My Addiction To Standardized Testing

How a Number Was Able to Control My Life

My Addiction To Standardized Testing

How can you be obsessed with something you hate? For me, this paradox is prevalent in a few aspects of my life: physics, vacuuming, and the ACT. But my addiction to this particular test confuses me the most out of everything on my list. 

I started studying for the ACT in June of my sophomore year, so my summer was filled with Math Section Mondays, Practice Test Thursdays, along with five other specified days of studying.

After a month of using this system, Wednesday night, aka science section time, became the worst part of my week. I’d consider myself a motivated student, but I’d do anything to delay setting a 35-minute timer and filling those 40 bubbles in that dreaded science section. You’d find me watering random plants, practicing my violin for the fourth time that day, or even reorganizing my entire bathroom until I finally ran out of excuses and started working. 

But here’s what confuses me: after I’d finished a science section, even after hours of avoiding it, I’d do another and another and another on the spot. I think my record was five science sections in a row, which I don’t recommend trying to beat. 

This habit soon trickled into the entire test. I took my very first ACT on September 10, 2022, in what Mr. Bigelow would call “Badonkadonk,” Illinois. Seriously, I was in the middle of nowhere. 

The thing is, I’ll never forget that adrenaline rush: 6:30 a.m. on the highway with a fat coffee in my hand because I didn’t sleep for a second the night before. I remember finally arriving at a school and freezing in line, waiting outside with around 100 other high school students who were clearly as nervous as I was. 

There was definitely something about waiting in that line filled with students buzzing with anticipation. It’s like the longer I stood there, the more nervous I became since I was surrounded by tons of people freaking out about how nervous they were. It was this weird feeling of knowing what to expect but not knowing at the very same time. 

But, after I sat down, it became just like any other Practice Test Thursday, except it wasn’t a practice test, and it was a Saturday. After about three and a half hours later, I left the school feeling confident but mainly relieved. 

My scores came back relatively quickly, and this was really when the obsession started. Although my score was around what I expected, I somehow convinced myself that the two-digit number displayed on my screen determined all my worth as a person, and I fell into the habit of over-studying and losing my mind over this stupid test. My next test date was set for February 11, 2023, and I spent every single day studying ridiculously hard. I don’t know if it was my hatred of the test that fueled this obsession or if it was the other way around, but what I do know is that my resentment for the ACT grew stronger and stronger every single day. 

Less than a week before the February ACT, I got a really severe concussion, and I spent each day in a dark room, sleeping for 14 hours straight. Just my luck. I was advised by doctors, teachers, and my parents to skip the test and wait until April, but my obsession was strong enough for me to emerge into sunlight for the first time in days and take the test, delaying my recovery by a month. 

Weeks passed, and I remember constantly refreshing my email during physics class, knowing that my scores were to come out at any minute. And when I finally received them, I was told by our very own college counseling team that I should be extremely proud of my score and that retaking the test wouldn’t benefit me at all. 

Of course, I didn’t listen, and I retook it this April to raise my score by 1 point. Trust me, I know how ridiculous this sounds. 

Flash forward to the present, and I’m sitting on my floor writing this article. My April test scores are lost, which is probably a good thing, and for the first time in what feels like forever, I’ve taken a break from the ACT. Sometimes, I reflect on how miserable I made standardized testing for myself because I spent so much time scrutinizing the meaning of a number. 

I hated every moment I spent at my desk reading passage after passage and pressing the logarithm button on my calculator, moments I could’ve spent with my family or friends or even finishing the really good book that’s been sitting on my nightstand. 

As I’m nearing the end of my junior year, I’m really starting to understand the whole “time flies” line that I’ve been making fun of my entire life. It’s crazy to think I’ve spent so much of my short time in high school worrying about something that has so little meaning, especially in this world of test-optional. So, to anyone who’s about to take on the beast of standardized testing: give it your best shot, but please put your mental and physical health first. I promise that a number will never define who you are or what you’re going to accomplish, especially in this world that makes us feel our imperfections.