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  • Writer's pictureDr. Thom

Testing Stress: The importance of keeping perspective at home

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Earlier this week, Bridget posted on our social media a surprising update from our 9th grader who was taking an in-school practice ACT for the first time. I loved it so much that I think it deserves a repost here. -Thom


The availability of the ACT is a major issue in many parts of the country. In Tennessee, the ACT or SAT is required, pursuant to T.C.A. § 49-6-6001. To receive a regular high school diploma, all students enrolled in a Tennessee public school during their eleventh (11) grade year must take either the ACT or SAT.

At our son’s high school, 11th and 12th graders took the ACT today. 9th and 10th graders also took a retired version to practice and experience the test. They will receive a score report as well.

Like anything, exposure to a test is a good thing. Knowledge is power. But let’s also remember what the ACT measures - how you did on a test on one day at one time. It doesn’t define you.

We knew our 9th grade son would be taking the ACT today and didn’t make a big deal. (Really.)

When lunches or other items are forgotten or something goes wrong, I’m usually the one who receives the call. I guess it’s a mom thing.

Around 11:30 am, I heard my husband’s phone ring and then heard him talking very calmly and reassuringly. I was a little puzzled because he doesn’t usually sound that way with our client families. (Yes, he is always calm and reassuring; but this was different.)

Our 9th grade son called him.

He was worried about how he had done on the test, all the answers he didn’t know, and what this meant for his future.

He’s 14.

To be upfront, he’s never cared that much about tests. When he was going to kindergarten, we took him to the test for the local magnet school. He counted backward when asked to count, gave my parents’ address in Indiana as his home address, and said he didn’t know his colors. “I didn’t really like them” was his explanation. When he was in elementary school and tested for a gifted program, he was upset that the test was during recess and refused to finish the test. (Priorities of course. Recess is key.) So testing hasn’t exactly been on his radar.

So even with Thom having a doctorate in educational psychology with an emphasis in testing and measurement, we haven’t made a big deal about tests in our home. But somehow, our son picked up that the ACT is a big deal and really stressed about it. There is a myriad of research on late-blooming boys in regard to academics so our son may be falling in that category as this seems to be the first year he has really cared about school and grades.

When I picked him up today, we talked about his concerns, some rational and some unfounded fears. We talked about what the test means and what matters, as well as what doesn’t matter. Like anything, it’s good to be prepared and have information. But to dwell and worry about a test can be unhealthy. It’s about balance. I finally said to him, “Well at least you know people who do test prep and help students,” and he laughed.

We believe in a healthy approach for students and families as they approach the college admissions and financial aid processes. And for us, it starts at home. -Bridget

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