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The Biggest Test You Should Prep For Isn't the SAT

Updated: Mar 15, 2019

We talk a lot about tests at Acumen, and as a mom I’ve been living tests for y-e-a-r-s: entrance exams, achievement tests, mid-terms, finals, SOLs, PSATs, SATs, ACTs, IBs to name a few. Each is valuable in its own way, but they are not the end all be all, and they do not define any of us.

Helpful on the path toward college, scholarships, and internships, they can't predict the big stuff like happiness, health, fulfillment or emotional intelligence. They can’t tell us what type of friend someone will be, or how they’ll interact with those around them. That test is so much bigger and more important.

YEAH ABOUT THE TEST...the test will measure whether you are an informed, engaged, and productive citizen of the world, and it will take place in schools and bars and hospitals and dorm rooms and in places of worship. You will be tested on first dates, in job interviews, while watching football, and while scrolling through your [social media] feed. The test will judge your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages, whether you’ll be easily persuaded by empty political rhetoric, and whether you’ll be able to place your life and your community in a broader context. The test will last your entire life, and it will be comprised of the millions of decisions that, when taken together, will make your life yours. And everything, everything, will be on it....I know, right?" ~John Green

And a resounding “I know right?” from me and parents everywhere.

Life. How in the actual you-know-what do we prepare our kids for it? How do we raise quality humans? It’s the biggest gauntlet ever thrown.

The salutatorian of my son’s class (and daughter of his favorite teacher) gave a killer graduation speech about that. She was mid speech touching on all the usual themes, when she shook her head, put her notes down and said:

“forget all that stuff I just said. There’s really only one thing you need to do in life. Just one thing. In the words of my mother, ‘do NOT grow up to be an asshole’. That’s it. That’s literally the only thing you need to do. And it’s so much harder than you think.”

The place erupted.

An older couple beside me visibly jumped.

Older gentleman: “What did she just say? Did she say @sshole?”

His wife: “No! She couldn’t have! I think she said: Grow up and pursue your goals.”

Older gentleman: “Oh, that makes sense, but she’s right about the @sshole thing too.”

And she is right. You can earn a perfect score on the SAT and still be rude. Or lazy. Cruel, bad at collaborating, mean to animals, close-minded or a have a host of other characteristics that equate to becoming a subpar human. There are so many things more important than a perfect score. Like everything listed here:

Those are the things that lead to competent adulting and quality living.

If you have a child who is not a ‘good test taker’, please remember all the other things they are. And then remind them. Repeatedly. Some of our kids have been taking tests and seeing scores that chip away at their psyches for years. Don’t let that happen. People who don’t do well on standardized tests have non-standardized minds not sub-standard ones. And non-standardized minds are often the ones that create ideas and change the world.

Know one who lives and learns with dyslexia? Show them this list: Spielberg, Picasso, Lennon, Kennedy, Washington, Da Vinci, Disney, Einstein. And in honor of National Women's Day show them this less commonly known list too: Erin Brockovich, Cher, Agatha Christie, Octavia Spencer, Jennifer Aniston, Ann Bancroft (arctic explorer), Jessica Watson (youngest to sail solo around the world), Florence Welch (of Florence + the Machine), Prof. Elizabeth Blackburn (Nobel prize winner) and then tell them chances are they’re going to be famous.

They may have to work twice as hard to get there, but I bet they’ve been working twice as hard all along. Remember to acknowledge that. And instead of focusing time and effort trying to become better in areas that may elude them, and probably don’t interest them, how great would it be to identify their strengths and play to those instead? We give a lot of praise to our “gifted” students, but it’s important to remember that every child is gifted. Every. One. But they are not all gifted in the same way, and they don’t all unwrap those gifts at the same time.

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

That quote has been bandied about for years, and after exhaustive research (and by exhaustive research I mean a quick Google search) I still can't confirm exactly who coined it: Einstein? Oprah? Matthew Kelly? Apocryphal? Whoever it was, they were definitely onto something.

But like it or not, college entrance exams are part of our world right now, so how do we make the best of them for our kids? Practice. Prep. Pace. We can help with that. We're all about recognizing potential and building confidence.

You know your child best, what do they need to be in their best test-taking form? The usual rules about what helps all apply: good sleep and eating habits on the lead up days, exercise, laughter (it's the best medicine, remember?), but what else? Think sensory...test taking centers aren't conducive to comfort, what can you do to help? Have them listen to the music, eat the food, wear the clothes, and be with the people who instill the most confidence before (and after) the test.

And if you need help quelling exam nerves, or low test score anxiety there’s a ton of good inspiration out there. A few favs (and again, these have made the rounds on social media so it's tough to annotate true authors, but props to whoever they are):

A letter a principal in Singapore sent home to the parents of his students:

“…please remember, among the students who will be sitting for the exams there is an artist, who doesn’t need to understand math…There is an entrepreneur, who doesn’t care about history or English literature…there is a musician, whose Chemistry marks won’t matter…There’s an athlete…whose physical fitness is more important than Physics….If your child does get top marks, that’s great! But if he or she doesn’t…please don’t take their self-confidence and dignity from them. Tell them it’s okay, it’s just an exam! They are cut out for much bigger things in life. Tell them, no matter what they score…you love them and will not judge them."

And a letter from a teacher…

"The SAT test does not assess all of what makes each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you the way that we do and certainly not in the way your families do. They do not know that some of you speak two languages or that you love to sing or draw. They have not seen your natural talent for dancing or playing a musical instrument. They do not know that your friends can count on you to be there for them; that your laughter can brighten the darkest day or that your face turns red when you feel shy. They do not know that you participate in sports, wonder about the future, or sometimes help your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that you are kind, trustworthy and thoughtful and that every day you try to be your very best."

As the big day looms, think about what comes next. Thursday and Friday nights should be early to bed days, but what about SAT Saturday? I made the mistake of making it all about the test, and didn’t plan anything else. Seeing "SAT" on the calendar might not bring joy to every teen, but what would? Add that to the calendar too.

Like Kelly Corrigan says, make it an AND weekend not an OR weekend.

As in it’s SAT weekend AND the Quinn XCII concert. If it were me testing on 5/4, it would also be NEEDTOBREATHE weekend. 6/1 would be SAT day AND Griffin House day. And not or. It can be SAT weekend, followed by a quick trip somewhere fun. They're already up and ready and they'll be done by mid-day. Your AND doesn't have to be huge...SAT and a long nap followed by dinner at their favorite restaurant, or a binge-watching session with their favorite friends and snacks.

No matter how the SAT goes, remember the real test happens outside the classroom, and teaching them how to ingrain 'and not or' and balance hard work with fun activities will go a long way toward helping them ace it. *If you didn't click the Kelly Corrigan video, go back and watch it. Her words reinforce some vital truths:

...and not my daughters are logical and irrational. My marriage is strong, and needs work. My mother is managing, and declining. ...Maybe we should have known that in any given person we could easily discover fear and forward motion nonetheless. Sweeping shame and some areas of pride. Callousness punctuated by altruism. Can a man really feel loved and unloveable? Could we be getting it done and totally falling apart? (spoiler alert, YES) A rulebreaker and a good child? (definitely) Maybe. Maybe either or is a tease of an idea that never pans out. Maybe AND is the only true thing.

Kelly's thoughts are spot on, and as parents we should remember, and embrace, all the 'and not ors' that make up each of our children. They so need us to.

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