Confused and disoriented, I blinked my eyes open. My mouth tasted terrible.
“Timmy! Time to get up!” my mom shouted again.
I thought, What is she talking about? It’s Saturday, and there is nothing that I need to do today. I allowed my eyes to close again.
I heard footsteps approaching, and my bedroom door opened as my mom said, “You need to get going; you’re going to be late.”
“Late for what?” I asked.
“You’re taking the SATs today.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.”
Knowing it wasn’t an argument I would win, I dressed while mumbling obscenities.
I wasn’t tired because I stayed up late getting one last study session in before my big test. I had been out participating in a popular rural Minnesotan teenager pastime of drinking Busch Lights next to a pallet fire in a field.
I had known that I was going to the University of Minnesota from a young age. Well, aside from that few-month period in 1993 when I announced that I would be carried off the Notre Dame football field after seeing Rudy for the first time.
I also knew I could be accepted into the University of Minnesota without an SAT score.
Regardless, I drove to my high school to take the SAT. The rising sun made my eyeballs throb, my mouth was dry, and anxiety weighed heavy on my chest.
When I took the ACT, we were in the high school gym to accommodate all students taking the exam since Midwest colleges require an ACT score. I was expecting the same for the SAT, so I felt relieved when I pulled into the high school parking lot with a handful of cars parked there.
The test must not be today, I thought.
My anxiety came slamming back as I walked to the door and saw a paper taped to the glass with “SAT ←” written on it.
“Dammit,” I said under my breath.
I made my way to the classroom.
I saw 25 familiar faces when I walked through the door to the classroom, and it is hard to say who was more shocked.
I have never had that stereotypical dream of attending school naked, but that moment is all I need to relate.
Those 25 familiar faces belonged to the top 25 students in my graduating class. People that would eventually matriculate to schools like Duke, Notre Dame, and Yale.
If there was a soundtrack to my life, this is the moment where the Sesame Street classic “One of These Things Is Not Like The Other” would be featured.
I walked to an open desk with a (this is not a joke) empty backpack.
I knew it was empty when I took it out of the house. I knew it was empty when I parked. I brought it anyway.
Fake it ’til you make it, right?
The proctor explained that we would start with the critical reading portion of the exam, take a break, and then complete the math portion. Then, they began to pass out the tests.
Despite not wanting to be there, I focused and got to work. When we finished the critical reading section, I felt motivated. I fantasized about getting a good score as I gulped water from the fountain. I walked back into the classroom with a bounce in my step.
The proctor announced that we would begin the math portion of the exam and were permitted to have a calculator out. A chorus of zippers broke out as the other test takers took out their calculators.
Do you ever have those moments when you inexplicably believe you will be on the receiving end of magic only seen in movies? Unzipping my backpack, I felt my calculator would just materialize inside.
And guess what?
My forehead began to sweat. My heart rate sped up. I looked around the room, hoping to find someone else in the same situation I had found myself in, as if somehow seeing someone else panic-stricken would improve my situation.
I raised my hand and asked, “Can I have a calculator?”
The proctor informed me that I could not.
The student at the desk next to me put his extra calculator on my desk. The relief that flooded my body must be what heroin feels like.
However, the high was short-lived as the proctor informed me that I could not use another test taker’s calculator.
Let’s be honest; a calculator would have made me feel better. However, I didn’t (and still don’t) have it in me to solve math problems like:
If (ax + 2)(bx + 7) = 15x2 + cx + 14 for all values of x, and a + b = 8, what are the two possible values for c?
I hope reading that problem gives you the same anxiety as it gives me.
If it doesn’t, I am honored to have you as a reader, but you probably have more important things to do with your time.
I can’t recall if there was a single question I answered confidently on the math portion of the test. It did occur to me that I would probably be better off just randomly filling in the bubbles on the answer sheet, but I didn’t. I read through the questions and used every mathematical brain cell to come up with correct answers.
Those brain cells, much like most high school students in the country, had that Saturday off.
When the test was done. I didn’t think about the SATs again until my results came.
And then they came.
700 – Critical Reading
200 – Math
That’s how you get a 900 on the SAT, folks.
It will be no shock that I did not submit that score with my college application. I let my ACT score do the heavy lifting.
You may be wondering what score I got on my ACT.
The answer? Good enough.