The PSAT, or Pre SAT is a test designed for kids and parents to understand where their child basically stands in terms of preparation for the SAT itself.   American kids start taking this exam in the 8th grade.  Not all schools in America have this exam but many do.   My child took this exam a few months ago and the results have come back.

She received a 98 percentile.  That is, 98% of all test takers scored below her.   She had a 99 in math and a 95 in reading/writing.  I was ecstatic.  For about 20 minutes.  So was Tiger Mom.   The score report was kind enough to tell us what questions she missed on the exam, though not the questions themselves. 

Like I said, my euphoria quieted down within half an hour.  Why is that?

My thoughts, my memories went back to all the Chinese kids we know.  Some with perfect SAT scores, others with nearly perfect SAT scores.  That is, a 2380/2400.  2390/2400.   I realized those kids were not only in the 99 percentile, but probably the 99.99 percentile.   Those kids probably only missed one or two questions on the entire exam. 

In essence, the “percentile” one makes on these types of exams is not the point.   And I bet most parents wouldn’t realize that.   Like me, they would think for a brief moment something like,

“Wow, my kid really can go to Harvard!  Look everybody; she got a 98% on the exam!”

Slow down.

The Ivy League folks don’t look at mere “percentiles”.   99 percentile is so blasé, my friend.   Trust me; it’s more than good enough for dad’s good ole “state school”.   Or probably yours.   But with the Ivies, I realized, as I went off to bed, it’s a bit more than that.  It comes down to the number of questions a kid “misses” on the exam.  

My daughter missed over twenty questions.

She’d need to lower that number to below 5 in order to have a fair shot at a lifetime of prestige and honor within the local Chinese community.

“Fuck!” was the first thing to go through my mind.

I mean, my kid has 3 years left to prepare before the “real” exam, right?

“She can do this”, I said to myself.  She can go from 23 questions (give or take) wrong to basically maybe “just 3”……right?

“Well”, you may be asking me…..if she wants to compete with all the crazy Chinese kids, “is 3 wrong gonna be enough”?

And this is what I want to talk about.

Remember the old joke about the bear and the two hunters?  Two hunters come across a bear, bear sees them, and starts to come after them.  One hunter promptly sits down, starts taking off his boots and pulls out a pair of sneakers.  The other hunter asks “what are you doing, you can’t outrun a bear”, with which the first hunter says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you”.

Same principle applies.

My daughter doesn’t have to outcompete an Asian kid.  Can’t do it.  She just has to figure out a way to out compete a white kid.  And that’s my goal.

Chinese smolder, oh they do.  They really do.  Our system to them is non meritocratic.  The popular opinion they’re all robots really falls on deaf ears, if only because the parents of the Chinese kids don’t have any non-Chinese friends.

“Only the best should get in”, they say.  “Only those with hard work and talent”.

My retort would be, “only those verbally and psychologically abused by their crazy parents” that is, right?

When the SAT was created this madness didn’t exist. 

Sure, there were tutors, and Kaplan and Princeton.  Etc etc.  Nothing like today, though.   Before the swarm of Indians and Chinese immigrants swept over America.   I’m sure Sociologists can trace the beginning of the rise of the White American Male’s suicide rate to the beginning of this “epoch”.    Or perhaps even the Decline of the White American Male in general.   

Like I’ve said earlier, the backdoor entry to our country of these two ethnic groups has done a lot:  saved our housing market, populated the likes of Google and Facebook with talent, and generally raised the bar for the average white kid to “succeed” in this country.    And it’s also gone a long way towards wiping out the traditional makeup and aspirations of the American Middle Class.   Mexicans and everyone South of the Border have already wiped out the lower classes.  Jobs teenagers used to have, to count on for summer, now go to them. Now the Chinese and Indians are doing “their fair share” to the middle class and beyond.

So I’ve basically given up on my daughter going to an Ivy School.   98 percentile just isn’t good enough.  It’s not.   You can’t miss over twenty questions on the SAT and go to Harvard, silly!
A few months ago my wife had a good idea (yes, she did!). 

There is a SAT math prep class (read, Asians and Indians only).  The school is twenty miles away on the north side of the city where I live.  It is on Sunday’s, and is a couple hours long.  I immediately volunteered to drive/carpool my daughter.   No fool, and college football season being over, I was ready to contribute. 

We drove over to take a look.  Right away my wife was upset.  The class sizes were over twenty students and it turns out not only were my daughters Chinese middle school classmates already taking these classes, but that my daughter would not be able to take the same class as they had.  Rather, she would need to take a class below their level.  To me, this was to be expected.  My daughter, as an 8th grader, is in “9th grade” math.  But these kids are in “10th grade” math.

My wife was upset our dearest wouldn’t be in their class, and I was piqued at the large sizes of the classes.   Oh, there was one more thing:  none of these Chinese kids were taking Chinese language lessons at the local Chinese School anymore.  Too inefficient.   They had more important things to do.
My wife wasn’t too excited about our kids missing these classes.   An argument ensued.  I promptly told my wife that if these Chinese kids could stop taking language classes, so could ours.   In effect, we should “learn” from them. 

This is a cultural tactic I highly recommend.  “Learn from” so and so has oft been used in Chinese propaganda, to instill focus and keep the massive Chinese population task oriented.  

Yet, the Tiger Wife was having none of it.  She wanted her cake and she wanted to eat it, too.  At the end of the day, after a very long drive home in a blinding rainstorm and more than a few raised voices we had an epiphany:  none of the kids in these SAT Math classes were white.  Rather, all of my daughters Chinese friends though were in these classes. 

We finally caught on:

These Chinese quite frankly didn’t consider my 8th grade daughter and her 99 percentile in Math a threat.  Not at all.  They didn’t consider her competition.   While my daughter is increasingly (and finally) embracing her Chinese side, and her friends already long have, her friends’ parents simply do not.   And they have a point.  After all, am I not constantly getting in the way of things?  Someday, should my daughter even come close to making the “wait list” for an Ivy, I’m sure I’ll be blamed for keeping our daughter “out”.

I finally realized these poor Chinese kids were competing against each other.   For them, it was Harvard, or MIT, or Yale, or bust.  A good “public school” just wouldn’t do it.   And they all knew the slots were limited.  The odds were not only steep, but long, very, very long.

Last week a friend of ours got the news back from Yale:  your perfect SAT score and 1st place prize in the state violin competition just didn’t cut it:  waitlisted.

I can only imagine what the admissions committee said…

“Another Asian kid with a perfect score….and violin.  Way to stand out, Asian Kid…..”

Than it hit my wife like a ton of bricks….

“We made a mistake teaching our kid violin”.  

Harvard has 35,000 applicants a year dude.   Probably half of them Asian.   It’s a tough slog.

So the Chinese slug it out against each other.   And so do the Indians.

Do I feel sorry for them?  Of course!  The kids have no choice but to live life according to the expectations of their parents.  Some are extreme. (like the one who's son has been forced to take 4 AP classes as a freshmen)  But nearly everyone takes SAT Math after school.  All the same, like the parents the kids will begin to feel the pressure of not just keeping up, but exceeding and excelling over all the other kids within their ethnic group.  How will this emotionally effect them? 

And how can I not smirk?   Trust me, we will have the same competitive pressures as well.....I think.  And why do I say that?  Because I now realize we do not know any other kids within our own ethnic group, remotely talented as my daughter. My daughters SAT score and GPA maybe doesn’t have to be as good as the Chinese.  Maybe it only has to be as good as a Caucasian’s.   That is, a simple white girl.

In the end, I tend to feel sorry for my daughters’ Chinese friends.  It’s a race to the top, but their finding the top has a very concrete ceiling.  Test scores go only so high.  And most everyone plays the violin. Being brilliant is a given.  I figure I’ve got three more years to figure things out.


  1. Good post. And, yes, the violin was a bad choice. Hard to stand out when your goal is to do the same thing that everyone else does. Chinese culture takes a gut-punch here in the USA. Maybe they'll catch on and, it hurts to say it..let their kid be an individual and do something that they like?! Cognitive dissonance abounds! Oh your daughter SINGS! in the choir? (Walks away smugly.) Your son wants to be an Eagle Scout? (Happily continues the conversation thinking that their kid is better.)

    Can the "wiser" parent live with the public "shame" of letting their kid do something different (even if their ulterior motive is to put their kid in a better position)? Day after day they get smug condescending looks from their "friends". I don't know, because ultimately this is way more about the parents' status than the kids' education and development.

    I think the Indian parents may be more flexible. Oh the horror for the Chinese of falling behind the Indians of all people.

    Am so happy I didn't give a crap about any of this for my kid who is having a great time at Ohio State.

  2. First of all Go Buckeyes...my aunt was the majorette there a very, very long time ago. My dad bleeds the scarlet and gray.

    Yes, violin was a catastrophic decision. Should've learned the washboard.

  3. I'm a bit younger and married the dreaded "only child" (b. 1982). She's from dongbei, so maybe a bit more grounded. But yeah, I think we're at the end of the tiger parent generation. My wife, having been through that demanding education/paino no fun, all study, nonsense with her parents (both University Professors in Changchun), has absolutely no desire to put our daughter through that BS. Even the tiger mother-in-law admits, it really didn't have much bearing on who became successful.

    The deal is, beyond the education system (which is not the real world) the people who are most succesfull in any society are the ones who can influence others. There's no test for that. These poor culturally isolated drone-kids don't stand a chance beyond a grinding mid-level white-collar job (assuming the work can't be offshored to a cheaper Asian tiger-kid in the home country). Unless there's a position like that open, some state school alumn who knows better will probably be dropping their resume in the trash bin. I know I have.

    1. Yeah, everytime we have a family blowup between Tigerwife and the kids, I try and turn it into a teaching moment. I absolutely agree with your sentiment, though. Its about influencing others. I've tried to tell my teenager you don't want to worry about being the smartest engineer. Rather, you need to learn how to "manage" the smartest engineer. She needs to learn how to "play" the game. With that in mind I've started her on golf lessons!

    2. Manage the "Useful Idiots"? Sounds like a plan to me. Tiger kids are the best kind! (again, assuming you have a spot for them which can't be outsourced or automated) Just look at the new CEO of Google, and tell me Larry Page and Sergey Brin weren't thinking this when they selected that stooge: who can we find that will stay on task, run the very boring legacy search division, not rock the boat, and do everything we say?

      Moreover, check out "The Big Short" movie sometime, you can kinda catch that as a sub-theme in there. The "you're the biggest piece of shit I've ever met" dinner scene with Steve Carrel's charter, though unrelated, will probably conjure up memories of plenty of Chinese banquets.

      Golf is a good call. I had a project manager who was 1st gen Chinese-American, whose kid was an ace on the HS swim team, and he used to just get so visibly frustrated by it and talk about (he over analyzed everything) when we would carpool. "It just seems like a waste of time.. He'll never use it. He's never going to be a professional swimmer.. he should just focus on studying." I almost had to slap him upside the head... "Dude, you know how stoked a college admission panel would be to get an application from an Asian kid who's competing in sports? That's a huge differentiator." ... He sort of got it, but I think the cognitive dissonance was hard on him.

      I'm very lucky my only-child Chinese wife rejects all that stuff.. But yeah, she's pretty selfish and her domestic skills are non-existent (tiger parenting basically destroyed any time she would have developed life-skills and replaced it with piano/studying). It's a very different beast than the kind you married.

    3. One of my biggest probs with Tiger Wife is her disdain for physical activity. She intensely dislikes sports. Thus it is that much harder for me to get my girls involved in a sport at a young age. And when it is time to compete, the coach will utter something as lazy as "she has to come to practice" more often. All the while congratulating the "elite" athletes that got a scholarship to a D II school. If our daughter has too much homework or even the scent of an exam coming up she simply stays home and prepares. It is very hard for us to maintain that balance.

  4. Ah, I had a epiphany: the law of diminishing returns is totally lost on the Chinese.

    The great wall, their empty cities, catch-up space program, nuclear plans, bullet trains, The Great Leap Forward... Decades of child abuse to score a couple extra SAT questions correctly. You could site examples of them carrying malinvestment too far all day... Cultural fail.


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