Every year, before we begin file review, our office goes through a few days of training.  There is always a portion dedicated to standardized tests–to go over what they measure and how we should and should not use them in the application review process.  Our Dean typically leads this part and will always says that any of us are welcome to take the SAT for professional development purposes.  So I decided to.

When I tell people this, 95% (especially high school students) are mortified and ask why.  The remaining 5% (mostly adults) are curious about the test that consumed a year or so of their lives back in high school.  Clearly, this test has no consequences on the trajectory of my life. There are no stakes for me (aside from potential mocking). And yet I am nervous…

You can only have one account for College Board, so I had to call them to get my original registration number.  To access it, they needed my email address. Unfortunately, that address is no longer active (shoutout to AOL).  Furthermore, registration numbers have changed formats twice since mine was given to me, so we had to troubleshoot a bit to make it work.  A painless 15 minutes later, I was registered for the December 7th SAT, awkward picture and all.

After logging in to my account, I could see all of my old scores from 2003-2004.  It has been literally 10 years since I took the SAT.  This means that a week after I take the SAT it will have been 10 years since I found out I got into college.

It is very easy to have skewed expectations about scores and we see this in high school students all the time. When students say they “didn’t do well on the SAT” that could mean anything from not meeting the national average, to not breaking 2000, to not getting a perfect score.  The national average for the SAT is a 1500.  Working at a school like USC and having attended selective schools for my own education makes it very easy to forget that.

I am nervous about a lot of little things.  First, parking.  I will probably be there 30 minutes early.  Second, how do I work a scientific calculator, again?  Third, no mechanical pencils!?!?  I checked with a college counselor on this and apparently it is, in fact, enforced.  Fourth, I SWEAR there was no bubble in section for the math back when I took it!  Fifth, timing.  I haven’t taken a timed exam, let alone an exam, in years.

photo 2I had a private tutor back in high school for the SATs.  Luckily, I have friends who have become private tutors and a couple were nice enough to come tutor me one Saturday before the exam.  They refreshed my memory regarding the structure of the test (wherein we got into an argument about aforementioned bubble-in math answers that seriously WERE NOT THERE in 2003), timing, and general strategies for answering questions.  I am obviously most nervous about the math section, as adding the tip to a bill is about the most math I do these days.  I am somewhat confident in my vocabulary, comprehension, and writing skills–which have developed since I read and write regularly.

I cannot imagine going in to the SAT and taking the exam ‘cold’, which is something many students have to do.  They may not have the time or resources to do practice exams or they simply may not know how to prep for such a test.  In discussing taking the exam with colleagues, I hear about the range of experiences we all had with it. My experience included private tutors and multiple sittings. A colleague thought the test was just another test they had to take for the school district (no big deal). Another colleague had never taken it.  Seeing the test from this perspective and in my current job really highlights the limitations of a test score, something we admission counselors are always aware of.  A lot of weight is put on scores and while yes, they are a valuable component in the application process, I have never been more acutely aware of the confounding factors surrounding a score.

I’m curious to see what the students at Marlborough High School on the morning of December 7th think of two adults marching in with their No 2 pencils and pencil sharpener at 7:45am.  I have no doubt their stress will be somewhat palpable. It will take all I have not to yell, “IT WILL ALL WORK OUT IN THE END” at them as they chatter.  My colleague Eric will be taking the test with me and we are trying to work out a friendly wager based on how we perform.  Suggestions are certainly welcome.

By Sam Schreiber