PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 194 | My Pet Peeve

A test-taking contagion has gripped the country in large part due to the test-optional SAT and ACT policies.

Show Notes:

In this week's podcast, I discuss a big pet peeve of mine.

My "issue" has to do with to a test-taking contagion exacerbated by SAT/ACT test-optional policies.

If your child plans to take (or skip) the SAT or ACT, please listen to this episode.

Show Transcript:

Hello, friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. In today's episode, I want to discuss a pet peeve of mine. My pet peeve is when a student tells me that they don't plan on taking an SAT or an act because they, quote, aren't good test takers, unquote. I've had many parents tell me that their child will not be taking the SAT or the act because they are not good test takers. And when I hear that, I'm not really sure what to think or to say what exactly do they mean by not a good test taker? And it's often said with such confidence and casualness and matter of factness, as if they've been issued some special card that says that they're not good test takers and they can just sit it out. What exactly does this mean? I didn't know that some students were good test takers and others were not good test takers. I just thought some students were smarter than other students, and some students prepared more than other students, and some students took tests more seriously than other students, and some students were more motivated than other students. I didn't realize that such a large percentage of students seemingly are just by nature not good test takers. That seems odd to me. Now, certainly there are carve outs for students with legitimate dyslexia or other cognitive or physical issues that may have real world implications on how well students can see or hear or process information. I'm not talking about those students. Those students have documented physical issues to contend with, presumably. I'm talking about regular students who do well in their classes.

Many get all A's and they don't have any of these discernible medical conditions, but somehow got the impression or someone gave the impression to them somewhere along the line that they were not good at test taking. When exactly did this occur and who decided that this was the case? I think it often happens when a student takes the PSAT, for example, and doesn't do as well as they had hoped or expected, or as well as their friends did, and they immediately jump to the conclusion, the convenient conclusion, by the way, that they just must not be good test takers. Or there's a student who gets nervous before a big test and freezes up and does poorly on the test because of some type of test anxiety. And that's it. They now label themselves as not a good test taker. I heard that one all the time. Test anxiety. Now, don't get me wrong, there are some people who do particularly well on standardized tests, even without a lot of work. I don't refer to those people as good test takers. I refer to them as smart, bright, sharp, brilliant, naturally gifted. I certainly don't count myself in this group. I'm certainly not a good test taker in that context. But that doesn't mean that I consider myself not a good test taker. I'm just not that smart. It has nothing to do with being a good test taker or not. Again, I'm just not that smart. This isn't a humblebrag here. Ask my wife. Ask my kids. I'm not ashamed to say that everyone has their thing and test taking happens not to be my thing. And I'm okay with that. I don't use that as a label or as an excuse to skip a test or not work hard or prepare ahead of time for a big test. And I've taken a lot of big tests over the last 20 or 30 years. I took the SAT back in the day. I took what's called the G Act, which is like it sat for business school. I took the series seven and the series 63 exams when I was working on Wall Street. I took a civil service exam to get into the fire department. I took a military test to get into the Navy. I took an officer's aptitude test to get into Navy officer candidate school. I took a test to become a nationally certified personal trainer and many other high stakes tests that mattered a lot. And they were very consequential. Did I crush these exams? No, not really. Not compared to the super bright folks.

I did well enough to be successful, especially when taking into account other things that I was bringing to the table. But this never stopped me from trying or succeeding. And by the way, I did relatively well on these tests, not because I was intellectually gifted, which I'm not, but because I put in a lot of effort. I wasn't afraid to start early. I wasn't afraid to work hard. I had to work hard to understand the concepts. I had to read the same passage over and over again. I had to go through that two page math proof 20 times to get it right. I had to make flashcards. I had to create quislings. I had to take pages and pages of handwritten notes to try to imprint that information in my head. I had to take practice tests over and over and over. I had to grind it out. And in the end, I did fairly well on standardized tests. I didn't crush them. I wasn't at the top of the heap. Despite my outsize efforts. But it always got me to where I wanted to go every single time. And just because I didn't perform exceedingly well on every test compared to other students who crushed things right out of the gate, I never once thought of myself as, quote, not a good test taker. I thought of myself as not as smart as some students and someone who needed to work harder. Period. That's just what I had to do. I never labeled myself as not a good test taker. What a destructive identity to live with. Can you imagine going through middle school, high school, college, thinking of yourself as not a good test taker? But these days, in my experience, it seems like students and parents are very quick to label themselves or their kids as not good test takers because they didn't do well on this test or that test compared to some of their friends or maybe even an older sibling. And for that, they now carry this label, not a good test taker and think that they can just skip the SAT or the act. I'm not buying it. That's not to say that you can trick your mind into becoming a great test taker overnight by just staring at yourself in the mirror every day and repeating the mantra. I am a great test taker. I am a great test taker. Not that there's anything wrong with doing that. The better bet instead of relying on your I'm not a good test taker excuse and skipping the test would be to work as hard as you can and see how well you can do on that test.

And that doesn't mean that if you work hard and you think positive thoughts that you're guaranteed to get a 600 on the S.A.T., which would be a perfect score. I surely didn't get a 600. But it will show you what you're capable of if and when you put your mind to it. But that, of course, takes effort. Too many students are skipping this step because they're convinced that they're not good test takers or someone's convinced them that they're not good test takers or they're lazy or uninterested or unmotivated or all of the above. And so they raise the I'm not a good test taker card, and they leave it at that. And of course, with the new test optional policy for the SAT and A.C.T., claiming that you're not a good test taker is all the rage. Everyone's doing it. How convenient. The year the SAT and the act become optional, hordes of students decide simultaneously across the country that they're going to skip the SAT in the act because they, after all, aren't good test takers. Come on. And the parents aren't always helping their cause. And believe me, I understand why if their child opts out of taking the SAT or the act, it takes a huge load off the parents. They don't have to badger their child to study or endure the hemming and hawing and the gnashing of teeth and the constant reminders and nagging and the potential cost of an asset class or a tutor. All of that magically disappears if they too decide that their child is not a good test taker. Too easy. Too easy. If we could only be so lucky, I could have fallen into the same trap when it came to my military ambitions. I wanted to be a Navy SEAL. Most people think of Navy SEALs as elite Olympic level athletes who can run, jump, lift, dive, shoot, fight and do just about anything physically. Well, that certainly did not describe me as a 25 year old when I decided to become a Navy SEAL. For one, I was injured when I started my journey. I had just had open shoulder surgery from a skiing accident. I had just spent two years on Wall Street working 100 hour weeks. I had been sidelined historically with various injuries during my college basketball career. And to be honest, even beyond the recent surgery, I was not. And I am still not a gifted athlete. Now, had I been walking around claiming I'm not a good athlete, I'm not a good athlete, would I have ever considered taking a crack at the Navy SEALs, the most athletic special operators in the world? Hell no. It would have been a nonstarter.

The point here is that I want you to be very careful about the labels you give yourself or your children, or that you let other people give to you. I want you to be careful about the language you use because these things matter. They shape you. They shape your attitude. They shape your ambitions. They shape your performance. They shape the trajectory of your life. If you get caught nervous before a big test like the SAT, good for you. Join the club. Everyone gets nervous. That doesn't mean you have test anxiety. It doesn't mean you're a bad test taker. It means that you're a teenager facing down a consequential test that matters. Oh, well, so are 2 million other seniors around the country. What makes you so special? How do you eliminate or mitigate some of your pretest jitters, if you will, or test anxiety? Well, here's a plan. Number one. Stop thinking or saying that you're not a good test taker or that you have test anxiety. Never speak of it again. Number two, start studying well ahead of time. I'm talking months, not days. Number three, set a study schedule. Every Saturday and Sunday morning for 45 minutes for example. Number four, take practice tests. Number five, work on your timing. Number six, focus on the questions that you're getting wrong. Don't continue to do all the ones you're getting right over and over again. That's a waste of time. Number seven, maybe take a class or get a tutor. Number eight, study with a friend. Number nine, Prepare, prepare, prepare. And guess what will happen if you do these things? A lot of that so-called test anxiety will go away. Why? Because you're not second guessing yourself. You put in the work you did as much as you could. You're not wishing you had done more on Tuesday. Those are the thoughts that create anxiety, whether it's consciously or unconsciously.

And you can eliminate those feelings by preparing ahead of time. Keep your head down. Stay humble. Keep grinding. And by the way, did you notice that I haven't talked once about what a SAT score you should be shooting for. You want to know why? Because I don't care what score you're shooting for. I care about how well you're preparing to be the best that you can be. And that's what you should care about. The score is not really relevant here. If you prepare the most you can possibly prepare, then you're a winner. In my book, no matter what your score is. If you're fully prepared and confident, then the score is what it is and you're going to have to work with it. And here's another little tip as you prepare for the SAT or the act. For the weeks and the months leading up to test day, I want you to be humble. I want you to grind. I want you to push yourself. Don't cut any corners. I want you to strive. But when you actually sit down for the test, take a deep breath. Appreciate the fact that you're not anxious because you know you've prepared as much as you can. There's no second guessing about what you should have done or could have done. You've done it all. Then I want you to get just a little bit cocky. Not a lot. Just a little bit. I want you to say to yourself, I've prepared for this test. I know it's coming. I've done everything in my power to get ready.

And now it's my time to crush this thing and take that little bit of cockiness, that confidence with you into the test. You deserve it. That's how you deal with test anxiety. You don't label yourself as a bad test taker and sit the test out. You double down on your preparation and you go all in. And guess what? You shouldn't feel anxious about getting your score either a few weeks after you take the test because you know you did the best that you could. And if you don't get the score that you had hoped for, you get back on your horse. You study for a few more weeks and you get after it again. Knowing that most students do better on their second attempt. So please do yourself a favor. If you fancied yourself as not a good test taker or somebody who gets test anxiety on Tuesday, those days are over. Throw that language away and start to prepare instead. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for the continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies, online mentoring program or high schoolers, and their parents receive weekly videos from me. Or I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships. Many parents who listen to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in Prep Academy, which is great. If you don't yet, please consider enrolling them. Registration is only open during freshman or sophomore year. After that, we no longer accept new students. So if you have a freshman or sophomore in high school and you like what you're hearing in these podcasts and you'd like to get more content like this tailored specifically for your child for their specific grade, with their specific goals in mind, go to prep academy dot com and enroll today. If you're a parent with a middle school or high schooler that might find this helpful, please share the episode with them and give us a rating if you get a minute. Word of mouth and positive ratings help our podcast reach a much wider audience. If you have questions, comments or an idea for an upcoming episode, please reach out to me by email. Demi on Instagram. Check out our blog, our Facebook page, or connect with me on LinkedIn. I would love to hear from you. Until next week, Goodbye. Good luck and never stop preparing. This podcast is brought to you by PrepWell Academy. PrepWell Academy is my one of a kind online mentoring program that delivers to your ninth or 10th grader a short, highly relevant video from me every week. Every Sunday, in fact, where I give them a heads up about what they should be thinking about, to stay ahead of the game to get these valuable lessons into your child's hands. Please head over to and enroll your child today.

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