The Art of Test Taking — Surviving the SAT’s

I attended high school at Philips Academy, a rigorous preparatory school in a small affluent neighborhood, just outside of Boston, MA. If I took anything away form my experience there, it was the art of test taking. Since the 9th grade, my teachers gave daily reminders about college aspirations (namely, ivy league aspirations). The only thing they talked about more than college was the SAT’s. Everything we learnt somehow related to excelling on the SAT’s (which, by 11th grade, became equivalent to getting into an ivy league college).

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the SAT (Standardized Assessment Test) is a standardized exam, much like the MCAT’s or the LSAT’s. It is required for your application at just about any University program in the United States. And so, my high school made no mistake in making sure we knew how important it was to do well on the SAT’s. Every test was administered similarly to how the SAT would presumably be administered — the instructions were read aloud beforehand, the sections were split up and timed, and, more often than not, we used an answer booklet. At Philips Academy, they taught you how to be a great test taker before they taught you how to be a great thinker. That being said, I certainly excelled at taking standardized tests, including the SAT’s. But I soon learned that taking the SAT’s was more of a learned skill than a true assessment of my scholastic knowledge and experience. And so I wondered some more: is the SAT a true reflection of everything I’ve learned and studied over my high school years, or does it simply test how skilled I am at enduring a 3 hour long stress-ridden situation? The answer I’ve come to: it’s a bit of both.

Part of me is thankful for my grueling high school experience, because I have never feared another exam as much as I feared the SAT’s — tests do not stress me one bit anymore. I know exactly how much time I need to prepare, how I need to study, how long it takes me to do certain things, and so on. However, part of me is really worried about the real world, where my knowledge will be tested on a critical thinking basis, and not a standardized test. Although I was able to excel on the SAT, does that specific and particular skill really make me a better candidate for University than someone who didn’t attend high school in such a high stakes environment? The statistics would suggest so, but I’m not convinced.