by Susan Wood
Though top-of-mind for at least 95 percent college-bound students in the United States, retaining the knowledge covered in the Scholastic Assessment Test could be as fleeting as that high school crush.
That's why I took it again 20 years later.
First and foremost, I knew my aging brain had a tough act to follow. With Humboldt County students scoring higher than both the state and national averages, I made it my mission to see what today's seniors are up against -- especially since the test of math and verbal reasoning has evolved over the years.
"The good news is now you get to use a calculator," said Janet Frost, administrative assistant to the county Superintendent of Schools Louis Bucher. Chuckling as she handed me my practice test, Frost justified this advantage with the belief that the math questions are more difficult.
Frost said the test has been revised to have less emphasis on memory and more on thoughtful responses than past tests. Diminishing each time educators revisit the test is the "guessing game," she explained.
Still, the raise of the bar hasn't deterred and hindered Humboldt County students from taking it or doing well for that matter. In the last decade, the number of students in the county taking the marathon test has risen 10 percentage points -- from 38 to 48 percent -- compared to a steady 44-45 percent statewide during the same time period.
The numbers also look favorable when comparing the county's cumulative 1997 score of 1,082 to the state average of 1,010 and the national average of 1,016. Beyond the significant differential, the mark also shows a 17-point increase from last year's countywide figure.
"Humboldt County's SAT scores indicate that our high school juniors and seniors who are planning ahead for college are likely to do well here," Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools Louis Bucher said.
Though the verbal portion of the 1997 test score edged upward to 534 (3 percent higher than 1996) this year's math assessment section showed a dramatic 14-point jump to 562. (The California average score in mathematics was 514. The national average was 511.)
As for other comparisons, I feel I have much to learn from these young achievers when it comes to math. Taking that section of the test certainly gave me such a brush with humility.
"In a stack of six cards, each card is labeled with a different integer 0 to 5. If two cards are selected at random without replacement, what is the probability that their sum will be 3?"
I found myself becoming a bit defensive: Why should I know that? I skipped to the next one.
"A triangle has a base of length 13 and the other two sides are equal in length. If the lengths of the sides of the triangle are integers, what is the shortest possible length of a side?"
Since it was a practice test taken in my home with no one looking, I began skipping a few more questions. In fact, I skipped right to the verbal section. (Some role model I am!)
At first glance, I reminded myself why I became a wordsmith, not a numbers cruncher. This was more comfortable territory and, not surprisingly, I'm happy to report, I cranked out a 590 score on the verbal section of the test with time to spare and a cavalier attitude. Still, a few questions made me long for the dictionary.
Under SAT guidelines, this is on the list of forbidden tools along with a cellular phone -- further proof the test has been revised. What's the reasoning behind omitting a cell phone? Would one call for the right answer?
My enthusiasm for the verbal passages that test reading comprehension reinforced my love of reading, even during a subject as fraught with schoolyard bravado as professional wrestling. If anything, a critical thinking message in the passage broke down my own stereotypes and opened my mind.
What I did answer correctly in the math section led me to believe it's such an exact science I told myself I didn't need to check the answer key because I knew with a 98 percent probability when I was right -- and wrong. With verbal reasoning, the answers appeared more subjective to me.
Either way, what I hoped to accomplish as an adult taking a college entrance examination simply lie in a quasi call for common sense and memory. I came to the conclusion that, like so many other things in life, desire is the key to success.
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