When I was in high school, The WB (now CW) premiered the television show Gilmore Girls. These days, it's available for bingeing on Netflix. In real-time during its original run, the character Rory Gilmore was a grade ahead of me in school: she was a high school sophomore when I was a freshman. Rory was presented as a smart, well-spoken, ambitious, pretty, bookish girl whom I admired for her ability to read Proust as much as for her ability to snag a tall, dreamy boyfriend.
When I revisited the show a few months ago, I had a totally different lens. Firstly, my mind was blown when I realized that I am now closer in age to her mother, Lorelei, than I am to Rory. Then, I settled into watching the show not as a teenager admiring my Ivy-bound role model but as a test prep coach watching teenagers be, well, teenagers.
I say this with all due respect. Goodness knows, there are many amazing things about seeing the world through the eyes of a 16-year-old. But every age has its advantages and its insights. Having garnered the wisdom of a few years and worked with many students on their own test prep, I can now look at some of the characters' conversations with a different point of view.
With all that said, I present to you exhibit A: Rory, Paris (her super-type-A, neurotic nemesis), Madeline (one of Paris's friends), and Louise (another of Paris's friends) have recently received their PSAT scores. Let's see what happens.
In my book, Acing It! A Mindful Guide to Maximum Results on Your College Admissions Test, I discuss the concept of "MYOS," or "Mind Your Own Scores." I posit that you will reduce a lot of stress and anxiety related to the testing process if you neither share your scores with classmates nor ask classmates for their scores.
I think we can all perceive Paris's anxiety in this situation. We see how her sense of self-worth (or, for that matter, score-worth) becomes dependent on knowing that she out-scored her friends. Folks, let me tell you: that is not a healthy or productive way to gauge your self-worth. I don't want your scores to determine your self-worth at all (see another section of Acing It!, "Putting the Test in Perspective," which you can read in the free download I offer of the first chapter), but basing your sense of accomplishment on a comparison to the accomplishments of other people is even more of a moving target. One of my favorite poems "Desiderata" says, "If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself." Pretty much!
Only compare your scores to those of colleges' IQRs when you are deciding if your most recent official test should be your last or if you are deciding if you want to change your test prep by bringing in a coach/tutor or taking a class. Otherwise, the only use of old tests is to figure out how to direct your future preparation by recognizing which knowledge, skills, or techniques you can develop.
But Paris is an easy target. Let's talk about Rory, the golden child.
What Rory does right in this interaction is keeping her scores confidential. But, given that Rory has made the decision not to share her scores, Rory does a couple of things wrong, too:
Rory asks Paris about her scores: Maybe she was trying to put Madeline and Louise out of their misery, but nonetheless, Rory inserted herself into a conversation about scores. If you aren't going to talk to other people about your scores, don't ask other people about theirs. For most people, the act of sharing scores feels a little vulnerable, even if they intellectually understand that their scores are not a measure of their self-worth. So, once they've gone out on a limb and shared their scores with you, it creates an awkward dynamic if you don't intend to share your scores with them. While it's certainly true that if someone wanted to share his or her score with you, you could establish in advance that you will not be sharing yours, it makes life a whole lot simpler if you just stay out of it.
Rory says that she's happy with her scores: Okay, so I'm nitpicking a bit here. The truth is that saying you are happy with your scores is almost as good as saying "I'm not discussing my scores," and it's certainly better than sharing your specific score, but "I'm not discussing my scores" (with a friendly smile, of course) is still the best option. Along the same lines you might say, "I'm happy. But I'm not discussing my scores." You might be happy about life in general or your ability to watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix. You might be happy about your scores. You might be happy that your scores give you great information as to how to make the most of your test prep. You might be happy about sunsets. It doesn't matter why you're happy. It just matters that you're happy.
I have a secret to tell you: few people, if anyone, care how well you do or don't do on the tests for your sake. Most people care about how you did on the test for the exact reason Paris cares how Rory did -- to let them know how they should feel about themselves. You don't need to play that game.
Erika Oppenheimer is an SAT and ACT test prep coach and the author of Acing It! A Mindful Guide to Maximum Results on Your College Admissions Test. Using her unique "Test Prep for the Whole Person" methodology, she helps students from across the country reach their potential in the test room and in life.