Petya’s SAT Snafu
Up before the crack of dawn, the Scholastic Aptitude Test instructions were clear: get a good night’s sleep, don’t cram the night before, and be at the test center by 7:40 a.m. After our horrific PSAT experiences at a local high school last fall, when they moved students from room to room, could not get organized, started two hours late, and lumped our homeschooled son in with the Special Ed kids’ tests almost losing it forever, we hoped for a better day at this facility. Due to all of last year’s mishaps which resulted in a turf war between the College Board and the high school itself, we did not receive the results until over six months later, with Petya missing out on taking the SAT in his Junior year.
Now we were headed to a nearby university. Our goals included him taking the test in a more professional setting, being treated like a normal student, and not a renegade, ESL homeschooler consigned to the periphery. Talk about messing with your mind.
After his power breakfast of high-grain, high-protein cereal, skim milk and a banana, the three of us headed out: mother, father, son. The other kids were still asleep since on this weekend day they did not need to rise at 6:00 a.m.
We went forward with some fear and trepidation. Petya had not performed well on his PSAT. He had not done well on any practice SATs at home. We provided online coaching for him and felt that this would do the trick.
It did not.
While he had an academically rigorous homeschool program with the recommended high-level math, science, economics, foreign languages and more, and he was acing them all, he could not “study” for the SAT. Although everyone does. And he did. Only so far, it was not working.
He had faulty thinking, one counselor told us, and could not perceive the nuances of tricky wording in English. It had been known to happen with ESL students, and also with some very bright, homegrown students.
My son was not sneaky enough to understand that the testers were trying to trick him. I was in shock. I was a sneaky person. My son could be sneaky upon occasion. But apparently not sneaky enough. He was not naïve and had some good street smarts. Nevertheless, here was a young man in whom was no guile… and it was holding him back.
His father sat with him during one half-length, two-hour practice exam online. Benedetto read over the questions with Petya, and had Petya select his answer. Most of them were wrong.
“Don’t rush, don’t be hasty,” he counseled. “There’s another answer that might be a better fit.”
Our happy-go-lucky son was slowly being turned into a sad zombie, one that could not achieve, nor keep up with his peers, no matter how bright he was. I watched him walk to the car this morning, shoulders slumped, as though taking his last walk to the guillotine.
I went into high gear with my pep-talk.
“Remember only to guess if you can eliminate one or more of the multiple-choice answers. Listen, there’s a kid in Calcutta who got a top 2400 score, so it can be done, even by ‘foreigners’…. Remember to breathe and not to rush…. Do you have your I.D.? All of your paperwork? Social Security number? Don’t forget to plot out your essay and use some quotes from the famous women we studied… most of the graders are women and they’ll like that….”
By 7:10 a.m., we were nearing the university. My non-stop patter was cut short by my husband.
“We’re way too early. What should we do?”
“Donut World,” I suggested, which is what I call any kind of donut shop.
Turned out that Donut World required us to drive almost halfway back home, retracing our steps a bit too much, but hey, we had time. The two of them went inside, Petya emerging with a Pumpkin Pie donut, and Benedetto with a coffee. I reaped nothing but more raw nerves, seeing my son slumped over.
“Okay, listen, Petya, you’ve got to believe in yourself. I know this is difficult. Mama and Papa took the SATs, too, you know. But stand up straight. After this morning, it will be all over,” I said, wondering if the pressure on the inside of me was greater or smaller than the pressure he was experiencing.
The two guys proceeded to tell me about the patrons ordering dozens of donuts in front of them, yet having to laboriously choose each one individually. This was setting us back on the time. And of course, they mentioned the Boston Crème donut with orange stripes that was called Boston Scream just for this month.
Wonderful. I wondered if he had his scientific calculator, but kept my checklists to myself now.
“We might be late,” Benedetto muttered, currently driving like a maniac which did nothing to soothe anyone’s frayed nerves.
Happily, we got him there by 7:30 a.m. The first letter of our last name had very few students in line, he checked in, and we went right straight inside. Reporting to an auditorium classroom, we turned on the lights and he took his choice of seats. I sat on a front table chatting with him as Benedetto stood nearby. We tried to be lighthearted as our son sat front and center with his paperwork and snacks for the four-hour grilling.
“Good morning, come right in,” I greeted them. “Take a seat.”
Just as they looked about ready to ask me a question, I added, “We’re nobody, we’re just dropping him off…” and they laughed. And so, we took our leave, watching the other students arrive in ratty shorts and flipflops, or pajama-like attire.
Could our son get an award for being on-time and best-dressed, at least?
Turns out they had to sit there for over an hour for latecomers-! Rather than start at 8:00 a.m. on the dot, it was after 9:00 a.m. We were originally told to expect to pick him up at 12:40 p.m. with the bathroom and snack breaks.
Instead, they gave them one bathroom break, and he had to eat his banana on the way. No talking. He saw friends from the high school tennis team and they waved at each other, but that was it. Even during the test, they were told that no sighing would be allowed, which is great in my book because I wouldn’t want to listen to anyone nearby huffing and puffing… but then they started over an hour late! Who chooses which rules to follow?
Back in the day, I remember our high school doors being locked when the exam began. You snooze, you lose.
He emerged at 1:30 p.m. A friend had wanted to take him out to lunch for a late birthday celebration. That was shot to pieces. He was shot to pieces.
It took a couple of hours for him to get it out of his system. He had some meatballs and sauce for lunch, Italian brain food to replenish the little grey cells. Slowly, he started laughing and smiling again. Was this worth it?
Meanwhile, we came up with Plan B. We had ordered the test booklet and his answers from College Board, so we could see for ourselves his way of thinking on this particular test. We would review that, then he would study with me (Sneaky Person #1) until taking the SAT again at the end of January. He would also study with me to take the ACT exam in early February. Benedetto (Brainy Person #1) would supervise the periodic practice tests.
In online forums, I had read about other top students who did not score well on standardized tests. Their parents were baffled. Some suggested that the ACT, while being more heavy on the science and math and shorter on time for each question, was much more straightforward than the tricky SAT. There were proponents for both.
In any event, there were numerous colleges going the test-optional route, insisting that the tests were not good indicators of one’s college potential. But then they often required additional documentation, such as several SAT Subject Tests, or AP Tests. For homeschoolers, they generally did not believe the scores given by parents for courses completed. In other words, a 4.0 grade point average might really be closer to a 2.0 GPA for all they knew.
And for all we knew, Petya had just aced the SAT.
But probably not.
I believe the whole system needs to be revamped. My idea for university admissions is this: a report card with academically-rigorous subjects and a solid A-B grade point average should be sufficient. Really, I’m serious. If you want an essay, or a personal interview, fine, but the parents might assist the student with the first, and on the second, a student could very well freeze under pressure.
For a community college: require a report card with a C average or above. Period. If a kid is willing to plunk their (or their parent’s) money on the line and show up for classes, the rest is up to them. If they fail, they fail.
Yes, I realize that some of the Ivy League, or Ivy League wannabes have a reputation to uphold. They only admit the crème de la crème (supposedly). Plus, there are universities looking for highly unusual students to add some pizzazz to their ivory towers. That’s fine.
For the vast majority of schools, however, the bottom line ($) is the bottom line. More students = more funding. I’m not talking about dumbing down the college experience, but perhaps smarting up (is that a term?) their prospective students who want to reach higher than others’ estimation of them.
And stop having to cultivate their sneakiness quotient, but be allowed to focus on academics. Critical reasoning, yes. But when it results in students being critical of themselves and their abilities, I wonder just how critical we need to be.
Similar to the government shut-down with essential and non-essential personnel: in my opinion, the SAT is becoming non-essential for college admission, and going the way of dinosaurs. (But it’s big business with the tests themselves, the study books, the online or brick-and-mortar tutoring sessions and boot camps– not likely to go away anytime soon.)
Maybe I’ll change my tune when he turns up with a 2400 SAT and a 36 ACT in early 2014. Probably not.
————Tags: ESL students and the SAT, international adoptees and the SAT exam, is it possible to bring up the SAT or ACT score?, is the ACT better than the SAT?, SAT anxiety, SAT scores for ELL students, should the SAT matter?, when top students do poorly on standardized tests