelings expressed below I have personally experienced, but for every feeling expressed I know of at least one individual who has experienced that particular feeling.
I hate standardized tests- no, I loath them. I believe I’ve made this clear in the past, but today I think I discovered my biggest issue with them. It isn’t that it takes up a whole Saturday morning of my time, or that I have to fill in multiple choice questions for hours, or that people can guess and make better scores, or that the questions are trying to trick you, or that the testing environment is dour, or that writing an essay in 20 minutes is a pain, or even just the fact that colleges weigh these arguably meaningless numbers so heavily in the admissions process. What bothers me so sticking much about standardized tests, more specifically the SAT and ACT, is that they make you feel depressed and alone.
Stories are always being told about teenagers having a hard time in high school do to various social aspects that make them feel bad about themselves: body image, bulling, struggling in school, family issues, friend drama, “who likes who,” etc. In fact, over 2.1 million teens have reported having a major depression incident in the past year, and depression is the number one cause of suicide- the third leading cause of death for Americans 15-24.
Depression is already a serious problem amongst adolescents and standardized tests only make matters worse.
The problem is that there is no good option for someone to talk to about the stressfulness of the process.
You want to talk to your friends, because you tell each other everything. However, if you talk to your friends you end up in a bad position no matter how you look at it because of this truth: one of you scored better than the other.
I’ve never met any two people that have gotten the exact same score in every area of the SAT or ACT every time they took it, meaning there must be some difference upon which you will compare yourselves. You don’t want to compare yourself to your friends, but it is human nature to think, “Why are we not the same?” We are naturally curious and sometimes the cat isn’t the only one who dies from curiosity.
If you talk to your friend that did better than you, then you feel bad about yourself because you wonder why you didn’t do as well. Then you fear that you won’t get into colleges you want to get in to because you didn’t score well enough. Then you will just get upset about the whole process and a little bit upset with your friend because while you are happy they did well, you are upset that they did better than you. (It’s the same as playing your friend in a soccer game and having mixed emotions when they score, because you’re happy to see them happy, but you’re still losing on the board. Even if you both had fun in your hearts, virtually no one cares about that when the question of, “Who won the game?,” is asked.)
On the other hand, if you talk to your friend that you did better than, then you still end up in a bad position. You then get put in the awkward situation where your friend is the one feeling upset about not doing great, and they think they didn’t do great because of comparing it to other people; you are one of those people… You want to tell your friend that it will be fine and give them advice, because that’s what friends do, but at the same time you still feel like you could do better yourself and then it makes you feel weird about complaining even though you technically scored higher. The problem is while you and your friends may understand that you should only compare your scores to yourself and how well you think you can do, to some level you still know that you are up against millions of kids in the country for a spot at certain schools and test scores still play a large part at deciding who gets in.
As many times as I tell myself, or others tell me, “You don’t need to worry so much about test scores because there are a myriad of other factors about you that play into why you are a good college candidate,” it doesn’t mean I don’t care about the scores still. I try so hard to think past them, but I know for a fact that many schools still just need a way to narrow down the lot, and even if I’m not applying to those schools I feel bad for my friends who are because it just seems so wrong. And yet again, some friends don’t care about it being wrong, they just see it as the way life is, and so if this topic is brought up it is yet another uncomfortable situation to talk to even the closet of friends about.
Bringing up test scores with friends simply never ends well. No one want to talk about it. Someone always feels weird because they scored higher and are trying to act humble. Many always feels bad because they don’t feel like they are doing as well as they should be. And everyone feels awkward. For these reasons, I don’t think any group of friends ever feels truly open when having a test scores conversations, and I say this having been on multiple sides of this conversation and hearing side rants from many others.
Now any adult I’m close with is probably reading this post right now thinking, “You can always talk to me!” But the other truth is that teens simply don’t want to talk to adults about this kind of thing for the simple and debatable reason that, “They won’t understand.” I hate to say it because it just feels so “teenagery”, but I know in my heart I believe it to some degree. Adults in our lives took these standardized tests many years ago, so the stress from these tests and the entirety of the college process is not as recent. Plus a lot has changed in those years. The question use to be “Are you going to college?” and now it is, “Where are you going for college?” Every generation kids get smarter and the average test score raises and thus the race to college gets even closer, making it more and more stressful. I don’t want to talk to adults because they all tell me the same thing, “Don’t stress about it.” Telling a person to not be stressed is like telling an alcoholic “Just stop drinking”; words alone can’t really help fix the problem at this point.
When you can’t talk to friends completely honestly, and you don’t want to talk to adults, it just makes everything more stressful and you feel as if there is no one to truly talk to. In fact I ended up ranting to a younger friend of mine today because I just needed someone to get this out to, but even that wasn’t satisfactory because they had no experience to relate to which made it very one sided. Now I wouldn’t say I’m depressed, but I definitely get frustrated when I think I can do better and even after lots of studying have a very small change in my score. And then more stressed and annoyed when trying to talk to others about my frustration.
With the amount of teens that drive themselves crazy over testing, I wish we would just change the system already. There is always something that can be done, no matter how small of a change. Clearly there is a problem, and while I think the new SAT is moving in a good direction, I don’t think this change will change any stress related to scores.
What I wonder is if there is a way to have the test score based on improvement somehow. What if we could measure how much a student has improved/how much they have learned from the time they were a freshman to a senior and that was the number sent to colleges? This way students were being compared based on how hard they personally worked in order to learn more.
To try and explain this further, take math on the SAT for an example. It is honestly is a lot of stuff I did in 8th grade, like geometry questions. However, some kids were learning that just last year. What if after 8th grade I just stopped caring in math? (Which isn’t true because I happen to love math and love learning about it, but this is hypothetical.) What if I knew I learned all I needed to know for the SAT, so after that I didn’t really try to learn much new and just memorized and regurgitated for tests at school? If that was me I wouldn’t be able to say I really grew much between being a freshman and a senior, but I could potentially score just as high as the kid who went from barely knowing how to do long division to then acing pre calculus- a much larger knowledge gap that had to be overcome. Yet, standardized testing does not currently account for how far you have come, only where you are at the end. I find this kind of unfair actually because everyone has different situations that they are put in, so by the nature of standardized testing, some people are given a better opportunity at doing well and you as a student have no control over that.
I don’t believe this is true today, but I hope for this to be possible someday: Students should have full control over their chance at getting into the college of their choice.
I don’t know how any of this would work, but I know something needs to change because standardized tests make too many students way too stressed which isn’t good for health.
I’m sick of this struggle and don’t know what to do, which is why I write, so maybe something good comes from it.