Let me tell you that my performance on the SAT was actually prophesied several thousand years ago. It’s right there in Proverbs 16:18: “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” If you’re not particularly religious, I hope you now realize all the great test prep you’re missing in sacred texts.
In all seriousness, pride can be dangerous. In fact, C.S. Lewis went so far as to call it “The Great Sin.” Pride is when you think you’re good enough, that you need best, that you don’t need help. And for me, it was the biggest challenge I had when taking the SATs – especially in the Writing and Math sections
First, let me paint you a picture. Imagine a cocky young teenager who had always listed writing as one of his passions. Imagine him seeking out grammar books for fun. Imagine him taking writing-heavy AP classes that extolled to him the virtues of the five-paragraph model. Imagine him scoring highly on the Writing section of the PSAT.
Now, imagine him opening up a test prep book and learning the “proper” way to write an essay on the SAT. Do you think this young man would be inclined to suck it up and write the sort of essay the prep books recommend? Or do you think he would be more likely to think he was good enough to pull off his own essay (Answer: He thought he was good enough to pull off his own essay.)
When I received my first SAT scores back, I was disappointed by my score on the Writing section. Upon reading the breakdown, I learned I had lost the most points on the essay section – presumably for trying to cram in a full five-paragraph essay with a comprehensive thesis and several examples per paragraph. I sniffed at my score, concluding that College Board did not understand what makes a good essay.
Fast forward a few months: I take the SAT again. Again, I assume that churning out a full essay in twenty-five minutes is the way to go. I quickly develop a thesis, three main points, and plenty of supporting examples. I spew it out over the page. Roughly a fortnight later, I received my scores and discovered they were almost identical to my first ones.
It wasn’t until the third time I took the SAT that I finally listened to what the prep books said. I kept my thesis simple. I only focused on one example for paragraph. I didn’t try to be flashy or groundbreaking. Lo and behold, College Board rewarded my work with a much higher score.
My pride hurt me on the math section, as well. Perhaps testifying to the reliability of the SAT, over the three times I took the test, my math score never wavered more than ten points. The sad reason for this is that beyond a practice test or two in the nights leading up to the SAT, I simply didn’t study.
Now, there are some very good reasons for not studying. Pride, however, is not one of them. I wanted to score highly on the math section, and I wanted to do it on my own merits. Studying, I thought, was for other people. Beyond brushing up on major concepts the night before and shaking off the rust with some practice tests, I didn’t feel compelled to devote myself to preparation.
Even once I did bring myself to study, though, my pride continued to hurt me. I knew that a popular test-taking trick was to plug the answers into the question to save yourself time trying to work it out, but I was stubborn. I wanted to plow through the question with the sheer force of my intellect, proving to everyone (i.e. no one) how smart I was. As a result, I lost valuable time I could’ve put toward answering more difficult questions. And because I never mastered this trick, I was not able to use it effectively on the actual test. My math scores continued to hover around those from my first test.
I was lucky enough to come from a background that enabled me to take the SAT three times, a background that allowed me to learn (somewhat) from my mistakes. But I can’t help but wonder if I would’ve needed to continue to re-take the test had I simply swallowed my pride in the first place.
Don’t let your test scores be prophesied by a book written thousands of years ago. Take a look at your pride, and make sure it doesn’t affect your standardized test performance.