• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


In Which The Girl Takes the SAT

"I did the five-paragraph thing: intro, ethos, logos, pathos, conclusion."

September 29, 2020

On Saturday, The Girl packed her water bottle, granola bar, calculator, No. 2 pencils and photo ID into a knapsack at what felt like an indecent hour of the morning. I drove her to the nearest high school actually offering the SAT -- in Brick, N.J., which missed an opportunity by not bordering Wall, N.J. -- and dropped her off.

At this point, there’s a credible argument to be made that the SAT is rapidly losing its relevance. Between long-standing complaints about equity and COVID-driven shortages of opportunities to take it, more colleges are moving to test-optional or even test-blind admissions. But many still haven’t, and we don’t know yet how much it will matter next year when she sends out her college applications. It’s also a rite of passage, and something she very much wanted to get out of the way.

We didn’t do test-prep courses for either of them. TB used some of the Khan Academy stuff to review, and a few sample tests; TG just did a few sample tests. And no, we didn’t pay anybody to pretend they row crew. As far as I know, the Freehold Regional District doesn’t even have a crew team.

Last week we had a family Zoom call -- this is what we’ve been reduced to -- and when TG’s upcoming SAT came up, my brother mentioned he still remembers that his score was 10 points below mine. For context, he took the test in 1990. That’s a hell of a long time to remember that. But to be fair, I still remember my score (from 1985!), and it turned out that TW still remembers hers. These things have a way of sticking. TG has set her brother’s score as her goal. To his credit, he’s encouraging her; it doesn’t faze him at all. They’ve never been especially competitive with each other, and they certainly aren’t now. When I asked her why she set her brother’s score as her goal, she explained that he’s doing really well, so she feels like if she matches that, she’ll do well, too.

I assured her that she’d do well either way. Which she will. Frankly, both kids run circles around us intellectually, which is gratifying. And even in the Before Time, the whole competitive college admissions thing was getting a bit silly. She will do well as long as she does something she cares about. But I also remember being 16 and fighting not to roll my eyes when parents would say things like “you’ll be fine,” so I try not to hit that note too hard.

I was a little surprised at how little the actual test had changed. It still works with No. 2 pencils and large-scale in-person administration in school buildings on weekends. It allows calculators now, which assumes that you have a calculator separate from your smartphone. Happily, TB had left his calculator behind in his room, and we found it the night before. I suspect it had gone unused since he took the SAT. She also had to find a photo ID that met the abstruse requirements. Technically, her school ID didn’t work because it showed her name directory style, and the rules dictated that the ID had to show the names in the same order as the registration form. So she brought her passport, just in case. As it happened, the proctor was more human than the guidelines and apparently waved her in.

Social distancing was clearly in evidence. When the students lined up outside the school before being admitted, they stood roughly six feet apart, and everybody wore masks. They had someone with a temperature gun screening them before they were allowed in the building. I imagine that slowed the process down a bit, but it seemed to go smoothly.

I left after I saw her walk in. When I returned to pick her up, students were streaming out in small batches, rather than all at once. She eventually emerged, reporting that she felt good about her performance. She did the essay portion, too. When I asked her how that went, she shrugged and said, “You know, I did the five-paragraph thing. Intro, ethos, logos, pathos, conclusion.”

Oh. Okay.

She mentioned that she wished she could get her scores right away, so she could know if she could be one-and-done. I sympathized.

Does the SAT still make sense? I’m not sure that it ever did. But it has been part of how the game has been played for a long time, and it isn’t gone yet. I wouldn’t be sad to see it go, but in the meantime, it’s still a rite of passage, and she’s my daughter. I’m sure she did great.


Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


We are retiring comments and introducing Letters to the Editor. Letters may be sent to [email protected].

Read the Letters to the Editor  »



Back to Top