American high schools are notorious for pushing inane amounts of standardized tests on students. State assessments, AP and IB tests, and subject exams are all quantified and laid out neatly for educational boards and college admissions officers to consume. You and your friends may have gathered in the cafeteria after the SAT, comparing your answers like grade schoolers waving around manila-enveloped report cards. What did your friends get for that one question? Did they run out of time to finish the math section? Would anyone reach that coveted 1600?
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Let’s take a second to consider a more pressing question: when was the last time that you thought about your test scores? The majority of people would say it’s been a while. And if you’re that student who continues to flaunt their high school test scores weeks or months into college, a word from the wise: nobody cares. Who you are and what you do now are far more important than a number you achieved then.
For one thing, tests like the SAT and ACT are notoriously terrible at measuring a student’s ability to achieve success. Studies have shown that the amount of money that your parents make is directly correlated with how high your scores are. It’s no wonder ─ test prep classes and private tutoring can cost hundreds and thousands of dollars. Students who would benefit the most from these resources are often forced to rely solely on Khan Academy videos and overburdened public school teachers. Standardized testing, like much of the education system in general, is an inherently classist institution.
Besides that, there are plenty of smart and high-achieving students who understand material and can explain it when asked, but struggle to recount it in high-pressure test environments. When one test is being used as a metric for your intellectual capabilities, it’s easy to stumble and fall. Looking at teenagers as statistics instead of as people is a dangerous game, and when you do so, you may win dangerous prizes. The United States doesn’t need to end up with a generation of test-taking robots. It needs nuanced people who can care about the world they live in and take initiative to change that world for the better, whether that is by campaigning for environmental justice or creating art for us to enjoy.
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At the end of the day, nobody is going to look back at your life and define it by how many obscure vocabulary words you could identify on an exam. They will define it by the connections that you built with the people around you and the communities that you let yourself expand. And if we truly let ourselves live like we believed that statement, the world would be all the better for it.