I was born a journalist. Not only because I talk too much and love to write but because all my abilities and talents have led me no other choice but to be one. Don’t get me wrong, it is my absolute passion, but it has given me trouble in the last few years, especially in the academic field. This has led me to the conclusion that my innate talents cannot be measured by outside, intellectual forces that, for some reason, believe my intellect can be determined by a simple test.
Ever since the 9th grade, when I was asked to choose a major by my counselor, I have been determined to make a career in the communications field. That was no problem at first. Almost every university, local or foreign, offered a vast curriculum in the area. The options for my future were endless. That was until the day I first heard about the SAT.
Almost every person in the planet who is or has been a high school student has been through the tedious process of taking the SAT. But for those who haven’t, let me give you a few key factors for my hatred towards it. First, it is timed. Second, there is only one right answer. Third, it puts you under a ginormous amount of stress. While the test is supposed to measure our best skills, it has an ability to bring out the worst in us.
The first time I was introduced into the world of the SAT was in the 10th grade. Apparently, the College Board was not satisfied with seeing high school juniors and seniors suffer with the test, so they had to create the PSAT, a practice test for the actual SAT that is offered to high school sophomores and juniors every year in October. Not only is it highly equal to the SAT, but also its scores are compared nationwide so that students can compete for college scholarships, which is super confusing to me since the PSAT scores “do not count for anything”. It was during this first test that I realized my relationship with the SAT was not going to be a good one.
I took my first SAT in March of 2011 during my junior year of high school. I hadn’t study much and was not so excited about sitting in a chair for 3 hours and 45 minutes answering questions about which part of the sentence was wrong, what was the degree of angle x or the relationship between paragraph 1 and paragraph 2. The real dilemma began with the essay writing section. For the next 25 minutes, I would have to come up with two pages of grammatical and logical greatness regarding a topic that I didn’t care about at all. I then proceeded to wonder how would this test really measure my ability to become a good journalist.
To my eyes, the communications field had a few key requirements in order for a person to be successful in it: networking, public speaking and creative writing. Oh, and don’t forget a really really really good attitude. For me, being a journalist was more than just getting good grades or getting a 2400 on the SAT, which I always I knew I wouldn’t get. So, why was I taking a standardized test that would tell the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications of Syracuse University how well I did on math, writing and critical reading instead of analyzing the real elements that would make up a good journalist?
By the time I first took the SAT, I had been working with a fashion magazine called Ego in Puerto Rico for about a year. I was a 17-year-old with no high school diploma doing Fashion Week interviews and articles for the magazine. It was groundbreaking to the people around me that a teenager was doing the amazing things that professional journalists get to do. But the test didn’t see that and so wouldn’t Syracuse University either. As I sat in my chair filling circles with the right answer, I wished that the admissions board could just see beyond my SATs, my personal essay and my grades. Believe me, they would be impressed.
My time at the magazine was well spent. All summer long, I was researching for fashion and beauty articles, helping out on photo shoots and working on scripts for Ego TV. I felt free to do what I loved the most with no worries about school or other academic burdens. I was an expert in my craft thanks to my own intuition and innate talent. My true passion lay in that office surrounded by words, fashion and cameras. But by the end of summer, the bubble started to crash and reality blossomed again. I had to come back to school for my senior year.
I had heard about the stress of college applications, but it was much more than I could ever think of. So many deadlines, tasks, essays, questions and recommendations mixed up with my already packed school agenda really made me feel like I was a tiny particle crumpled by giant pieces of matter. It didn’t feel good. To add to the craziness of my first semester of senior year, I had to take the SAT for not once, not twice, the third time! My first SAT was not so good. My second, I can’t even talk about. So, I realized I had to take it once again. Third time’s a charm, right? Well, it was not. I got the same exact score I had gotten on my first SAT.
When I received this last score, I gave up. I was not a match for the SAT because my excellent abilities lay somewhere else. But believe me, it didn’t feel good to see all my friends getting 1770 and 1800s when I was getting 1580. I wanted to be like them: smart, normal students and intellectually gifted. To add to the pressure, my guidance counselor was expecting me to get 1800 to 2100 and as you can see, I was nowhere near that range. I had disappointed everyone from my friends to my counselor, even myself. I was the non-intellectual in the bunch.
The same week I took my last SAT, I was working on PR High Fashion Week. Contrary to my status in the SAT world, I was a star there. I was the only 17-year-old with a press card and interviewing major designers, stylists and models. My editors introduced me to everyone as the one to watch because they knew I would get far. That same fashion week, my stress level rose to the sky when my boss told me I had to interview Isabel Toledo. For those of you who are not fashion freaks like me, Isabel Toledo was the great Cuban-American designer that made Michelle Obama’s presidential inauguration dress. I couldn’t believe my luck. All day long, I spent hours preparing for the interview that would with no doubt change my career.
Isabel Toledo greeted me with her husband by her side, a big smile and a super friendly attitude. Despite her sympathetic behavior, my head was going through a revolution of thoughts that was driving me crazy: “You can do this Frances. She’s just a normal person. Ok, let’s be honest. She’s not. Oh my God, am I really about to do this? Ok. Concentrate! Concentrate!” And so I went to do the most important interview of my career to date. “Thank you so much for your time. Nice to meet you”, I said bye bye to Isabel feeling confident and secure of the work I had done. I felt unstoppable.
After the big accomplishments of Fashion Week, I wondered if I was really the non-intellectual. Facts were facts: I was the only one in my class with an internship, I was the first one to choose her major and I was the only one who had started building a career. So, why was I being defined by a standardized test?
Let’s get the meaning of standardized. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, standardized means “to bring into conformity with a standard”, “to compare with a standard”. There is nothing about that definition that can relate to who I am as a student, journalist and person. The word conformity is forbidden from my daily use of English. For me, it is a word that entails settling for what society states; settling to be normal; settling to what others expect from you. So, I came to the conclusion that the SAT was not meant to measure me: the super star 17-year-old journalist who had learned everything she knows through her own knowledge and intuition. I was definitely born a journalist.