I am not defined by a test.

I took the GRE last week.

I should also note, I almost didn’t. I signed up about a month ago, and after, “Register for the GRE,” collected dust on my summer To Do list.

It was the following “ah-ha” moment that aided in my eventual registration:

I am not defined by a test.

Specifically, my worth is not found within the confines of a 100-question and 2-essay exam. This ah-ha hit me hard, and it hit me raw. My fear of taking the test had nothing to do with preparedness. Instead, it had everything to do with a complete fear of being measured by an exam. I was terrified to take the GRE because I was scared of what it might tell me about myself. Because, while I may not be defined by the test, I am certainly still compared to and evaluated as a result of it.

Powerful note

And thus, the debate around worth and standardization continues.

I have a limited memory of my own childhood woes around testing. Mostly, I remember the stress, and next, I remember a constant inquiry of whether or not the test-makers would actually put four “D” answers in a row (or, what one would get on the test if they just filled-in, “A, B, C, D, E, D, C, B, A,” from start to finish).

Institutions for higher education are evaluating their admissions processes, and many schools are slowly moving toward an admissions process that does not include the ACT or SAT. Outside of the undergraduate requirements, when I was applying to master’s programs several years ago, I had friends and colleagues who only applied to graduate schools that did not require a GRE score. “It does not measure your capacity to serve students, nor does it reflect your ability to be compassionate, or empathetic, or trustworthy as a professional,” one school said to me while researching which graduate program I wanted to attend. And I tend to agree. 

Ultimately, I pursued a graduate program that did require the GRE, and my GRE experience of 2009 contained a matched level of anxiety as my current predicament.

Is this how kids feel within our preK-12 systems? Does testing support a healthy self-efficacy? Are tests really the most equitable way to measure a person’s ability? What is the area of triangle ABC, and how is x+3 divided by z-y?

These questions haunt me more than most.

“Just remember that this test and your scores do not equal your value or predict your future. It’s just a test. It cannot be won. It can just be taken.”
– My very wonderful friend, Diana

I have wise friends, right?

While I’m not proud of my score, I am also not proud of a system that puts so much emphasis on testing as a prime indicator of a person’s capability. “It cannot be won. It can just be taken.” When I think about work involving child, student, and human development, I am most hopeful that layers of empathy, understanding, and compassion are more true than a wonderful score on a test.

Of course, times are changing. The way we educate and how we are educated are both changing. Education is evolving. We are evolving. I certainly understand the foundation of the (perceived) importance of test taking, but more so, I understand the reality of testing’s ability to leave people behind (cue, “the sociology of education,” here). From a preK-12 perspective, even my own former school district has the possibility for evolution, which was apparent just this past week.

A good friend of mine from high school and college now works in the school district where I spent most of my preK-12 experience (previously referenced last year, “My high school was ‘pretty Black’“). While attending the back-to-school welcome for district faculty and staff, she captured a pretty powerful statement from the new Superintendent of Schools.

“Never say never…every child can be successful!” “You have to love the kids more than the rules, more than the test scores, more than a win/loss record!”
– New Mid-Del Schools Superintendent, Dr. Rick Cobb

This is what matters. This is how we actually and thoughtfully teach and inspire. This is how we adequately educate children and adults. Teaching is so much more than a prescribed version of ‘success.’ Success is scarily subjective – truthfully, subjective.

More than what I may or may not have learned prior to or during my own testing experience this past week/summer, I mostly learned that I was loved. I had two coworkers who gave me a gift or card almost every day leading up to the test. My significant other beautifully and patiently challenged me to pause and be kind to myself. I had friends and colleagues reach out with affirming arguments of, “…it doesn’t define whether you’re smart or worthy,” and, “…just a test in your life, not a definition of your brains and talents.” Of course, I did consider that perhaps all my friends and colleagues realized I was an awful test-taker, or just that I couldn’t use, “mercurial,” or, “obsequious,” in a sentence – either way and regardless of motivation, people showed up, and with love and support deeper than I could have bargained.

To amend my initial ah-ha (“I am not defined by a test”), I would now argue, “My worth is not found in my GRE score.” And neither is yours.

One of my very good friends put it beautifully:

“I care about you doing well, but I care most that post-test you still remember how wonderful you are. Regardless of the results…”
-My super sweet pal, Renae

I think we can all benefit from this understanding – our self (selves), our students, our colleagues, our friends.

Be kind to yourself.

I may not have achieved a perfect GRE score last week. And that’s okay. And, perhaps, my understanding of the role of an educator is skewed by my passionate belief that empathy and compassion are much more important than exam results. That’s okay, too. There’s even a chance that, if I did take the test again – which I do not intend to do – I still wouldn’t do well. And even in that second score and attempt, I am still okay.

There are two points happening here: one about the giant question mark that exists around standardized testing, and the other regarding my own experience with the GRE. And in both spaces, regardless of outcome, we are worthy, we are capable, and we are surely, certainly, undoubtedly not defined by a test score.

New wind,


Wheaties - KSP
*Bless all those who contend, “I love standardized tests.” You’re all robots.

4 thoughts on “I am not defined by a test.

  1. Preach on Michael! I had a similar experience with the GRE but what could I expect since I only gave myself 7 days to cram!? Overall I resigned to hoping programs would look at the scores as a piece but care more about the content of the application and experience. They should right? Right? (guess I’m still holding onto some anxiety about this)? I was debating on whether I should take it again to improve the Quant side but oh to go through the anxiety a second time… is it even worth it? Woof. All this to say I loved and felt everything in this post!


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