Image from StockSnap.

Image from StockSnap.

As college students, most of us have a collective past: standardized testing. I paid my dues to SAT and the mental baggage of test prep two years ago. When the news of the SAT reformation surfaced on social media, I felt old and disinterested. I was already a college student at the advent, which means the SAT held no more bearing as an indicator of my intelligence—and, in other words—my chances of achieving my personal goals. Maybe the irrelevance was further meant to suggest how unengaging my entire experience with the SAT had been. (Could test-taking ever be engaging, in all the rewarding and glorious senses of the word?, I sometimes ask). Months of SAT prep never helped me reinforce anything that came out as larger than the immediacy of the workload, the insidious stress, and dizzying chunks of information I was to swallow in whole.

While a part of me would always veer towards inexplicable distaste at the mention of standardized testing, I don’t believe it’s some objective design that makes my experience so unfulfilling in retrospect. I did not have, and did not try, any methods. I simply plunged into the challenge with an unwarranted belief that my intellect suffices should the patient I cradle it in a consistent, stimulating environment i.e. regular test prep either under instruction or self-led. If my intellect were enough to get me what I want, why did I have to give it nearly two years’ time of grace period before deeming my SAT pursuit complete? It speaks to why my SAT prep didn’t feel substantial enough—it doesn’t enrich my knowledge or feed onto the transfunctional sack of realizations that are marvellous in their births and in time gain me deeper truths. Like a book. Like a riveting experience that translates itself again and again across media of the arts. Like humanities writing classes whose tedium first bored you, but their rigidity affords you clarity of communications if you accept it, even in the most defiant manner.

Here’s one example of an inadequate SAT prep mindset, You just need to do a lot of reading exercises, and your critical reading score will improve.

I feel very hazy about this statement, because much as my reading score got a boost on my second seating, I still felt largely incapable and self-conscious about my comprehension skills. The lack of confidence persisted until college, where rather than feeling significantly smarter, I grew to be okay with the fact that many words perturbingly lurk in the back of my mind, and that many arguments need processing twice or three times to resound. The point is that I start to understand. I start making the necessary pause to re-read, forming suppositions and seeking contextual support to advance them. I become more comfortable at handling difficult texts. I don’t think doing a lot of practice exercises helped. In SAT prep, I tried explaining to myself why the correct answer is A, not B, what is to fixed next time I met a similar question. But I don’t think it made me a better reader, or better at SAT’s critical reading.

I think the fact that I always had a bubble to fill in, points to save, was the biggest distraction. I tried to answer correctly, amassing the most frivolous tricks to arrive at my aim. It wasn’t until I placed myself in a context wherein there weren’t any multiple choice questions to serve as leads, magnifying and falsifying what is to be rightly exhausted of a text. I had a text and I worked through it. Working through a lot of texts, struggling to see the point of the author, equips me better than the tricks that mimic true mastery. Instead of doing SAT exercises, I would have started, or started again, by reading voraciously for the sake of devouring ideas—for the sake of just reading.

Now you have the account of an untruth I sustained at the perils of so much time and effort spared on SAT prep. I dearly hope that you have been sniffing at its inanity, for all you see is a person trying to overcome an obstacle with little knowledge of what it is, or how it can be probed in the first place. But if my mistake reflects onto a giddiness, an anxiety, about tackling the SAT, maybe it’s time to rethink, to ask around, and to identify potentially fallacious beliefs so we could both challenge and better our test prep strategies.

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Chi Thuy Le likes to think she lives bi-continentally while writing out of Chicago.

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