Monday, September 17, 2012

The SATs

Writing novels with teenage characters, I have occasion to think about the SATs from time to time. I believe the importance of the SATs has become overblown, but even when I took the test mbphbf years ago, there was already a bit of hysteria attached to them.

While I understand the appeal of standardized tests to our number-hungry culture, I question the significance we attach to those numbers. I only took the SATs once, and I received a lot of pressure to take them again. I've always been glad I didn't retake them. There would have gone some money and a few hours of my life that I would never get back again, and it wouldn't have changed the course of my life one bit.

Back then, the PSATs were scored on a scale that we were told would approximate our SAT scores. For example, a 55 on the PSAT was supposed to be equivalent to a 550 on the SATs. (At that time, the SATs had two sections: verbal and math, each scored on a 200-800 scale.) I took the PSAT twice, and as best I recall, my scores were 59 math and 64 verbal, both times. Supposedly, then, I could expect a 590 math and 640 verbal SAT.

I took the SATs at the end of my junior year. I got a 600 math and a 640 verbal, which pleased me because the math score was slightly better than I'd been led to expect by my PSATs. I got into my first and second choice colleges, and got a scholarship to my first choice. And despite this, more than one person urged me to retake the SATs as a senior, because "you almost always score higher when you retake it." Aside from the fact that I didn't believe I would score higher--my PSAT scores being remarkably stable and consistent with the SAT scores--my next question was: Well, so what if I did score higher next time? I had my college acceptance and my scholarship; what on earth would I be retaking this test for?

Once you get into college, SATs don't matter ever again, except when you are writing young-adult novels and remembering that tense feeling, the silence, the annoyance when someone coughed, the hand cramp from writing so long, the smell of freshly sharpened pencils. The test may have changed over the years, but I'll bet that tension is the same, and the pressure has only increased. Study for the SATs! What score did you get? Take it again! Try to raise your score! Yeah, I remember.


  1. I must have been a sucker for these standardized tests. In the Philippines, I had to take an exam for every university I applied to, in addition to the country-wide test. Then, in the hopes of coming to the US to study, I took the SAT, and much later on, the GMAT (twice!)

    Way to keep the tension going...

    1. Sheesh, an entrance exam for each school?

      It's funny how, once we leave school, most of us rarely take written tests ever again.

  2. I'd always felt I was at a disadvantage taking a standardized test because I was and still am totally not a morning person, and these tests always took place in the early AM hours. Ick!

    1. Wow, that's a whole other angle I hadn't considered!