02/25/2015 08:46 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Perfect Score

At this point in my high school career, I no longer have to worry about standardized testing. I have several junior friends, however, that are where I once was: stressed out, asking for advice on how to get the perfect score, willing to pay for the countless practice books I own.


The ACT -- American College Test -- and the SAT -- Scholastic Assessment Test -- are the two tests juniors across the nation will be taking in the coming months (although I've come to learn everyone takes these tests yearly now). If you're not breaking out the number two pencils and heading to learning seminars, adding more study time onto that already busy schedule and familiarizing yourself with the exams, you should be. It is, after all, the single most important test you will ever take in your life.


Aren't these standardized tests more important than any other English essay you've ever written, than any other difficult mathematics test you've seen? Don't all adults look back on their years and see this test as the single turning point in their whole life?

My guess is most adults will say filling in the right bubbles had no significant impact on where they stand now. That's not to say all juniors should push the ACT and SAT to the side and head to the movie theater instead. There is no doubt that these assessments play a key role in being accepted to college; nearly every university website asks for scores in their admission guidelines.

But how important are these scores? I have a senior friend who scored a 34 on the ACT early in her junior year; come fall, she applied to Stanford, sending in a résumé that had impressive accomplishments beyond that high score. Two months later, she received a rejection letter in the mail. Another colleague of mine, who also applied to the great halls of Stanford, procured a score of 720 on the SAT mathematics subject test and received that very same rejection letter in the mail. An MIT application with an 800 in the math II subject test, a 33 on the ACT, and all the required leadership and extracurricular activities was deferred.

Why is that? Why is it that when someone makes a perfect score on these tests, the ones we hold in such high regard, they are still deferred? I heard through the grapevine at my high school that a senior was accepted into Yale based off of superior gymnastics skills -- not her academics, not her GPA and not even her standardized test scores. She was simply exceptionally good at something. With thousands of students taking exams every year, and hundreds meanwhile scoring well, is making high marks exceptional anymore? Are the applications pouring into the doors at Harvard and Stanford and Yale all riddled with 36s and 2800s?

It's hard to see why they wouldn't be (and they aren't). The ACT and SAT are designed for all juniors across the nation to take -- meaning they aren't of the highest caliber. Sure, there are difficult questions dotted throughout the test, but it is, after all, standardized. Students with brains will have no trouble obtaining a score in the 30s. Take, for example, that MIT applicant. 60 minutes are allotted for the math section of the ACT, and she finished the entire test with 30 minutes to spare. When I took practice tests of my own, the writing portion felt like a joke only I was in on. While there are kids who find the test exceedingly difficult and get scores in the low 20s, even in the teens, a large portion of the population -- those being the ones that apply to the top schools -- will get these scores. Making scoring high unexceptional.

Why then do juniors continue to pour sweat and blood into these tests?

Easy: scholarships. Both of my sisters received scholarships based off of their high school GPAs and test scores; in fact, many universities boast financial aid directly related to a set GPA and score. Not everyone is planning on heading to the Ivy Leagues, and that's why the pores start working and the veins start pumping when those three little letters are strung together. But even if it isn't Ivy League, I still question why such high emphasis is placed on these two tests. Why such weight is positioned on English, mathematics, reading, and science when there are careers with such vaster fields. Why a scholarship is awarded for knowing the rules of grammar and logarithms rather than a greater accomplishment.

I haven't figured out the answer to these questions, and I probably never will. Instead, I took these standardized tests just like all the other juniors and I studied hard. I managed to get one of those coveted high scores. But anyone who takes these tests must always remember: it is only a test. It is not the sole deciding factor in your future. It cannot predict your creativity or your character, your full talent or all of your smarts. Getting a perfect score will not make you perfect, and it certainly won't guarantee a perfect future.