This past Saturday I took the SAT Math 2 subject test. The published practice materials for this test are all over the map and I wanted to see which ones best fit the real thing. You can read more about that decision-making process here.
Here is a brief description of the experience:
Signing up: I last took the SAT in about 1979. There are numerous test prep coaches who make it a point to take the tests every year just to stay sharp. I hadn't actually done it, yet, so this was my first experience with the online sign-up process. They had just changed the rules for better security, so I had to upload a photo as part of the process. I try to avoid having my picture taken, so I had to take one just for this. It looks like the mug shot of a happy criminal.
Since there are adults who take the SAT, I knew there had to be a way to sign up even if you weren't in high school. Sure enough, there was a box to click that said I had already graduated. However, I was not able to move on to the next screen without inputting the name of my high school. The one from which I graduated in 1980. Under my maiden name. Now I have read that one of the security measures involves sending a students' scores to his high school along with the uploaded photo so that the people there have an opportunity to say, "What? That's not John Doe!" Does this mean my alma mater will be receiving my score? With my photo? In which I look like a happy criminal? What happens if they e-mail the College Board and say, "I'm sorry. No one by that name has ever gone to school here?"
Telling people: My students have been amused by the fact that I was taking the test. Several of them have commented on the fact that I would stand out in the crowd. One or two have wondered aloud if my fellow test takers would be "freaked out" by my presence among them. If my fellow test-takers gave me a second glance, they hid it well. It was the adults who looked me over.
The night before: I followed my own advice: no studying the night before the test! I laid out everything I would need the next morning. I didn't get to bed quite as early as I wanted to. I only managed to sleep about 7 hours.
The morning of: I got up an hour before we needed to leave and made scrambled eggs. Then I realized we were out of diet soda. And caffeinated coffee. How could we be out of caffeine on the morning of the SAT?? Talk about poor planning. I'll do better next time.
My kid was taking the SAT on the same morning. Fortunately we were at the same testing center. He came down with a bad cold the day before the test and was taking consolation in the fact that you can always retake the SAT. I pointed out that is was a good thing he hadn't put it off until the fall of his senior year.
We left the house about five minutes later than I had planned, but arrived at the testing center about 10 minutes earlier due to the fact that there isn't any traffic on the roads at that hour on a Saturday morning. We were sent to wait in the cafeteria until they were ready for us. I told my kid he could pretend that he didn't know me, but he sat with me anyway. Extra dessert for him!
The proctors and staff at the testing center worked like a well-oiled machine. I had heard stories from my college kid about different ways to cheat on the subject tests, but I assure you that none of them would have worked. Our proctor was a veteran teacher who managed to follow every rule to the letter without intimidating the students.
The test: I had spent time preparing. I had taken the practice tests published by the College Board and I was ready. The test itself was challenging, but doable. I kept up a brisk pace. The test is an hour long. At the 40 minute mark I had come to the end of the 50 question test, but I had skipped 8 questions that looked time-consuming. When I say a problem looked time-consuming I mean that I didn't immediately see how I would work the problem, not that the problem would necessarily take a long time if one knew what to do. After 55 minutes I had answered 49 questions and made the decision to leave the last one blank in favor of rechecking the easiest problems for careless errors. I rechecked 12 problems before time ran out.
Based on the difficulty level of the test compared to those in the College Board study guide, I expect the cutoff for an 800 to be a raw score of 43. Unless I made more than 5 careless errors I should score the 800. I will be surprised if I missed more than 5, but stranger things have happened. As I was leaving the parking lot I realized that the problem I left blank was actually ridiculously easy and that I am a complete moron for leaving it blank. Sigh. I guess it will keep me humble. Or at least not quite so unbearably cocky.