Once Upon an SAT

My job starts next Monday; this is my last week of full freedom. I'm tempted to say, "Should I use it for good or for evil?"—but the alternatives are really more like, "Should I use it for cleaning house and writing or for killing time on the internet?"

PSA: Masha will be leading off the Harry Potter discussions for the next few weeks, as a Lenten act of mercy. Thanks, M—you're the best!

Special thanks to all of you who wished me luck, prayed for me, and/or thought of me Saturday! I survived the SAT. I won't know how well I did till March 27, but I survived.

Story time!

The administrators gave us the same basic list of warnings a jury is given before they're allowed to go home at night, so: instead of swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I'll solemnly vow to say nothing that matters. :)

Gratuitous Nyquil would've been a good idea the night before, except that it usually leaves me feeling drugged for twelve hours straight. Not wanting to go to bed at six PM, I opted for lying awake from five AM onward with my brain racing from anxiety. Judging from the lost look on many dozens of teenage faces at seven-thirty, this was a common choice.

Me trying to figure out the self-timer on my new camera.
This is not the look we were wearing, but it's about equally flattering.

I expected to feel old, but mostly I felt as young and lost as my fellow students—and, in fact, nearly got myself and a very young-looking junior actually lost trying to find the meeting place, which turned out to be the exact same room as the lecture had been in Friday night. It's a good thing the SAT doesn't test ability to read maps.

Feeling like a teenager again was a good exercise in empathy. At some point during the morning I took to reminding myself of Friday's lecture, because that was college, and that was fun. The SAT is high school, and high school sucks. I realize that cheating is a common and serious problem, but I began wondering where the classroom leaves off and juvenile detention begins. I hate feeling distrusted. The experience made me more grateful than ever for having been homeschooled.*

At one point, I felt every day of my age: when one of the proctors got sharp with the kids and an aid started pushing them around and scolding them with, "Do you not know what a straight line is?" From halfway across the room, with rows of fixed chairs and confused teenagers between us, I couldn't do anything, but I wanted to march up to her and explain the mathematical improbability of forcing a hundred and some stressed, sleepy young people to line themselves up alphabetically against a wall far too short for them to do anything but crowd against.

Fortunately for my third of the crowd—perhaps fifty students—a proctor with the inestimable advantage of a warm smile took charge of us and marched us up campus to a different classroom.

A girl from Surrey struck up a pleasant conversation with me en route, perhaps out of kindness to the shy stranger built like a Number Two pencil. After a few minutes of chatting, she said: "What grade are you in—eleventh or twelfth? I'm guessing twelfth." I had very warm feelings toward her for the rest of the day, and prayed for her a lot.

The back to Lou's calculator got confiscated for the duration of the test. "It has writing on it." The tiny instruction sheet for using the calculator, really?

The biggest emotional advantage I was given, next to having a nice proctor, was being seated against a wall. I gravitate to walls and corners, especially when I'm stressed. They're stabilizing.

Someone had drawn a dead or exhausted anime character on my desk. Despite the lack of ponytail, he reminded me of Edward Elric. That made me sad, so I told myself he was only exhausted, and commiserated frequently with him throughout the morning.

My second-favorite alchemist. (Dumbledore is my favorite. <3)

Aside from my old friend Fullmetal, the desk was a joke, especially for a southpaw like myself. To take practice tests with comparable difficulty, I'd have had to rivet a bicycle seat to the right side of a chair and try to balance test book, pencil, answer sheet, and calculator on that.

Fortunately, I did not have to share desk space with the cat.

As for the three hours and forty-five minutes of actual testing, here are details that shouldn't compromise the integrity of the test itself:
  • I quoted The Oatmeal in my essay. The quote I wanted to use was much cruder than the one I actually used.
  • I have never, as far as I can remember, failed to finish a reading comprehension test in the time allotted—until Saturday. Hopefully the curve they grade that one on will be forgiving.
  • Whenever I got to one of the correct-this-crappy-writing sections, I forgot I was testing and started mouthing the words, gesturing, and otherwise thoroughly enjoying the work of proofreading. The proctors were kindhearted enough to not throw me out for this.
  • My algebra score could go either way. I lost my head in the final five minutes of the final math section, tried to solve four problems at once, and failed to solve any of them.
At the end I let the weary crowd of teenagers lead the way out, and briefly felt my age again upon catching a group of teenage boys staring at me. I wanted to give them the evil eye, but I was too tired, so I looked away and let them stare. At last I commiserated one last time with Ed, collected the back to Lou's calculator, smiled at the proctors, and walked out into a downpour.

And felt very young and shy and exhausted indeed, as blast after blast of wind and rain hit me over the five minutes it took to walk to the car. I forced myself not to run till I hit the parking lot, and then I made a dash for it. I got into the car, looked at my dripping face and half-drenched hair in the mirror, laughed and let my throat tighten up, turned on the heater full blast, and drove home.

Lou met me at the door, propped me up, and took me downtown to Bob's for burgers and coffee, the latter of which I creamed the heck out of, Lent notwithstanding. I'm not sure anything ever tasted better than that coffee.

* There's nothing like homeschooling to nip a cheating mentality in the bud. My mom caught me behind the couch with the answer section of my math book open when I was about six, and that was the end of that.


  1. Did no one notice your wedding ring? ;)

    And a cat would've done wonders for the test. Maia could've swatted the heck out of those math questions. Or at least distracted the proctors so you could've got the calculator instructions back.

    1. HAHA. Apparently not. Everyone was too stressed to notice little details like that. ;)

      We would have had to tranquilize Maia till she was practically a zombie-cat to get her into a room with that many strangers. :P

  2. I laughed so hard at this!!!!

    especially your commiseration with the exhausted anime guy!

    Good job making it though!!! And passing off as a high-schooler..I would have loved that girl So Much!

    I remember freezing up in the math section too..though for me it was more of a "oh crap, people brought calculators..I should have brought one too, I guess..oh what the hell!" ;)

    I can't believe they took away the calculator back!!!!!!!! Paranoid much??

    <3 Enjoy your final week of freedom!!!

    1. Haha, thanks! This comment made my day. :D

      I CAN'T BELIEVE you took the SAT without a calculator!!!

      Lou's calculator has a detachable back, so it's not like they left me holding the batteries in with my fingers or something, but still. I always thought I had a good imagination, but I can't for the life of me think how a tiny instruction sheet could be used for cheating. Heck, I never even looked closely at it--it could have been in Japanese for all I knew. :P


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