Today is the last day for early AP score access, as well as the first day that the west coast, where I live, will be able to see those scores. Also, the IB scores were also released today, for my fellow International Baccalaureates. Judging by the messages and reactions I’ve been getting from friends all week, I think that this post is quite obligatory for all you high school students out there.
Ever since Friday, I’ve been seeing posts about students using proxies to get access to their scores just a little bit earlier, or trying to find some way to see those numbers. People have been messaging me in a frenzy, trying to figure out why their browser was crashing or why they couldn’t find the proper identification codes. And you know what all of this means?
It means that we are placing way too much of our dreams and hopes upon the college board.
It seems that every year, we place not only our knowledge of how much we know, but in fact our actual self worth, upon the AP tests and that score that we receive afterwards. For many, their self-confidence is built upon getting a 4 or a 5 on that May test. For others, the test only reinforces faulty expectations of their own failures or their continued hate of school.
How could we let this single score determine all that we are? Why would we pin our hopes and dreams to this? Our ability to communicate ideas are not built into this test, nor is our power to make people care. Even if you would understand that this test only measures how well you learned the course material, would you truly allow a single course to change the outcome of your life? It is more worthwhile to use that knowledge of the course and the study skills you have accumulated. Instead of judging your mastery based on what your score is, judge your mastery based on your own knowledge.
I was recently reading a book, The Drunkard’s Walk, which deals with uncertainty and probability in our lives. One of the factors that it listed was the inherent uncertainty that comes with taking any kind of standardized test. Sure, a large majority of your score is based on your knowledge of the material and how much you are prepped, but how much is also based on that stomachache you had last night, or the emotional difficulties you are having at home, or just the thunderstorms and the pounding rain on the gym roof, totally distracting you during the Physics B exam? (true story) Did you know that in order to get an increase of about 30 points on the SAT, all you have to do is take the test again, because those 30 points are within the standard uncertainty of the exam? Those 2360s are just the same as the glorious holy grail of 2400s because of that.
If there is already such a large uncertainty within the test, why would we base our self-worth upon it? When if we are on the borderline between a 3 and a 4, and we just so happen to get a 3, why would we just feel so much worse about ourselves?
But enough about the tests themselves. As opposed as I am towards the system, I do concede that at some point, such a tool is helpful. After all, without testing, one wouldn’t be able to clearly know what they are doing well, and what do they need to change. The problem therefore lies not only within the tests, but within us.
After all, without us students perpetrating the importance and stress of the test, there wouldn’t be so much focus to do as well and to be so competitive. While competition could sometimes be a good thing, it seems to me that more often than not it is becoming a hindrance in our development.
For one thing, consider the following: Why would students ask others what they got the day scores are released? For me, the immediate reactions that the asker is probing for is most likely in their own pride and hubris, as they want to show off their own score, but does so in a way by first asking others. Therefore, if the other person got a lower score, they would feel superior, and if the other person did just as well, they can congratulate the other and also show off their own skills as well.
Never have I seen a person ask for the sheer purpose of making someone else feel better about themselves.
Okay, but what about the argument that there should be a winner and a loser? That if there is somebody who puts their all into what they study, they deserve to have some kind of sense of superiority over the others who blew it off?
Well, that is true. In any competition, and in fact, in life, there will be those who do well and those who do not. In order for there to be a sense of accomplishment, there must also be a sense of loss elsewhere, because that loss reminds the winner of how much more s/he has worked. In fact, to go off on a tangent, that is why it is so hard to satisfy the problem of poverty, because the well-being of the well off depend on that exact cheap labor, or the low costs of the products that they make. If we veer towards an utopian society, it almost always falls into a dystopia as outlined by literature (1984, Animal Farm, The Giver, A Brave New World), because we just can’t have total equality without suppression of our freedoms and liberties. All we can do is aim for as much equality as we can.
What we can do is to turn our thinking away from a first, second, or third place mindset, but instead, on a “Did I reach my own levels” standard. Not only would this stop people from ruthless bashing, but it also puts in that ability for self-judgment, which is the only kind of judgment that is truly helpful. When others judge, it usually falls into the background and the most it does is to hurt your feelings. But when you truly judge yourself, you start to think of ways to change your behavior and how to become better.
Now on the flip side of this will be those who say, “If we make everybody a winner, no one wins”. To be honest, I have viewed this philosophy with favor, because I always thought that giving out participation awards just to make people feel good is a waste. It cripples them in the future as they have to learn how to fend for themselves. But, as Ms. Corso said in our recent Interlake’s graduation speech, having that confidence in us may make our generation the best there is. To be totally accepting does not mean that we are tolerant of any mistakes, but that we are tolerant of the people who have made those mistakes, and that we are willing to keep working until we are all victors in our own sense.
So I speak to my generation, the generation lost in test scores and standardized testing, the generation stuck with the pampering of parents and the “mememe generation“, I challenge you all: look past your scores and look at what you have done, at what you have studied. Judge for yourself, and don’t allow the words of others to cut into your soul. Become a better person because of this, and rise above our past.