A Parent’s SAT Angst

My daughter is in the dining room right now, sitting down to take a practice SAT.  She’ll be at it for four hours.

I still remember taking the SAT.  I remember my scores, even though it’s been over thirty years since they mattered to me at all.  It was a nerve-wracking event in an emotionally fraught time.  As a teenager, I didn’t think too much about the logic of it. I wanted to go to college.  Kids who wanted to go to college took the SAT.  Therefore, I took the SAT.  It was like our own little associative property of college applications.

But now, watching my kid go through this, I find myself questioning the rationale behind it.  If anything, the SAT is harder now than it was when I was a teenager.  As most people know, the Educational Testing Service added an essay to the process some time back.  It has also put in fill-in questions to supplement the more familiar multiple choice questions.  But even those questions that follow the traditional a-b-c-d-e format seem more difficult now than they did a few decades ago.  I write for a living and have for fifteen years, and yet I find some of the grammar/syntax questions difficult, and some of the “correct” answers bewildering.

But the relative ease or difficulty of the exam is really beside the point.  My kid is intelligent, and I’m sure she’ll score well on the SAT.  But what if she doesn’t?  What if it turns out that she doesn’t test well, or she has a bad day?  Yes, I know she can take the test again, but if I was in her position, I wouldn’t want to go through this a second time.  This number will follow her throughout the admissions process; for many admissions committees it will define her.  And yet, it says almost nothing about her.  It certainly can’t convey all her marvelous qualities:  her electric personality, her wit, her keen and nimble intelligence.

I know that there is nothing truly revelatory about this post.  I’m not the first parent to worry about his kid’s future or comment on the arbitrary nature of the college admissions process.  But she’s my oldest and this is my first time dealing with these issues.  For the record, she is taking it like a champ.  Me, not so much…

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