The Process: SAT Adventure
This article is part of a series in which a rising high school senior chronicles her admissions process. You can read the first part here.
The second I stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion airport in Israel this June, my mind went straight to one thing: Was there any Wi-Fi?
It’s not that I’m some technology-crazed teenager. In fact, I was looking forward shutting off my phone while I was abroad. However, there were some “things” to be taken care of first. Simply put, the day I arrived in Israel was also the day that June SAT scores were to be released. And while I desperately wanted to absorb my new surrounding and accommodate the excited anticipation, I simply couldn’t shake the dread welling up inside my stomach. So I nervously dragged my too-full suitcase through the crowded airport, assuming the worst.
I’m definitely not a “bad” student, or test-taker at that. I love history, and read my textbooks like long-winded stories. Science is interesting, and I see it as one giant puzzle in exploring the world. Reading and writing are some of my favorite hobbies, so English never feels boring. I’m good at languages, and pick them up quickly. Everything is wonderful. Everything… except math. I’m not sure when my disgust for math began, but I think calling it “hatred” doesn’t even do my feelings justice. When I hear the words “algebra” or “calculus”, I feel a literal shiver crawl down my spine, as some may experience when they hear of bugs or diseases. I’m not terrible at math… but I’m pretty bad. A basic concept that takes minutes for someone else to learn may require me to spend additional hours poring over material alone or with a tutor. Compared to my other classes, where I tend to do well, I’m painfully mediocre in my basic math class.
While I’ve usually treated my mathematical shortcoming as a little humorous, it’s recently begun to pose more of a threat. When Junior year rolled around, I joined my fellow classmates in complaining about the SATs. Yet, the reality of it all loomed in front of me. If I wanted a fair chance at the schools on my prospective college list, I would need tutoring. Lots and lots of math tutoring.
Grudgingly, I agreed to spend every Saturday morning from October to March learning everything I’d need to know for the SAT Math section. And gradually, I raised my horrifying pre-test score to a slightly less horrifying practice-test score every few weeks. I still hated the material, of course. But I learned to get a little better. Since I was overly confident in myself, I didn’t do any prep work for the other sections of the SAT. Instead, I concentrated on memorizing formulas, sharpening pencils, and remembering extra batteries. When the first Saturday of March rolled around, I raced into school with my college sweatshirt and 75 sharpened pencils, ready to ace the SAT.
For 19 agonizing days afterwards, I worried over my scores. What if I accidentally filled in the wrong bubbles? Was it true that I got points for spelling my name correctly? What if I had messed that up? To say I was being over-dramatic would be an understatement. Eventually, the big day came, and I logged into my CollegeBoard account. I was shocked to see my numbers. Writing: fantastic. Math: mediocre. CR: mediocre as well??!! I quickly realized my fatal flaw. In my attempts to carefully prepare myself for the math section, I’d neglected to spend any time on reading— something I was usually very good at. Reluctantly, I realized I’d have to take the test again.
Three months, 15 hours of CR tutoring, 5,700 miles, and one more SAT test later, I stood anxiously in the lobby of my Tel Aviv hotel. After being unable to find Wi-Fi at the airport, I had waited until my social activism group and I arrived right in the heart of Tel Aviv. I clutched a scrap of paper with the Wi-Fi password scrawled on it like a battle prize. Logging onto my CollegeBoard account again, I felt the same rush of fear and uncertainty that I’d felt the first time. Seeing numbers on the screen made me jump. Writing: great. CR: very improved and great. Math: mediocre, again.
I was upset about it for a second before I decided that was a waste of time. The moral of the story for me is very simple: studying something makes you better at it. Although I hadn’t exactly gotten the math score I desired, I had drastically improved my abilities since October. Overall, my combined SAT score was great. I had spent hours fine-tuning my skills, memorizing formulas, and learning definitions. Though I’d never let myself be defined by a number, it was still nice to see my SAT score well in the range of almost all my prospective colleges. I was proud of myself. Maybe I even hated math a little bit less.