SATS: You fill in the acronym

Alexandra Sánchez (Bay Area, California, AC 08-10)


If “all that is gold does not glitter,” than SAT scores should not amount to the categorization of an individual. In fact, any United States student will tell you the countless times she or he may have heard the famous comfort: intelligence also rests outside standardized testing, some people are just good test-takers, not doing well on a standardized test does not imply any stupidity. But in the rat race, in the path well-travelled on to be accepted into a “good” (which may not even be suitable for an individual) school, all this may be left by the wayside and the mad credit card pumping for Barron’s, The Princeton Review, The Official College Guide, Fiske, etc. guides becomes a sore yet acceptable action in our society. My upbringing may tell otherwise to my current stance. I will explain some of it in terms of how many Exam Prep books I bought. But I understand that an SAT score should not become a matter of pride, of ego, nor will it hopefully be the only worthwhile accomplishment others or I do in our lives.

My uncle’s legendary 2400 in the 1960s may have influenced my ambition at the age of 15, but in the end, I am my own person. In Britain, a GCSE result will not be asked about a year later; the glory of thirteen “A*” fades. Likewise, I bloody well hope not to ever mention my SAT scores apart from the Common App or to a select few whose trust I do not doubt in. I should expect that I would happily never mention the scores upon entering university.

However, I suppose that I should explain how I came to this view, and put myself on the chopping block. I have taken the PSAT twice, because my school required me to, and because there was a glimmer of me becoming a National Merit Scholar and obtain scholarships, recognition, etc. I have bought The Princeton Review’s 2007 Edition of “11 Practice Tests” and the 2007 “365 Best Colleges.” My mother’s account has also been called upon to purchase The Princeton Review’s SAT 2 French Guide, the Spanish Guide, the Math 1 and 2 guide, and perhaps a US History Guide. I bought a Spark Notes Math 2 guide, and some laminated, study sheets for the AP US History exam which double for the SAT 2 US History; I also took an SAT Prep Course in summer 2009. I cannot pretend that all the materials I bought have not helped. And I cannot exclude myself from placing utter reliance on the Princeton Review for better scores, when I can be quoted as swearing by the company: you’ve got to get the bang for you buck. I understand that this Test Prep Course will help me through examinations in the long run such as the IB, and testing at the graduate level, as well as regular exams, although it was not my entire choice to take it. Pattern Spotting in Exams becomes easier, automatic.

Just because I know about the tests, the colleges, and the rat race does not mean I believe in them to the utmost. I understand them to the extent that I need in order to get myself ahead, and I respect the tertiary institutions in the United States very highly. My knowledge of the system does not mean I will be accepted wherever I should like, I should hate to think so. The system is volatile, and I place confidence in the admissions officers. Unfortunately, this same understanding of something for personal means applies to many areas of life. I could absolutely hate capitalism, but I will inevitably need to understand how to work the system for survival. Of course, apathy and an equivocal stance is not what the world needs, and I understand I probably shouldn’t lead a “S.A.T- Stupid American Tests” Revolution, and highjack the College Board’s Headquarters. I don’t like the money-milking scheme underhandedly managed by the College Board, and perhaps we should have a “College Board Blackout,” in other words, a boycott. But, just as the US Economy relies on its Banks, consumers’ taxes to bail them out are necessary, regardless the sour grimace on the country’s face. If a country depends on something, in the short term, there are only a few solutions. Similarly, the account I have on the College Board website does help me to organize testing, information about prospective schools, etc. The country works a certain way, and I am admittedly dependent on this testing method, much to my dismay. Should I let it take me away? I think not, but I must be clever in how I utilize it.  

Yes, my scores are the much-needed statistics for my US demographic, a subconscious pressure. And sure, if I were in the States, my scores may have set me apart. At a UWC, my scores may help, if my application is considered at the schools I am applying to. One could pig-headedly say that because I have been fortunate in my distant yet proxy relationship with the College Board, I have the same right, zilch, as a stereotypical Trust-Funded, upper-class youth ignorantly praising a lower class revolution, in complaining and attempting to describe the SATs for what they truly are. Yet, perhaps with success comes better and fruitful erudition of a system, and I can lament the worries the tests cause my friends, co-years, and US classmates with more perspicacity.


The SAT: what it is, what it measures, and misconceptions. [Hint: It seems unadvisable to purchase the College Board’s test prep books as the practice tests will undoubtedly be simpler than the real ones (I have two examples to add some evidence). It is impractical to shout out the answers and method for a test whose sole purpose is to compare candidates.]


The SAT 1:


A grueling five-hour stamina measuring how well you take an exam. It is used for many private and public universities in the United States, and is catching on in other countries (Pakistan, for example). A prestigious school that does not require the SAT is a true old hat, and one this author admires.

Ponder: if an exam told you your interpretation is invalid, there could be some legal battles. For that reason, the SAT 1 only asks for the answers that are stated in a reading section already. “Imply” questions, etc, are mere questions asking for the most blatant, and superficial answers. Sentence Completions may require knowledge of certain vocabulary, but by using tricks, one could get the correct answer.

The math sections measure math supposedly taught up to eighth grade (approximately age thirteen in the US), there’s no calculus, etc. A hard question is one most people answer incorrectly because of tricks in the answer-solving and a slight warp of the actual math content.

The Writing Section comprises of grammar error identification, improving paragraphs and a timed essay. Objectivity is a must for graders and so long as you have an intro, a conclusion, marked paragraphs, a thesis, some certain sentences etc. you are guaranteed at least a 6/12.


SAT 2’s:

 In all frankness, these are the true tests. One must understand and know the material, and there are tricks in the multiple-choice questions. It’s plausible to obtain a 5/5 on the AP US History Exam, and then a week later, to not obtain an 800/800 on the SAT 2. Content does matter on the SAT 2s, but I suppose a “good test-taker,” one who would be able to guess intelligently and eliminate wrong answer choices, would also fare decently.




The more the culture of the SATs spreads its paradoxical influence on many highly motivated students in life besides academics, the more I hear of many misconceptions. If these were laid bare and presented in their rightful shame, they would immediately be shunned and these same students would be relieved. For example: not all US students achieve perfect scores on the SATs. Without meaning to offend my international friends, the SATs are mainly created for US students, in the United States because they are required and are of application aid to our colleges/universities. International Students must take them only because they are applying to our schools, wherein the application process includes SATs. If all US students did well on the SATs, there would be no need for that particular test. The College Board would probably create a more tricky or difficult one, because there is no use for a comparative test where everyone achieved a 2400/2400.


Second, the SATs are not the end all be all of life. However, I do understand that for an international student, there exist pressures to compare with US students, given that one would be competing with native speakers and with geeks the world over. As a friend put it when asked why the SATs and scores are looming on her, ‘Doing well will obviously be another thing that’ll improve how they [universities] look at you. For me, just doing well will be kind of like, “If she did well on the SATs, she’ll be able to do well at our school.” If you’re not from the same background as US students, they’ll consider you more because you’re capable. I do think it’s [The SATs] pointless but they do need to have something that everyone does so that they compare people.’


Although this is valid, there is still the issue of power and hold the College Board has over our generation. It was never this way for our parents, and especially not our grandparents. Just the other day, I learnt of the panic-striking SAT culture in China, that caused me so much embarrassment past ridicule on behalf of the College Board I seriously considered many negative possibilities. China has a very strong SAT preparation course for its students including mandatory SAT lessons, all the guides, and an inherent, down-treading and demising pressure placed on its students. Anything below a 2000 is unacceptable, and students are expected to achieve a 2300 and above. When the October 10 SAT results came out on the 29th, I had an in-depth discussion with a Chinese friend about the true despair felt by some of the Chinese regarding SAT scores. I had no previous-knowledge of the system in China, and it truly frightened me. Consequently, colleges are rejecting Chinese with perfect scores on the SATs and in academics because they are no different from each other. In China, one chooses either academics or extra-curricular activities, and only true geniuses can be “talented” or truly gifted in both, which comprises a fair bit. In this case, being different may be a blessing. Whereas in the US, we are slowly clambering the mount to every student’s perfection in all fields to be accepted into a university: supposed strength of character; perfect scores; “saving the world” somehow; leadership, etc, are the judges for our entrance. Our saving grace is the emphasis on individuality. At this stage, I place reliance on admissions officers who will most likely glean the truth from the applications, and select students based on whether they find them suitable for their school, or whether the student is a “must-have,” which occasionally occurs.


I removed myself from this false labyrinth where students participate in a plethora of activities for the sake of their applications or CV, and gratefully forgot the idea of participating in activities without an accelerating interest. If someone does something for the sake of what colleges like, it would be best for him or her to make up their interests if they don’t matter to them. Upon visiting my old high school, I asked an old friend whether she still played tennis. She told me she stopped because college apps were over. I was momentarily stunned, as the dumb oscillation in my brain became cascading waves of surprise and rejection of this ideology. I must have appeared calm and understanding only because I was heavily piecing together the old, non-UWC ideology that I had forgotten. A busy day at AC constitutes leaving the house early and slowly returning, trudging along, in the evening. All this because the UWC student truly wanted to go to the unofficial activities he/she went to.


Still, what to do when those pressures from home return to one unnecessarily and unwelcomed? As I silently prepared myself to enter the testing hall, I heard a co-year casually mentioning that her family had been praying over the telephone because of the SAT. My calm in the breakfast queue may have been a calm acquired through practice, self-knowledge and because I truly did not give two hoots whether I got a 2400. I was only hoping to reap above a certain range and to have demonstrated some improvement to recompense the work I did in July. I have only taken the SAT 1 once; October the 10th was the first and last date. I am satisfied.

But, I cannot stand the crestfallen brows, and the crushed looks as people eagerly ask what their fellow students got on the tests. I can’t stomach the sickness of the Chinese test-prep system, nor can I fathom how a student’s future should be intertwined with profits.


There’s another test-date this Saturday, the 7th of November. I will be sleeping, but most likely grinding teeth in my sleep. Later, I will look to the testing hall at my right, with a penetratingly honest glance, and refrain from asking any questions about the test. Perhaps I should ask people how they are feeling instead of the trite chorus, “How did it go?” I should dismiss the test’s importance, and yet, it exists. This would be alienating reality, despite my small protest. I pedantically enjoy testing as an exercise, if I know the patterns of course, but perhaps it is my bravado that does not allow for testing t to demean me.  I help my co-years because it causes me anxiety to think that there are solutions to this SAT stress that I know of, and because I understand their angst. I should stop helping with SAT Prep, but how does one demonstrate to people that good scores are not imperative, if they are part of the process? Many of the visiting universities when asked will slowly state to the suddenly frigid, attentive audience that their school doesn’t pay much mind to SAT scores so long as they are within a certain range, or not, but perhaps as a deciding factor.  

It is not dumb for people to do well. What is dim and dull is for people to allow the tests to overtake their lives, their rest, and their thoughts. Five hours of simplifying your knowledge and unwillingly entering traps is enough. Even the most loyal and methodic of organisms would be disgraced.


– United World College Student Magazine –


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