With a glance at my calendar, I determine the number of Saturday mornings from now through the Spring of my junior year that are occupied. Over the next nine months, my brain will be consumed with SAT's, ACT's, subject tests, and AP exams. My dining room table is covered with vocabulary flashcards, math notebooks that date back to eighth grade, practice booklets, reminders and a book of strategies that is larger and heavier than my own head.
With discipline I didn't know I have, I sit down at that table most Sunday afternoons, after having completed hours of homework and studying for my high school courses. I am ready to curl up on my couch and watch the episode of "Glee" from two weeks ago that I haven't had time to catch up on, or even to get into bed early and be mentally prepared for my 6 a.m. wakeup the next morning. But with reference to the study schedule I constructed back in August, I sit in front of SAT material and work through dozens of new words, re-teach myself geometric theorems, and test my concentration ability in reading comprehension with passages about the anatomical structure of a spider or the difficulties in gardening.
I am one of few juniors at my school who does not have a private SAT tutor. The purpose of such a tutor, I have heard a college counselor say, is not to teach material, as it is taught in classrooms, or to give strategies, as they are all written on collegeboard.com. The role that the tutor plays is purely to motivate a teen into studying. Parents pay hundreds and thousands of dollars for motivation, something that I am trying to do myself, simply by forcing myself into a dining room chair for a few hours, once a week.
A few times each semester, my school offers free workshops on SAT studying strategies, yet so few attend that they are thinking of canceling the workshops. Students are willing to spend thousands on private tutors, yet don't take the rare opportunity of a free workshop.
To me, the entire SAT/ACT system is somewhat convoluted; with the amount of money and time that goes into private tutors, it seems that people are paying for their scores. The purpose of standardized tests is to determine the ability to perform when a student is put on the spot. While the ACT calls up knowledge, the SAT intends to make a student think, to trick them and test their reasoning. When my mother took the SAT, the only preparation she did was sharpening her number two pencils the morning of the exam. Now we treat studying for it as we would a midterm or final exam.
What about the people across the country who can't afford pricey preparation? There is no checkbox on a college application that asks if you had a tutor for standardized tests. Are we, those who don't have the financial means for a weekly tutor, at a disadvantage in the college process? I attend the same school as students who pay for a tutor even twice a week, who have come to rely on them as crutches for not only standardized tests, but also core subjects. Their accumulated tutoring could score them hundreds of points higher on the SAT. I believe we are at a disadvantage; maybe the tutor serves for only motivation, but that's half the battle. Some swear by their tutors, attributing their hundreds of points increases to them. I won't know if I'm at a disadvantage, because I'm on one side of the equation.
I do know, though, that I don't intend on letting the SAT's take over my life: I'm not going to stress for months over a four-hour testing period. I'm going to focus on my core academic courses. If only colleges concentrated less on standardized tests, as if we were nothing but machines, and instead looked farther into the depth of each student.