Tried, tested, not true: moving on provides insight into self-worth


Art by Valeria Velasquez

Ann Fitzmaurice

Every single time I took the American College Testing (ACT) exam, save one, I cried when I received my score. My location when I received the score didn’t matter. I cried at school, I cried at home, and I cried at work.
The first time I took the ACT, however, I did not foresee myself constantly in tears; I was confident in my score. I did no studying whatsoever and paid the price. I was ignorant to the rigor of the test, and dumbfounded when my first score did not line up with my in-school academics. My work ethic and subsequent high-grade point average made me believe hard work could carry me in life, and that self-assurance came with me into the testing room.
The ACT showed me that there was a sharp contrast in working hard in school and performing on a test within a time crunch.
The false confidence I carried to my first test made me vulnerable when I failed. I could not fathom how I could get, in my mind, such a poor score when I did so well in all my classes. I blamed my own intelligence. I could jump through the hoops of school, but I could not show what I learned at my core. After my confidence broke with a simple number, I decided to try harder for the next test.
I convinced my parents to pay $500 for an ACT class that I hoped would bring my score up. My parents are not wealthy: my mother is a teacher and my dad works two jobs to help support our family. Somehow, they scraped together the money, thinking it would be beneficial when it came time to pay for college. Thus, every Sunday I attended a four-hour class, and after a month, I took my second ACT test.
My score increased by one point.
When I discovered my score, I felt worse than I did after my first test. Not only did I fail once again, but I wasted $500 of my parents’ money that they didn’t have to spare in the first place. For the months following my second score, I began to compare myself to others more and more. All of my friends had better scores than I did, and though my score was above average, I felt like an idiot compared to them.

I dreaded when ACT scores came out because I knew everyone would be talking about their scores and I’d inevitably hate myself for mine. In my Advanced Placement (AP) United States history class, all my friends were discussing their scores and congratulating each other on it. One of my friends scored a 33. One scored a 34 and one scored a 35. The most trying task of the ACT was not taking the test itself. For me, the stress of the ACT came from the aftermath: trying to be happy for my friends all the while hating myself for not being as good as them. I scolded myself for letting my selfishness make me so jealous of my friends. I was motivated to score higher the next time so I could stop feeling so poorly. Even through my motivation, I felt guilty that my parents kept paying $40 for each ACT I took because I was too stupid to score high the first time.
I took the ACT again, and scored one point higher.
Though I did not break down as much as I did the past two times, this score still made me feel worthless. Again, I compared myself to others and defined myself by a number. My confidence was the lowest it’d ever been and it began to show in my other classes. In AP United States History, I refused to raise my hand because I believed everything I said was dumb. After a group presentation, I cried because I felt like every word that came out of my mouth sounded like unintelligent garbage. My teacher tried to convince me that my score did not define me, but his words went in one ear and out the other.
In June, after weeks of studying, I finally scored a number I was comfortable with as I gained two more points to my composite score. The score was not my goal, but it made me feel less horrible about myself. Still, I needed one more point to gain $2,000 in scholarships to take some burden off my hard-working parents.
In September I tried the test again and scored the same. I cried in the bathroom at school, frustrated that I wasn’t smart enough to help my parents.
In October one day after my anniversary of taking the ACT for the first time, I took my sixth test. I scored one point lower than I had in June and September.
At midnight on Nov. 13, I cried for two hours straight. I felt so unbelievably broken inside, not only because I couldn’t accomplish the seemingly simple task of gaining just one singular point more, but because no matter how hard I tried, how often I studied or how many times I took the test, I was incapable of reaching my goal.
Finally, I gave up: I would no longer allow the ACT to control my future or my emotions.
“Finally, I gave up: I would no longer allow the ACT to control my future or my emotions.”
As soon as I decided I was finished taking the ACT, I felt like I could finally move on with my life. I put in a full year’s worth of hard work, and I did not get where I wanted to be, but I simply would not hurt myself any longer. Contrary to what books from my childhood like “The Little Engine that Could” and “A Chair for my Mother” taught me, giving up was okay. Giving up helped preserve my self-confidence like shielding a weak flower from heavy rain and wind. When I gave up on the ACT, I finally felt ready to move on and bloom.
Instead of relying on an obligatory number to define my intelligence and allowing guilt from that same number to consume me as I did not receive my scholarship goal, I will work to earn money and apply for other scholarships to help my parents. I now block out the parts of my brain that try to convince me I am “less than” because my ACT score falls short of my friends’. I move forward, leaving the score behind as I work to build up the confidence the ACT tore down. What seemed to be the most defining factor in my life turned out to be the most toxic. I gave up, and leaving the ACT behind was the best decision I’ve ever made.