Life’s Toughest Tests Don’t Require A Pencil

Photo by Angelina Litvin

Recently my daughter told me about a girl in her class who was crying because she had knocked over something in the cafeteria and everyone laughed at her.

Everyone except for one person.

She mentioned how she went over to the girl and told her about a time that she felt embarrassed too. She told me that she thinks she may have helped to cheer the girl up and that she is now one of her friends.

Does anyone reading this really believe that life’s biggest tests are tests?

Our students are taking test after test after test. With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards there is an even bigger push to see that our students are college and career ready by the time they leave high school.

And there is nothing wrong with wanting our students to be successful in college and in their future careers.


In my 43 years I have taken the CAT, PSAT, SAT, Praxis, GRE, MCAT, NBCT and the ISLLC exams. Neither of them was easy, but neither of them even comes close to cracking the top ten list of my life’s most difficult tests.

I worry that if we continue down the path we are on, our students may be ready for college and they may be ready for their careers, but they will not be ready for life.

There needs to be a balance. School can’t just be about teaching our children how to fill in bubbles and answer questions. We need to start finding the time and the space and the courage to teach our students how to pass all types of tests. The kind that we teach our own chidren to pass.

Life’s toughest tests take place when there are no pencils in our hands. They take place when we have to make decisions that are difficult and have real-world consequences. They take place when our character comes into play.

Because they will have tests.

But have we given them the right answers?

Or have their peers?

How do I get my little brother to stop following us?

You need to yell at him and tell him that you hate him and that he’s never allowed in your room ever again.

But, I was always told to fill in the bubble completely and don’t leave any stray marks.

What should I do if I think a boy likes me?

Well, of course you should have sex with him on the 1st date if you want him to be your boyfriend.

But I thought in order to add fractions I have to make sure they both have common denominators.

Why would I take that?

You take it because it makes you forget about all your problems. It’s incredible.

But I was always taught to put the thesis statement at the end of the opening paragraph.

On the other end of the phone, a thousand miles away all I heard was,

“Daddy, help me I don’t know what to do.

College never prepared me for this test”

It’s time we start preparing our students for all of life’s tests.

Not just the ones that require a pencil.


  1. Powerful Jon. You are correct, schools should be thinking “whole child”.

    When a student leaves Warner Elementary and head to our middle school I hope they look fondly upon their elementary years, I hope they have a foundation to lean on and I hope we have given them the tools to be successful in life. I know they will struggle at times and that is part of growing up, but I want to believe they have the tools to succeed in life.

    My favorite part of your post was, “Life’s toughest tests take place when there are no pencils in our hands. They take place when we have to make decisions that are difficult and have real-world consequences. They take place when our character comes into play.”

    The key phrase/word was CHARACTER. I can tell from your story that your daughter has high moral character. Doesn’t this make you more proud than any test score ever could? I bet it does.

    Thanks for sharing Jon.


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