"So how did you prep for the SAT?"


by Charlotte Force

Cartoon by  Dave Coverly

Cartoon by Dave Coverly

“Well… let’s start from the beginning.”

Standardized testing begins at a young age: when minds are ripe for picking. Beginning in the 3rd grade, students in my grade were made to take the “English Language Arts” and “Math” annual standardized tests. I was given my first test prep book at 8 years old.  Amongst activities such as learning how to add or spell words like “metallic”, my 3rd grade teacher taught us the important lesson of “scoring well”. In 3rd grade, the ELA and Math tests were diagnostic – our scores didn’t really “matter” until the next year, but I remember being very concerned, along with my classmates, about getting a good score. What would it mean if I didn’t score high enough on the ELA? What if I didn’t score as high as the other kids? ‘What did that mean for my future’, I thought, with echoes of “Yale” and “Columbia” ricocheting off my 8-year-old mind. I didn’t think of the content of the tests, because quite honestly they weren’t hard: I aced them. However, content is what we all should have been thinking about; not the importance of the grade, but what it meant to know how to add and spell words like “metallic”. Every single 3rd grader in my classroom was more concerned with grades than thrilled with the power of arithmetic and grammar.

The next rung of the testing ladder was the New York State Regents exam. When introducing the year’s syllabus in 6th grade, my middle-school homeroom teacher told us all about how this school would prepare us well for the regents coming in 8th grade: how we would all be “scoring well”. After all, this was a great school – everyone had to do well. In came the test-prep books, now all-so familiar. These companions guided us through the ideas of Greek democracy by explaining “process of elimination” and taught us about solving for x by reminding us that “when taking the test, the clock is ticking”. And so the clock ticked, and we crossed off answers that couldn’t be right… Soon enough I was jittery and filling in the bubble-sheets of tests that seemed to matter quite a bit. Little did I know that colleges care little to nothing about the 8th grade scores of their applicants – but of course, the most important thing was that Everyone at my middle school passed the Regents Exam with flying colors.

The biggest and worst test of them all came only this year: the Standardized Aptitude Test. Every student in the nation quivers at the thought of The SAT, because it is in fact a shockingly all-powerful test that will determine everyone’s identity and future… There are many things that all students are “expected” to do: “attend class”, “follow directions”, “cooperate with rules”, etc. However, the ultimate duty of the student is to Succeed. Everyone is held to that standard, and the key to unlocking the perfect future is a good SAT score. Testing leads students to believe that the true mark of success is a 100% mark on an exam paper, but that isn’t true. The key is hard work, resilience, creativity, resourcefulness, and intelligence. The SAT doesn’t test these things; it gauges one’s ability to “take the test”. And boy – are we prepared. All of the Princeton review books under the sun couldn’t give you the testing experience of this lifetime: eight years of yearly tests. They say practice makes perfect –four ELA and Math tests, eight Regents, 2 SAT IIs, 2 AP tests, and 2 PSATs later, I’d say I’ve had plenty of prep for the SAT.

Every student in the nation must take the SAT or its cousin the ACT in order to “succeed”. There is no longer room for brilliantly creative young minds to create their own education – there is only the reach towards that mouth-wateringly perfect 2400. It’s easy to get lost in the looming dawn of a Saturday morning lost to this beast, but although the SAT carries its weight in our future, the numbers on any of our standardized tests don’t define us. The things that make students individually great are the same things that set them apart; a standardized test rewards the average of a person and rejects their excellence.

I’ve been prepping for the SAT for half of my life, but the most important lesson has not been “process of elimination”, “watching the clock”, or “going over my answers”. I’ve learned to Let Go: to not be the little 6th grader who cried because an 88% whispered of a slipping future in her ear. The most important tip I have for going into the SAT is to remember that it’s not the end-all, be-all – in the grand scheme of life, it’s merely the start of your beginning.