It was raining in Los Angeles on the morning of December 7th. This phenomenon alone was enough to make the day upsetting. When you add in the fact that I was up at 6:30am to take a 5 hour standardized test, you know things have gone haywire. At first, my decision to take the SAT a decade after going through the college process seemed like a fun experiment in professional development but, as I sharpened 12 number two pencils on a Friday night, it quickly became clear this was not my most fun idea.
The College Board was very clear about the fact that there was no parking around the school site. When there was an abundance of parking (also not natural for Los Angeles), I was very skeptical. I rushed from my car in the rain to the school to meet up with my colleague before the exam. After checking in, we realized that all these kids had snacks and water. They were prepared for the marathon. We were not.
I had anticipated sitting in a classroom with a desk and climate control. In reality, we were at folding tables and chairs in an arctic gymnasium. This alone made me feel like I was on the wrong side of a “Law and Order” episode. They did enforce the no mechanical pencil rule, but I was shocked to find that you can use graphing calculators. You can put so much information on there! How is this allowed!?
After bubbling in an abundance of information, I realized how long it had been since I did anything with a number two pencil. Man, are those things slippery! I have to admit that my confidence in my reading and writing abilities may have been overstated, as I found myself muttering “the author’s tone in that passage is NONE OF THESE” under my breath. I found that my biggest constraint was the time limit allotted for the math sections. I finished early for all of the reading and writing, but was calculating until the end and skipped questions for each of the math sections.
I was alarmed at how unalarmed all of the students were by my presence. Either I blended well or they were so stressed out that they didn’t notice anything outside of that test booklet and scantron. They did seem very stressed. The environment wasn’t tense, but I don’t think they would have reacted well to a spontaneous dance party.
At around section 6, I thought “yeah, I could be done now.” After section 8, I was over it. After section 10, I was so ready to be out of that gym that I was harshly critiquing the technique of the proctors collecting the booklets and answer sheets. Really, though, they were very inefficient.
After the test, my colleague Eric and I went in search of food. We were having trouble stringing coherent thoughts together after 5 hours of concentration. We stumbled upon coffee and carbs. We discussed that merely having a bad 10 minutes, let alone a bad morning, could severely affect your performance on the exam. In high school, you grow accustomed to sitting in class and focusing for hours on end with 5-10 minutes between classes. Now, I am used to being able to go to the restroom and take a break whenever I need to. It was a struggle to focus for that long on material that, frankly, was not stimulating (sorry, SAT question developers).
In general, I will not be opting to super score and retake the exam, regardless of what my score is. I’m not confident that I outperformed my 17 year old self but, seeing as I don’t sit in classes doing math and analyzing literature anymore, I think I will just have to be okay with it. My mother did text me the night before reminding me to take a deep breath. And she asked me how the test went afterward. At least that hasn’t changed since I was 17.
By Sam Schreiber