18: The SAT Meltdown

18: The SAT Meltdown

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

The SAT Meltdown

There never was a war that was not inward; I must fight till I have conquered in myself what causes war.

~Marianne Moore

Every kid has at least one meltdown during the college application process. My son was no different.

Michael first took the SAT on a Saturday in March of his junior year. The SAT was not being given in our hometown, so that Friday I called him out sick from school, and we drove to the neighboring town where the SAT was being administered so that he would have no trouble finding the unfamiliar school the next morning. We then shopped for a stopwatch, replaced the battery in his calculator, secured a “back up” calculator, checked his pencils for suitability, and made sure he had his admission ticket, ID, and other paperwork. We even carefully planned a nutritious carb and protein breakfast—being a wrestler, Mike knew exactly which breakfast foods would set him up for the morning’s ordeal. If it sounds like we were over-planning, we were. But when you are in the throes of testing, applying, interviewing, essay-writing, etc., you over-plan everything!

Mike came home from the SAT feeling that things hadn’t gone well. Although he claimed that it hadn’t affected him, the girl sitting next to him had a seizure right before the test started, and the paramedics had taken her away. Whatever the reason, Mike feared that he had answered several questions incorrectly, so we decided to go ahead and pre-cancel the test so that it would never be scored.

That meant the April SAT was going to be his only SAT score, since he was scheduled to take one of the SAT subject tests in June.

April came along, and as bad luck would have it, Mike’s lacrosse team had a game scheduled for the Friday night before the SAT, ruining our ideal study-sleep-breakfast prep routine. We couldn’t even do the normal “sick” day on Friday, since varsity players were not allowed in the game on days they were out sick from school.

That night, in a major incident of bad luck, Mike and another lacrosse player ran into each other on the field, and Mike was injured. He appeared to have a badly sprained ankle, but he refused to leave his team, since it was such an important game. The team doctor happened to be at the stadium, so he sent me to the emergency room of our local hospital with instructions on how to obtain a pre-formed cast.

I may have been the only person to ever go to our emergency room without the patient. I claimed that “the patient couldn’t be moved,” which was somewhat true since he actually refused to move due to his desire to watch the rest of the game. Major amounts of begging by me and cell phone intervention by the orthopedic surgeon finally yielded a cast, which I took back to the game so that the doctor could put it on the patient right there on the team bench.

That night, Mike took about fourteen ibuprofen pills (unknown to me) and got no sleep due to the incredible pain. He took the SAT anyway the next morning, and then went to the emergency room where an X-ray revealed that he had torn every single ligament on both sides of his ankle.

Mike received a 1480 on that test (that was the last year the SAT had a maximum score of 1600). Test-taking came easily to him, and he had been scoring in the high 1500s or even 1600 on his practice tests, so this was a disappointment.

We made a last minute change to his June SAT registration and switched him from the math SAT II to another try at the regular SAT, but he had to take it in yet another nearby town since there were no more SAT spots available in our town on that day.

June came along, and I was anticipating our normal routine for the pre-test week—check out the location of the high school in the neighboring town, take Friday off from school, eat a power breakfast Saturday morning.

But Monday turned out to be Meltdown Day.

Mike came in panic-stricken that night because he had just taken a practice SAT and scored another 1480. He announced that he had decided to delay retaking the SAT until the fall since he was never going to do better than a 1480 that unlucky spring. I knew that timing was impossible, since he still had to squeeze in two subject SATs in the fall, before applying in October to his first choice college. June was definitely his last chance to take the regular SAT.

I called our SAT tutor and whispered that Mike was suffering a crisis of confidence and we needed an emergency visit. We agreed that the tutor would visit on Thursday and administer a practice test, and that no matter how Mike did, the tutor would tell him he scored 1580. Sure enough, Mike came in beaming Thursday night and reported that everything was back on track and that he had just received a 1580 on the practice test.

Saturday, Mike returned from his SAT test and said that everything had gone beautifully. And indeed he did receive his target score of 1580, getting only one math question wrong on the whole test.

I finally told Mike about the fake 1580 practice score a couple of years later, when all standardized testing was safely behind him!

~Amy Newmark

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