For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been a good test taker. Sure, I got pretty good grades in high school and took 7 AP Courses and got credits for all of them but, in spite of that, whenever I sit down and am faced with a Scantron and a thick packet of questions, I immediately freeze up and it takes a good 10 minutes for me to just begin taking any test.
In high school, there’s such a huge emphasis placed on testing well; if you get high test scores, you’ll have the perfect GPA, if you break a 2000 on the SAT, you’ll get into any school you want, if you study hard enough for your AP Exams, you won’t have to take introductory level courses in college, etc. I have distinct memories (or, more appropriately, nightmares) of how much anxiety I had before I took any test. I was wholeheartedly convinced that my future would go down the drain if I failed an important exam. I gave up hours and hours of my time to study instead of seeing my friends for what would end up being some of our final hang-outs.
Looking back, I’m realizing now that there’s so much about the importance of tests that’s exaggerated in high school and I wish I would have known these things a couple years ago because it would have saved me so much time and energy.
Since I can’t go back in time to share these things with my younger self, I decided to share them with you all instead, in hopes that you won’t make the same mistakes I did. Without further ado, here’s what I wish I had known about high school tests.
The SAT is NOT the only factor colleges use when determining acceptance.
I’m sure you’ve all heard this from other people but it’s really so important which is why it’s reiterated so many times. So many colleges nowadays are looking at applicants as a whole, seeing what they did outside of school, how they carry themselves on social media, what they can bring to the table and whether or not they have qualities that would make them a great addition to the student population of the college.
Getting a 2000+ is no longer a guaranteed acceptance letter; in fact, there’s even some schools that prefer a lower SAT score if it means that you instead did something innovative with your time. For my school personally, the SAT score is only 25% of the reason you get in. So, if you’re not the best at the SAT, don’t sweat it. Work on making yourself a good person overall instead of just focussing all your energy into one test.
AP exams matter; take them seriously but don’t overload yourself.
This is something that I can personally attest to; I’m over a semester ahead in my college career because of how many credits I entered with. I took 7 APs in high school and although it was a huge challenge, I’m very thankful I did it. However, taking that many APs is not for everyone. I was very careful in choosing courses that I was truly interested in (and they all ended up being humanities courses) because I knew that I would be somewhat motivated to do well in them and take the course as a whole seriously.
There were kids I knew who took the course as well as the exam but were so dispassionate about it that they barely studied and essentially wasted a year of their time on a class that they didn’t even get credits for in the end. Don’t be the person who takes the exam as a joke or who signs up for 10 exams in one season; choose the classes you’re most interested in, study hard for those exams, and limit yourself to only what you can handle. It’s much better to get credits for 3 college courses than to take 6 APs and end up not getting credit for any of them.
Gut feelings are usually right so don’t change your answer just because you think you’re wrong.
This is a tip that’s very specific to the actual test taking process but it’s important nonetheless. I can’t tell you how many times I had the right answer and then decided to change it last minute because I thought there was a possibility that it could be another one. Don’t let yourself be fooled; usually, the one that you picked first is the correct one. Even when you’re stressed out and convinced you don’t know the material, your brain will remember what your teachers taught you and will consequently pick the right answer. Only change an already selected answer if you can prove to yourself that you are wrong, not just because you think it!
Leaving questions blank is never okay… unless it’s the SAT.
Most of you probably already know this but unless the test counts wrong answers against you, don’t leave any questions blank; always pick an answer, even if you have no idea what it could be. Process of elimination is your friend — if you can get rid of one of the choices and narrow it down to three or four, make sure you end up picking one at the end. If it’s the SAT don’t guess if you have no idea; only guess if you can use the process of elimination to get rid of all but 2 choices. At that point, you’re better off guessing and losing .25 of a point than not guessing at all and risking the chance of getting a question right. Again, as aforementioned, at the end, go with what your gut’s telling you is right.
Failing one test will not make or break your future.
I think this is something that is easy to forget as a student; even in college, I’m constantly stressed about my test scores. However, it’s important to realize that failing one test or exam does not mean that you fail a course as a whole, nor does it mean that you are a failure of a person. Everyone has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses and it’s perfectly acceptable to fail a test here and there. Obviously, constantly failing will affect your overall GPA but getting one 40 on a quiz will not hinder your chances of getting into an amazing school or graduating at the top of your class.
It’s okay to fail a test, it’s okay to not be the best at taking tests, it’s okay to have strengths and weaknesses and it’s okay to accept all of these things. Don’t let tests be the reason you feel like a failure and don’t let a score discourage you from applying to an amazing school. Always remember that ultimately, you are worth way more than a test score, whether it’s a 20 or it’s a 100. In 10 years, you’ll remember the amazing nights you spent with your high school friends and you’ll barely remember that 60 you got on an Algebra test. Take school seriously but don’t let it take over your entire life.
To those of you taking a standardized test anytime soon, I wish you all the best! Happy testing! (if that’s possible!)