I Took the SAT — and Survived!

by Emily Wilson, Charlottesville


Originally published in the January-February 2006 VaHomeschoolers Newsletter.

I enjoy what I call “cultural experiences.” The more I travel, the more I am able to find these small glimpses into other worlds here at home. My latest cultural experience was more eye opening and scary than any I have experienced before. I took the SATs.

Not that I set out to take the SATs. I didn’t wake up and decide that the SATs would be a good way to spend my day. I want to transfer from my community college to the university and the Important University People said I had to take them. So I borrowed a prep book and learned about how to take the SATs. Which is funny. For most tests I study biology, or psychology, or something. But for the SAT I study how to take the SAT.

On the morning of the test, I was pseudo-confident. My practice tests had shown that while I was several hundred points below where I’d like to be, my scores were not abysmal. I have a good transcript at the community college and a fantastic resume so all I really need is to have scores that are not so embarrassing that the university refuses to look at the rest of the application.

After waiting in a lobby filled shoulder-to-shoulder with sleepy kids that were trying not to show how nervous they were, my group (SAT Reasoning Test P-Z) was called and we entered into a large room with around forty-five three-by-six foot tables. Each table had three chairs on one side facing the wall. I started to sit down when the Adult pointed at the table where I was supposed to be sitting. I sat down on the chair on the left because another kid was on the right. None of the middle chairs in the room were used. While I looked around, the Adult continued to silently point at the Correct Table as people entered the room and when someone didn’t notice the Adult he would tap his pencil on the correct table. Weird. When everyone sat down he counted us and we looked ahead at the wall. Then a garage door came down over the entrance! Like a storefront in New York City — we were locked in.

The Adult had a podium behind us and told us to turn around. The test was explained to us, and we were told, “this test will show your preparedness for college.” Then came the steps. Everything was in steps. Get out your admission ticket. Pause. Put your Number Two Pencils on the desk. Pause. Take anything else off your desk. Pause. Turn off your cell phone, if you dared bring it. Pause. We were given an answer book and a test book. Do not open the books. There was the housekeeping of filling in our name, address, and various codes into those little bubbles, which I know how to do thanks to the laughing stock of our family-annual testing. I started filling out the information but that was wrong. The Adult was telling us to “fill in your street address” pause “fill in your city” pause “fill in your zip code.” We were supposed to wait until he instructed us to fill in our zip codes. It was all so strange; I felt like a tourist. Then he told us the rules again. There were a lot of rules.

Finally, we started the test. My first section was the essay. It was kind of fun. Most of the practice essays had been so stupid they made me want to cry. I’m not very good at writing about things that I find entirely pointless. My essay question was about the use of flattery (like automatically saying someone’s baby is cute) and whether it is really essential. I had a grand old time writing about how we create complex customs within language and offered examples of other canons from different languages, which within that language are absolutely necessary. I was actually having fun! At the SAT! Just as I was finishing the last sentence sentence a voice said, “Stop work and put your pencils down.” Simultaneously, 82 pencils dropped to the desk. I think it was because everyone jumped. I was mad, my essay was incomplete and I had no chance to jot down the last few words.

We moved on to the next section. Then we had a break. Five minutes. No talking, especially not about the test. No eating in the testing area, only in the hall. I overheard a girl asking the Adult if he would be allowed to give us a warning when our time was almost up. A week ago, if someone told me about this request I would have laughed. But there it seemed pretty brave. He said, “Yes.” He seemed like a nice man, he just had a weird job.

Another two sections and we were informed we would have a one minute stretch break. “Do not walk around. You may stand up at your desk and stretch. Do not go to the bathroom. Do not speak to each other.”

It was drudgery. The whole charade took five hours from the time we were supposed to arrive until after we closed the test book, put it next to the answer book and had them collected. We were then instructed for the tenth time not to talk about the test, not to tell anyone any test material “included but not limited to via email, text messaging and the internet” and told to leave the building quietly.

As I left I felt numb but thankful that it was over. I called my mum and thanked her for homeschooling me. Then I started thinking about how I have never before felt like such a part of a herd of cattle. It was way worse than airports, which are pretty bad. It made me think about how my growth would have been affected if I had been treated like a number, a mistake waiting to happen, and herded from one thing to another with no thought of individuality for twelve very essential developmental years of my life. I believe I would have thought of myself as a powerless number, of adults as silent, hovering beings telling me what to do, and of my peers as my comrades in misery. I wouldn’t question authority or consider out-of-the-box possibilities. I would not have had the opportunity to do all the wonderful things I have been able to do for the past nineteen years, but I wouldn’t think it possible for the future.

A few weeks after the test, I got my scores. They were better than I had expected. Compared to students at the University of Virginia, my English scores are a bit high and my math scores a bit low. Making me normal. I am glad that I don’t have to take them again and suprised that after unstructured homeschooling, time at the community college and approximately thirty hours of studying, my SAT scores are on par. I really shouldn’t be suprised. I am constantly reminded of how homeschooling worked for me and so many other people.

About the Author

Emily Wilson was homeschooled in Charlottesville.

Originally published in VaHomeschoolers Newsletter (now the VaHomeschoolers Voice), a bi-monthly homeschool journal produced by The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers for our members. Not a member? Join now and don’t miss another issue!

VaHomeschoolers Voice Publication Information

VaHomeschoolers Voice is a bi-monthly homeschool journal produced by The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers for our members. Not a member? Join now and don’t miss another issue!

VaHomeschoolers Voice prints selected articles, news, and letters related to home education and Virginia homeschoolers. Opinions expressed by individual writers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Board of Directors of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, nor do they represent an official position of VaHomeschoolers. Writers’ views are their own, and readers are encouraged to research and explore homeschooling issues to their own satisfaction.

Permission to reprint content from VaHomeschoolers Voice may be requested by contacting the Voice Editor. Reprinting by-lined articles requires permission of the specific author in addition to permission of the editor.

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