From fatigue to hunger to time limits, Mindy, 17, tells what it was like to take the test.
Ahhh! The dreaded junior year is here, and it would not be complete without standardized testing. When I woke up to my mom’s voice on a Saturday morning, I knew it was going to be a long, long day. It was the day of my SAT, and I had overslept. It was already 7:15, so I only had time to throw water on my face and had to run out of the house with a granola bar.
My dad stops the car in front of John Marshall High School, where I will take the test. I haven’t had a full eight hours of sleep since summer, and I am not happy about sacrificing four hours of sleep for a test. I unwillingly get out of the car. There are already about 50 people congregating near the entrance. I try to see if there’s anyone from my school. I see no one. Not only am I sleep-deprived, cold and angry, but I’m also alone.
People are beginning to line up at the gray entrance gate. As I’m walking over to the gate, I see Rizwan, a friend from L.A.C.E.S. While we’re exchanging our “I want to go home” complaints, my friend Sandra sneaks up behind me. Sandra and I try to talk about more pleasant things like graduation, but our conversation somehow leads back to how we didn’t study enough for the SAT.
The gate is supposed to be open by now, but of course, we’re still standing outside in the cold. The gate gives off an eerie vibe as if I’m standing in front of a prison instead of a school. I see a paper taped to the gate that tells me what room I’ve been assigned to take the test. I’m in cell number, ahem, I mean room number 421.
A middle-aged man checks my student ID to make sure I’m not impersonating anyone. Then the gates of hell finally open. Now I really feel like a criminal. I mean, what’s with the gate? I’m not even good enough for a doorway?
I find room 421 and take a seat in the back. Rizwan is also in my room, and he sits next to me. While he is showing off all the shortcut functions and formulas he put into his graphing calculator, a random guy to my left joins in on our calculator conversation.
The proctor passes out the test and the answer sheets. We are asked to fill out our information on the answer sheet, which takes almost 20 minutes. Once again, I am asked to verify that I really am Mindy Gee and that I swear to never cheat by signing a “contract.”
The first section of the SAT is the essay. The proctor says mechanical pencils are not allowed because some cannot be read by the Scantron. All students know that that’s a lie, since we’ve all taken Scantron exams at school with mechanical pencils without any problems. Usually, proctors let students use whatever they want at their own risk, despite what testing policy says. But our proctor actually goes around the room to check that no one has anything other than a number 2 pencil.
Break time! Five minutes is all we get, most of which I spend in a line to the girls’ restroom. I make it to the bathroom and return to the testing room to get ready to start on the math section. I haven’t run into any major problems on the test so far, and I’m hoping the rest of the test will go just as smoothly.
I’m not happy about being separated from my mechanical pencil. I’m a messy writer, so a smudgy number 2 pencil isn’t my favorite thing in the world. Nonetheless, I manage to stick it out for the essay and two multiple-choice sections. But when we reach the math, I secretly take out my mechanical pencil.
I am stuck between the words “diaphanous” and “viniferous.” I know that the guessing game isn’t my area of expertise, but I figure since I already narrowed my choices down to two answers, it was worth the adventure. (I incorrectly chose “viniferous,” I later find out when I look it up at home on dictionary.com).
Diaphanous – adj. sheer and light, almost transparent.
The stories on the critical reading section are interesting enough to keep me awake. When I’m about halfway through the section, I look to my right and see Rizwan already finished. With a bit more than 10 minutes left before time is over, he goes to sleep. I panic a bit and glance around the room. Everyone else is still working furiously. I, too, continue working, marking my last bubble when time is called.
I finish my writing section very early, so I have time to go over my answers. I let myself get distracted for a while by a poster that tells me I can save a life by turning in people who are carrying guns. It makes me wonder just how many lives this poster saved.
I look at my Scantron and realize that I bubbled in five “No errors” out of 14 spot-the-error questions. When I go back to look over the questions again, I begin to talk myself out of previously marked answers. What seemed to be right now seemed terribly wrong, and what seemed wrong at first now seemed right. I decide I should just leave everything as it was. I have never felt so insecure in my life.
I’m stuck on a math problem about bees. Not even a year of calculus could help me solve that one.
By now, I’m even more tired and grumpy. I see a can of Red Bull belonging to a student across the room. I realize I should have brought coffee or Red Bull. But it’s almost over, and I’ll be able to go home soon.
Finally, the last section! There’s a light story about a young woman resisting her uncle’s attempts to push her into an unwanted, but socially favorable, marriage. There is witty dialogue, and I actually have fun reading the excerpt.
The SATs are officially over (at least for now).
1. Don’t stress. You can always take it again.
2. Bring a snack for breaks, such as a granola bar or a Red Bull, a drink with tons of caffeine.
3. Don’t try to cram vocabulary or mathematical equations right before the test. Start studying at least a month in advance.
4. Get a lot of sleep the night before and eat a light breakfast.
5. Focus. Don’t get distracted because every section has a time limit. Taking practice tests will help you get used to sitting through 3 ½ hours of testing.
Other stories by this writer: AIDS Q&A. Interview with an expert on how people can protect themselves from HIV. (Sept. 2006)
A censored school newspaper. Mindy was frustrated by her school’s administration censoring the school newspaper. (May – June 2005)