A while back, I, as millions of oily teenagers in high school did, took the SAT. I didn’t want to. I was forced to. The idea of getting up at 9am, as a teenager, frightened me. I’d have rather walked blindfolded down a dark hallway filled with spiders. But again, I was forced. My girlfriend at the time withheld sex from me. “You’re smart, you have to take it,” but with a Boston accent, so it sounded more like, “Yohr wicked smaht, tho... you gotta take-it.” Oh, was she something. Sideways here, but her name was Erin Mahoney. She was Irish, so my friends naturally nicknamed her, "Erin go Bragh off when Chris comes in the room." It had a nice ring to it.
The test was so long ago that I've divorced myself from the entire process. I don't even know what my exact score was. I know it was in the 1300’s. I want to say mid to high. I was a smart kid, I think now a smart adult, but I never applied myself in high school, so my college prospects were really only the North Culinary Technical & Vocational Community College. By the way, you can make any excuse by using the phrase, "I didn’t apply myself." You failed a big job interview, "Ma! I didn’t apply myself..." The worst one could say to that is, “Well, next time apply yourself.” This also works with sex by the way. “What the hell Chris? That wasn’t like it usually is. What’s up?” “Sorry, I just didn’t apply myself.” I don’t have first-hand knowledge or history with this, but I’ve read things.
I don't know why I decided to take the SAT again. At the time I did this, I was, how do I say this, moving freely through life? I knew someone who worked at Kaplan, you know Kaplan. They hold the monopoly on over-sized test booklets. I finagled my way into an exemption from paying the fifty dollars for the test, as I explained my circumstance and what I was exactly doing (which still wasn’t clear). That probably weighed heavily in my decision. It was either burritos for a week, or the SAT. I chose burritos, and correctly. So, win for me.
After getting through the signup process, I knew that I would have a month to prepare for it. So I did what I had done in high school to prepare myself; nothing (I told you that I never gave a shit). I wanted a controlled experiment. No outside influences, which included studying.
Author’s note: I did study for the exam in high school, and I’ve kept those study guides for use with jacking up my car when I’m changing the oil.
The day of the exam, for some reason, I was nervous. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the idea of walking into a high school again WHERE SO MANY AWFUL MEMORIES TOOK PLACE. I wanted to do everything I could make my day’s routine be as accurate as possible to the original day. So I began planning the night before. What time would I have woken up? I tried to think of what I would have had for breakfast that day. Unsure (something that would happen frequently in the following 4 hours), I guessed Eggo waffles. A high percentage guess. I must have had those, four of them probably. Toasted, then microwaved for twenty seconds. This method allowed the waffle to retain the crunch but also be fluffier. It was a system that took me years to perfect. They were then drenched with half the bottle of syrup. Totally gluten-free, by the way. To wash things down, I almost certainly had a Mountain Dew. The bigger sized bottle. The size now banned in 27 countries. I know this because I remember being concerned about my future infertility in high school. So that was it. That was the breakfast of champions— minus the champion.
I arrived in the same school that I had taken the original test in. I knew the school, it was the next town over. Everything was familar. Even the place where I took my cheerleader girlfriend (Erin) into the bathroom while my team was down 3 runs in the 7th inning (I was a pitcher, and thus, was not in the game. I was in something else, emirate?). Flashbacks aside, familiarity came soon and I took my seat. Beside me, and all around me, were students. Not in their twenties, but 15 and 16. They seemed nervous. I, not so much. I was a veteran. If only I could expound my wisdom unto them and tell them what dog crap this whole scam was. You don’t know!
As we took our seats, my nerves started to overtake my thought process. For a nanosecond, I thought that I was actually 16 and that this test was going to help determine my future. I wish I knew pranayama breathing exercises. It would be helpful right about now.
This was still the old format of the SAT. I don’t even know what the new format is now. It’s some weird acuity test where you have to do jumping jacks and they give you points, or something like that. Actually, is that completely wrong? Of course I’ve only taken this test once, but if it was math and reading back in the day, then it was still math and reading. I knew going in that Reading was going to be my strong subject, plus the essay. Math to me is like an ex-girlfriend (not Erin). It was fun when I needed to know this, but I haven’t seen you in years so I’ve kind of forgotten about you. Deal.
Asses in the seats, my tools for the day consisted of four #2 pencils that were all sharpened to a deathly point even Vlad the Impaler would be proud of. My level of focus starting to shape itself as the test was about to begin. My focus was lacking on account of having a bad case of exploding diarrhea from the night before thanks to some fish tacos.
But I couldn’t let these punks see me as vulnerable, or weak. To prove my overall supremacy in high school knowledge, I immediately made a statement that will forever echo in these classrooms; I stood up, looked around, and broke my lead-off pencil. Definitely a cock move, I know, but I wanted to make a point. That I wasn't some old hack just there for the cheap thrill of test taking. This was a serious endeavor on my behalf.
The test began. Because I was an unofficial test taker, I was given the option of starting the math section first, followed by critical reading. Both sections were timed at 45 minutes so there wasn't any issue of overlapping. I wanted to get the worst of it over.
A large digital clock with a timer set on 45 minutes began counting down (there was a short break after the 45 minutes). I do remember in my previous SAT life that the clock was the ordinary wall clock that every school in the world had since the Kennedy Assassination. It was a cloudy-opaque color and more often than not had a crack in the face of it running from 1 to about 5. Those shit clocks kept awful time, so the introduction of a digital clock was welcomed. But the illuminating red diode from the changing numbers fucked with my rods and cones and from minute 44 to 43 I did absolutely nothing but stare at the clock. I don't know if it was the Mountain Dew pumping through my veins or the binging on maple syrup that put me in a trance, but I was momentarily catatonic.
And then the questions. The questions started coming at me quickly and from all angles. It was as if I was playing Tetris and someone had walked in front of the screen for two seconds. DAMN YOU, MOVE! My brain and focus immediately went into fight or flight mode and I was seemingly coasting through questions like:
What is the average (arithmetic mean) of all the multiples of ten from 10 to 190 inclusive? A. 90 B. 95 C. 100 D. 105 E. 110
Okay. I see what you're doing here. Foreplay. But I was seeing two, three questions ahead. It was as if the answers were on a 3x3 cheat sheet taped to the girl in front of me. I was in a zone. Then my high sobered, and I came across this gem and realized my math-recall skill had slowed in these forgotten years, because I barely had a clue as to what the question was, let alone the answer.
Which of the following equations gives the relationship between S and T in the table below?
S 1 2 3 4 5 6
T 1 4 7 10 13 16
T = 2 - S
T = 4 - 3S.
T = 3S + 1.
T = 3S - 2.
Ohhhhh, fuck. Wait, what? Who do you work for? I can't explain the level of blankness I experienced. I wasn't just seeing black when I closed my eyes, I started seeing Smurfs waving from cruise ships. I entered full freak out mode. For a moment I saw my future evaporating. My dreams of college quads, frat parties and STD scares were going to be permanently erased from my life as ever being possible. I was now dependent on archaic arithmetic questions to determine my future as a well educated, upstanding human being, with EARNING POWER DAMMIT!
After going through copious equations in my head, and using the scrap paper we were given for writing out solutions as a tissue, I uncontrollably let out a grunt. Probably louder than what is appropriate. Some of the kids looked up at me, some ignored me. Fuck them. I had to forfeit this section of the test. I hung my hat on the girl in front of me and moved on.
I somehow finished the math section without any visible scars (deep down I was cutting myself in geometric patterns). Although I finished with minutes to spare, I didn't feel great about how things were going thus far. I routinely finished tests early in high school. English, history or chemistry, please, why don’t I just teach the class for you. Handing in a test early in math? God, just put this on the bottom. The very bottom. In fact, I want this to be the last thing you see tonight after you've had your third scotch Mr. Green in the hope that you have a heart attack, die, and because of your death, everyone in the class gets a B.
The clock struck 0:00 and we were given a nice little ten minute break. Enough time to do something, but not enough time to do something. Ten minutes are really the worst amount of free time you can be given.
Content, and regardless of whether or not my pencils needed to be sharpened again (they didn’t), I used the ten minutes to sharpen, which was possible because the same wall mounted rotary pencil sharpener from the Eisenhower Administration was on the wall. I was tempted to take off the drum and smell the graphite shavings SO BADLY! But I didn't. I'm mature, or ma-tor, as pretentious people pronounce it. Pointy pencils by my side, I began the process of decompressing. I readied myself for the next section. It was unthinkable to me that these kids, kids that were born in the early 90’s might I add, were going to better me in the reading section. Sixteen year olds have really only been alive for three or four years. Nobody knows anything until you get to junior high. Junior High is when you get your first hand job, experiment with cigarettes, and draw out-of-scale interpretations of anatomical parts in your notebook. You can't write about life when you haven’t lived it (Who said that? Someone must have).
One of the first questions that greeted me was:
Passage one was written by D.H.Lawrence, an English novelist. Passage two was written by the American novelist, Henry James.
It begins the moment you set foot ashore, the moment you step off the boat’s gangway. The heart suddenly, yet vaguely....
Ahh.. did you you hear that? I swore I heard the Templar Knight from Indiana Jones whisper, “You must choose wisely.”
‘It’ in line 1 refers to a feeling of
A. foreboding B. fear C. depression D. malaise E. relief
I felt as good about this section as I did not about the math. So everything evens out, I suppose. There were no mishaps during this section. I breezed through it pretty easily and without any particular note to mention. Although a kid next to me did kind of fart on me, or at least in my direction. Asshole. The essay was next. And the essay question was structured off of a quote by Benjamin Franklin, and asked whether we value only what we struggle for. Since my penmanship has rapidly gone to shit in the past few years, so badly in fact that I have trouble reading it myself, I've dictated (to myself, aloud) a section of my answer and have included it below. Reading this again, I couldn't help but hear Morgan Freeman from Glory reciting this with an echo of a drum beating.
Over the course of humanity, those who have struggled, those who have endured, those who continue the struggle, are met with the advancement of thought, independence, and of freedom.
The value of struggle is not dependent on the cause, but a reflection on our steadfastness. One who has not felt struggle, cannot appreciate simplicity for its worth, or love, or wealth.
It is necessary for struggle to be synonymous with selflessness. Because the missioner undoubtedly knows that he or she may never reach the end, but that the journey to get there is valued in the strength of the pilgrim.
It went on and on for another page, delving into personal struggles, et al., but unfortunately I couldn't read much of what I wrote, which is too bad for you, because it was pretty moving.
Later, I gave this essay to an old English teacher of mine. She unbiasedly gave me flying colors. Literally, I mean she sent me a rainbow kite in the mail with a note attached that read, "What one does with this, creates?”
Chris Peak is a musician and freelance writer from Boston. Follow him @chrishpeak