All my young years I was known as one of the smartest kids everyone knew in my grade. I constantly made good grades, aced tests, wowed teachers on projects with my creative thinking, answered the questions raised in class correctly, finished tests quickly and perfectly, you name it, I was that kid.
My standardized tests came back always in the 99th percentiles. That always bothered me because I wanted to see 100 there, not 99s. I had yet to understand the basis of comparison that made usage of percentiles make sense to me.
I was valedictorian of my elementary school, which went to 5th grade. I was valedictorian of 6th grade, which was a standalone grade into which the three local elementary schools fed.
I was not cool.
I would have rather talked to the teachers all day than my classmates, because they had all the answers to my questions and they were a whole lot nicer to me.
7th and 8th grade were my physically awful years (and some of 6th, too), due to puberty and not knowing how to handle having a womanly body and feeling shy around everyone, averting all eye contact. I still made those good grades, though, and still was labeled as the smart girl.
At the end of 8th grade I lost my confidence in my academic ability, though, and there was so safety net for the devastation I experienced.
It was after we took the PSAT and I scored one point below a national recognition threshhold.
I was in South Carolina History class, and Mrs Seay was at the front of the room. She was simply taking attendance, but I was in the middle of a melt down.
We had just been to the cafeteria where the counseling department had handed out the PSAT score reports to the 8th graders who were on the honors track (and got to take the PSAT). I got my results, not really knowing how I ranked, but I figured they were awesome scores because I had always done well on every test I’d ever taken. Even though we had been warned not to put too much pressure on ourselves based on our scores because this test was really intended for 10th graders, I barely listened.
I think I had a 49* in both the verbal and the math. A 50 in either subject area would have meant earning special recognition, said the guidance counselor.
(* numbers are arbitrary, I don’t really remember how the test was even scored. I just remember they said to add a 0 to the end to get your SAT equivalent, so I know it was double digits and my score was on the threshold of being the numbers I wanted them to be.)
I was livid because barely anyone had scored as high as I had at my table, yet they had scored at least 50 in one of the subject areas and bombed the other area. I deserved recognition, too, I thought.
We went out to the courtyard so those students who had scored a 50 or higher on either subject area could smile for a newspaper picture. I didn’t get to smile for the stupid newspaper. We may have taken a group picture, too, but I don’t remember because I was too fixated on being pissed off.
I just knew the kids who were my honors track peers were gloating on my demise (honestly, some of them probably were, but most of them were too pleased with themselves at the time to care about one-upping sad ol’ me). I remember a kid I’ll call Jerk-face Josh getting a 53 on the math or something, but even his total wasn’t as high as mine. He is the only one I really remember rubbing it in, but he was generally nice kid, so I bet he wasn’t actually bragging to make me feel badly.
Why couldn’t I have done a little bit better? Why couldn’t I borrow one point from on subject area to put in the other to get me up to 50?
I was ashamed. I was humilaited. But no one knew it except me. Even back then, well, especially back then, I did not share my feelings with others until it was too late. I wanted to cry, to go home for the rest of the day.
I fumed at my desk in Mrs. Seay’s classroom. Her class was right after we’d taken the picture. I was sitting in my desk as the angry chatter of falling short of glory totally consumed me and warped my world. I heard Mrs Seay call my name, I looked up at her, and I promptly lost all composure.
She asked me something else, rephrasing her question as I clearly hadn’t heard her, and I thought she was asking me what was wrong with me. It was all in slow motioned gobbeldy goop.
I felt so grateful that someone had recognized my despair. I walked to the front of the room with my pitifullly lackluster score report and boo-hooed as I placed it on the podium before her and told her how I had fallen so very short of the mark.
“Look,” I pointed it out.
49 glared back at me.
“I missed it by one point,” I implored, hoping she could set it all straight. I think I somehoiw thought she could, because she was my homeroom teacher and she had a son in my grade and all kinds of other reasons.
I stood there and cried, in all my glory.
That’s when I heard Jerkface Josh, who was also in that class, tell Mrs. Seay the answer to the question she had actually asked me.
“No, Mrs. Seay,” Josh said slowly and emphatically, to make a bigger deal of my idioticy, “Holly isn’t here today.”
Holly was the name of the girl who sat in the desk in front of me in that class. As it turns out, she became my best friend in high school, and being in a lot of classes together 8th grade year was how we had gotten to know each other prior to starting high school.
And, as it turned out, she was in fact not in the desk in front of mine that particular day, thus Mrs. Seay asking me if Holly was out.
Ergh, that was really embarrassing for so many reasons.
My academic halo was tarnished.
I had been totally wronged by the parameters of recognized achievement on that test.
I had made a complete, snotting, crying, blubbering fool of myself in front of a room of people, none of whom had detected anything was wrong, and they weren’t asking me what was wrong, and really couldn’t have cared less about how I had done on that test. In fact, only a few of the kids in that classroom were honors track so the whole reason I was upset would have really been confusing to them. What test? They would have asked.
I am sure Mrs Seay had seen and would have seen plenty of hysterical teenage girls before and after that experience. I have to wonder if she totally cracked up laughing after I left that class that day. I know I would now if I were in her shoes.
I think I shrunk back to my desk and didn’t really talk to anyone for the rest of the day. I am pretty sure no one made fun of me, so it must have been a pretty spectacularly pathetic display of emotion.
Something changed for me around the time that I realized I was now not THE best student. I already knew I wasn’t pretty or popular or anything else that mattered, so that was why that blow to my ego was so profoundly awful. But it was all completely magnified in my head because I was 14 and until that time it was my “thing” to be the smart girl. At least, that’s how I identified it. As long as no one paid me too much attention for it — but of course, I completely drew attention to myself one measly time it didn’t go my way on one test.
I don’t know why, but my confidence was shattered. Ever since then, I have not generally done well on multiple choice tests. As I used to say to my college roommate, I wanted all the answers to have a chance! 🙂
Fortunately, I did have bigger and better things coming my way for high school. I was a cheerleader, graduated 7th out of over 300 kids (hey, the 8th grade PSAT disappointment prepared me to be aware that’s still a huge accompishment), had boyfriends, had a blast with my friends, and fell in love with many things I still value today. I also learned how to be happy for others’ accomplishments and their time in the spotlight. We all get a turn.
I still think they should have had a category to recognize total scores on that puny PSAT, though. 😉