The Inherent Despair of Standardised Tests
Standardised tests like the SAT, IELTS and GRE are necessary hurdles to get to our goals.
Perhaps they are small hurdles in the larger scheme of things but I remember the day of my SATs, burnt out after my board exams, with a heart full of dread, fear and anxiety. Years later, I took my GRE in a freezing glass box in the middle of Texas and found myself feeling the same way.
There are a lot of resources out there that tell you how you can get over these hurdles, but in my experience, they don't do much to take away the anxiety — there's only so much preparation you can throw at them. Maybe you're in a similar boat I've found myself; maybe you can relate.
I scored enough in these tests to get me to a good college and grad school. While preparing, I would hear tales of perfect scores that many peers and fictional relatives of my neighbours achieved, and that made things a lot more intimidating. We, as a society, reward perfection, but often fail to question why it even matters. A perfect SAT or GRE score is neither a ticket to your dream university, nor a reflection of how good you are at your field, so chasing it only makes the process more stressful and scarier than it has to be.
Not to mention the need to memorise a couple hundred (thousand?) words to successfully pass the writing sections. I scored lower in these portions than I did in math in both my SAT and GRE, which was quite embarrassing as I had always aced English in high school.
It's disorienting when you think you are good at a subject and then someone drops a 5-pound book on you and asks you to memorise a thousand words, and suddenly you have a worse vocabulary than a three-year-old. If it's any consolation, I write scientific papers for reputed conferences now, and I don't use most of the words I "learned" back then.
Preparing for standardised tests is also often a lonely experience. Many of your friends may not even be taking the tests, so someone to relate to is difficult. I remember feeling isolated in my SAT tuition as people were able to answer questions I could not even guess right.
The truth, I know now, is that many of these strangers are probably waiting for someone to tap them on the shoulder and say "Hey, are you really as clueless about this as I am?" It's worth taking the shot, you may even make a friend along the way.
Looking back, the standardised tests really were hurdles I needed to jump over to get to a future I want, but I would've never believed that when I was preparing for them. Here's a speck of motivation, though: if you can find a way to shut out the big scary thoughts and just get yourself through it, you are one step closer to a future where you don't have to take standardised tests anymore.
Shreyosi Endow is doing her PhD in Texas, USA. In her free time, she likes to embroider, paint and rant to her friends.