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Standardized nightmare

How I took the SATs as a grownup and wound up a broken woman.

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By Leslie Crawford

Years ago as a freelancer on the hunt for untapped subjects, I landed upon what I thought would make the perfect newspaper article. With my high school days mercifully far behind me, I’d return to re-experience that nail-biting teen rite of passage: taking the SATs. Wouldn’t that be interesting, I thought.

I was curious to answer some basic questions: How much did I remember from my now-hazy high school education? Now that I was a grownup with a college degree and more than a decade of professional work under my belt, would the test be easier than sweating through the Pythagorean theorem at 15? Finally, since the test wasn’t going on my permanent record, could I actually have some — gasp! — fun with it?

If only I could have imagined how the word “fun” would soon haunt and mock me as I stepped into my own Freaky Friday experiment, I would have sprinted in the other direction. Sure, the stakes were low. But the only tests I’d scored high on since graduating from college were in women’s magazines. “Are you a giver or a taker?” Giver! “What’s your fashion IQ?” Genius! But shivering in the early-morning cold outside the concrete high school with those terror-stricken teens, I quickly realized this was anything but a lark.

Scary, scary Saturday

The teenagers stood grimly and silently in line. You could practically smell the fear wafting from their hunched shoulders. It was as if they were worried that all the probability problems and tetrahedral structures they’d crammed into their brains over the past few months would escape and run down the sidewalk. The fear was contagious. As the panic rose in my belly, I realized something: I hadn’t studied.

Eventually, the classroom doors opened. Tests were passed out. A proctor recited stern instructions about using no. 2 pencils, not going over the time limit, and staying within the bubbles. And then . . . we were off.

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

Comments from readers

"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? "