Confessions of a Bad Test Taker - Cynthia Soto, 22


Oh my god! I’m the last one and I have more questions to go! The situation was always the same. When time was almost up, I began to secretly look around, feel self-conscious and nervous. Then I began to count. There are three left, two, one, and then I was the only one once again. I couldn't help it. Here’s the worst part. I actually studied, I really did! What’s wrong with me? My test scores do not show the amount of time I put into studying. I didn't talk to my teachers about me being a horrible test taker because I didn't want them to think that I’m dumb, but at some point I had to. They just told me to study more, which didn't really help. I actually paid attention and studied more. At first, I was the last one because I didn't study, but then I began to study and was still the last one. I studied even more and nothing changed. I was so sure that studying more was going to make a difference but it didn't. At some point I began to guess answers to the last questions just so that I wouldn’t be the last one. It’s embarrassing.

I decided to ask some of my teachers for advice. One of them recommended that I don't worry about anyone else, but me. She said that I was the one that mattered and that the grade will go to me, not them. It made sense and worked somewhat. I forced myself to stop looking around and to focus on me. Still, I couldn’t help to feel self-conscious. Another teacher suggested that I prepare way ahead of time. So I began to prepare ahead of time. It made sense, but it didn't work. For some reason, the questions looked different and harder once I took the test. My conclusion, without a doubt, I’m a bad test taker! Some people are simply bad testers and others are just good at tests.

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I always thought that way. And once I got to the community college, it was all the same. One particular class changed everything. After realizing that most of us didn't do well on the midterm, the professor ended up on a tangent and asked: how many of you actually study and still struggle? How many are horrible test takers? My ears started ringing! I waited for a second, looked around to see if other students raised their hands. Then I slowly raised mine as others did to. Good, it’s just not me! Then he said that bad test takers are real! They do exist and they are very common. I sighed with enormous relief! Then he smiled and said that they do exist, but they exist is what matters most and is the real issue. Finally, he was going to answer a question that I always had. Why? Then I couldn't believe what I was hearing! For me, it seemed as if it was all happening in slow motion.

He explained that bad test takers exist because of they study. He playfully emphasized the ! He widened eyes, whispered the word, and then awkwardly paused. Silence! Nobody seemed to understand what he meant, but everyone was paying attention. Then he simply asked a few students they studied. Just about everyone’s response revolved around reviewing notes, flashcards, or reading over and over again. Other students mentioned that for important things they did the same thing, but for a longer period of time. In my head I could relate. Then he smiled again, whispered, and slowly said, that's only level one of studying. It’s a simple way most students use to study in middle school and high school. He said it is common for students to learn one or two ways to study early on, then keep doing the same thing forever. As the years pass by the material becomes much harder, but we keep old study habits, even when they don't work anymore. Then we try harder and add time as we continue to use the same study habits that don't work. Here’s my confession. I was right; I was a poor test taker, but was definitely wrong about why. The more important part was that I didn't know how to study at a higher level for more difficult subjects. That day was the beginning of figuring out that I didn't have study or learning strategies to help me along the way. I just did what I knew, which was flashcards, and reading my notes again and again.

What I didn't know was that there are endless study strategies out there that help with memory, true comprehension, and applying what is learned, which are all needed to become a good test taker. I googled them like crazy, sidestepped all the things that I didn't connect with and finally found many strategies that really helped me. It took me another two semesters to really learn them and use them. Taking test matters in school because it’s just how it works. It shows what was learned, and how well we comprehend everything. When it was time to take important tests my senior year in high school to determine where I would go to college, I’d already made up my mind about not trying and not putting pressure on myself because I was a “bad tester taker”. It was as if I tattooed “bad test taker” on my forehead. It still bugs me till this day! And at the college level I found out that there are grants that we don't have to pay back that depend on GPA. High scores mean something, a lot actually if real learning happened along the way. Of course there is such a thing as high-test scores, without learning much, but I was always interested in proving to myself that I was smart and that my grades reflected my potential. I wish I would have known all of this early in high school. The way I see it is that I have a lot of ground to make up! I’m in my last semester at the community college. I will be transferring pretty soon, which is why I’m constantly finding and using new strategies that keep me getting top scores, confidence, and the idea that I can learn with the right strategy. I’m no longer the last one, but more importantly I’m no longer a bad test taker.

~ Cynthia Soto, 22