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Standardized nightmare

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By Leslie Crawford

Thank you, test gods, for starting with English, my major! No problem.

But it didn’t take long for the nightmare to begin. Immediately, I got stuck on identifying main verbs in Old English poems. Was the correct answer “shall see” or “shall find”? Everyone around me was turning pages, madly filling in bubbles, while the timer was tick-tick-ticking like a relentless phantom in an Edgar Allen Poe tale. History came next, which was even worse.

Do I know — did I ever know — if the Maya of Mesoamerica were best known for ship building and navigation, mathematics and astronomy, or animal husbandry?

By the time I hit the math section, the entire experience got foggy. Everyone was clicking away on their calculators. Calculators? No one told me to bring a calculator! My heart raced. I sweated profusely. My vision became blurry. I didn’t black out, but I must have undergone a low-level anxiety attack.

Somewhere during the physics problems, I gave up and started filling in bubbles randomly, not even trying to read the questions. The experience was so embarrassing, I never wrote about it. When the test results were sent to me, I threw them away without looking at my, I’m sure, abysmal score. You Mensa types need not showboat about how easy such tests are. For some of us — most of us, I reckon — taking the SATs is no walk in the park.

The upside to failure

There was, however, one redeeming thing about this self-inflicted torture: Getting a dose of parental perspective.

So the next time you’re pressuring your kids to study, study, study for those tests that will affect their entire lives, take an imaginary walk in their shoes. Sure, we want our kids to thrive in school and in life. But show them a little mercy. Because when they’re sitting there filling in pages of bubbles, hoping this one test won’t ruin the rest of their lives, they aren’t going to find any.

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

11/29/2010:
"What exactly does this have to do with the SAT? There is not now nor has there ever been a section in which one has to identify main verbs in Old English poems. Nor is there any physics on the SAT. Is it possible you're describing SAT subject tests, which are taken by a small subset of the students who take the SAT? "
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