psat memes

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It’s exam season, and PSAT memes are back

The annual tradition is back.


Jay Hathaway

Internet Culture

Posted on Nov 1, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 12:35 pm CDT

One of the most harrowing shared experiences for American teens is the PSAT, a national exam that can make or break a student’s future by determining whether they’ll get valuable college scholarship opportunities. When thousands of kids take the same test during the same week, and they’re told not to share the test contents, the inevitable happens: they share the test contents.

PSAT memes are inscrutable to adults, who didn’t see the exam and don’t get the references. But to teens, they’re a winking acknowledgment that they all had to go through the same thing and were required by the College Board not to talk about it.

The exam memes have been around since 2014, but this year presented an additional challenge: would the College Board’s attempts to crack down on memes have any effect on what students shared? Do teens care enough about memes to post them even when their scores could potentially be canceled? Hell yes, they do.

The #PSAT hashtag on Twitter is crammed with exam memes, and the biggest one is about Frances and her dad. From the memes, we can discern the following: Frances tells other kids her dad didn’t fight in the war because he’s a pacifist, but he actually has a heart murmur. Which doesn’t stop him from working as a bus driver.

The passage in question seems to be from Kirstin Valez Quade’s Night at the Fiesta: Stories, but if you didn’t know that and hadn’t seen the test, the literally hundreds of Frances tweets out there would make no sense.

“Frances’ dad” was the most prolific PSAT meme, but hardly the only one. The context for this one isn’t clear without seeing the exam, but seems there was a question about wetting sand before building pyramids.

And even more incomprehensible are these tweets about superplumes, and naysayers who don’t believe in superplumes. No idea what this question asked, but it sounds difficult!

This is more or less a harmless act of defiance against the company that produces the PSAT, the College Board. Students don’t like being told what they can and can’t tweet, but the stakes here are fairly low: no one is actually using the memes to reveal questions or answers that would offer an advantage on the test. Although the College Board has asked some students to take their memes down, there are so many memes that it would be impractical for them to start canceling scores en masse.

PSAT memes are just part of teen culture now and the college admissions business will have to adjust.

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*First Published: Nov 1, 2017, 11:11 am CDT