Wait, what? The SAT? The ACT? Why are we talking about these tests again? Those are reasonable questions and—I promise—this is the last time we’ll be talking to you about the SAT or ACT. You’re now likely neck deep in the college application process and have happily, hopefully, left standardized tests behind you. And that’s where they should be for now.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t take a look in your rear-view mirror to try to understand what you’ve learned from the process. Aside from a few math tricks to solve standardized test problems, which you’ll likely never use again, and a few grammar rules, which I sincerely hope you will, what did your taking the SAT or ACT actually teach you? Here are a few lessons that you might be surprised to have learned along the way to that killer score you got.
Most of my students bring plenty of preconceived notions with them to our first tutoring session: “these are IQ tests,” “I’m not a good tester,” or “I’m not as smart as my friends who do well on these tests,” to name just a few. Most of those turn out to be flat out wrong. The SAT or ACT, like almost any other challenge you’ll face in life, is simply a test of acquired skills. And how do you acquire skills? You practice them. That’s how you improved your scores. And, by the way, the next time you see someone do something with, say, a soccer ball or a guitar that’s literally incredible to you, I want you to stop and think about how that happened. It’s easy to say “she’s so athletic” or “he’s just a good musician,” but what you should be saying, and what’s more likely true, is “that must have taken a whole lot of practice.” It’s a much better way to look at the world and encourages you to use your time wisely and get better at the things that are important to you and the things you truly enjoy doing. Although standardized tests likely don’t fall into either of those categories, they can serve as an example of what you can do when you spend focused time on good practice.
Doing well on an SAT math section, let’s say, can have more effects than simply a better SAT score. I’ve had many parents say to me that their student is much more confident in math class after rocking an SAT. While that’s a wonderful outcome, it’s actually a slightly muddled observation. The parents have it backwards. Students don’t get better math scores and then feel more confident about math. They feel more confident about math, so they then get better math scores! No score on a test should ever change how you truly view yourself. But how you view yourself can have a great impact on how you score on a test. Think back to how you were feeling on that math section you crushed or that reading section you breezed through. I suspect you were actually pretty confident in your abilities before and while you took that section—not simply after the fact. Our attitudes to our work and ourselves can shape our performance in meaningful ways, so continue to believe in your own abilities. If you’re not sure you can or should, well, that’s where all that practice I mentioned above comes into play. If you see yourself succeed enough times, you’ll be that much more likely to believe it’s going to happen again.
Want vs. Need
Did you really want to take the SAT? I suspect no. Do you really want to go to college? I suspect yes. Welcome to adulthood, where you don’t often get to choose what you want to do without first doing what you need to do! Unless your brain works in a very particular way, you didn’t really have fun taking all those practice tests or dealing with the stress of taking the real ones. But you did it. You persevered because you had a goal in mind and you worked hard to get it. That’s the lesson that should really stick. And that’s the lesson that’ll take you farther in life than any score on any silly test ever could. Next year, it’ll take you to a college that’ll allow you to study almost anything you can dream of. That’s remarkable, when you really think about it. It’s a privilege to be able to find out what you really like doing—what you really want to do. And one that you’ve earned by doing what you needed to do to get there. I wish you nothing but the best!