College Admission Tests

It’s official! I have a high school senior once again! With my oldest graduating from college this year, I find myself headed into the busy time of preparing for college applications with my next oldest! Today, as I write, he is taking the SAT or Scholastic Aptitude Test or more recently known as the Scholastic Assessment Test.  Living in the mid-west, most students take the ACT or American College Test. This test is now offered, free of change to all of our public high school students in their junior year. Whether they are college bound or not, it is required they take the ACT exam.

My junior took the ACT in February, It was the third time he’d taken it, as he qualified to take it early as a 8th and 9th grade TAG (talented and gifted) student. Of course, we were responsible for those test fees. One of the reasons we had our son take the ACT early a number of times was because he suffers from some test anxiety. We felt with repeated exposure to the test, he’d be less anxious by the time his junior year rolled around. I think this did work for lowering his level of nervousness this past February, when the score actually counted.  He did fine, albeit not as well as he would have liked and not as well as most of his friends, but well enough  (above the state average).

Another pre-college test suggested by most high schools is the PSAT or preliminary SAT. This is the test that is taken before the SAT – usually early in the student’s junior year. From the college board comes this description, “The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT)  is a standardized test administered by the College Board and cosponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation in the United States. Approximately 3.5 million students take the PSAT/NMSQT each year.”  Since our oldest child took the PSAT/NMSQT and ended up with a National Merit Scholarship  in 2013, which was awarded to him all four years of college, our junior felt he should give the PSAT/NMSQT a shot. That test was taken last October. He missed qualifying for the national merit scholarship competition which requires taking the SAT. So, what are we doing in a city one and a half hours away from our home, constituting a stay in a hotel last night, and me typing from the hotel desk this morning?  Well, our former junior student felt he did better on the PSAT than the ACT, so we registered for yet another exam. The exam is the SAT, which is he taking right at this moment.

As a parent, I am hoping all the stars are aligned for him today. He finished the school year strong with grades that will result in an increased GPA and class rank. He slept well. He ate breakfast. He seemed more optimistic in the last twenty-four hours than he has in a while. We found the test site without a problem. We were early to arrive. He seemed relaxed.

But, here’s the thing. He’ll do fine on this test. He has the grades and activities to get him into the schools he is looking at.  However, this test, and none of the others, will truly measure his intelligence. This is a student who has never tested well. He still has some anxiety. He can still shut down when there is a disconnect between his learning style and the instructor’s teaching style.  But, he will be successful.  He has many skills that simply are not measured in school.  Should these skills be measured? Absolutely. But, it would take an entire re-vamping of our system.  It will not happen while he is in school, and perhaps, it never will.  And, while I have supported him in taking the college entrance exams, it is not these tests that will define him. Nor, should these tests define anyone. So, even if you have a student who obtains that elusive perfect score, or goes on to be a National Merit Scholarship winner (as we did),  those accomplishments should not be allowed to define your student. I know it seems odd that I say that, but it is true.

Work hard. Study hard. Be the best you can be. But don’t let an exam define who you are.   You are more than a number. Whether the test result is great, average, or poor, it will not take you any further than your next step. Only your work ethic can do that.

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