My son, Zac, and the PSATs – ‘I have a Game Today, this Isn’t Helping Me’

By Sam Rosensohn

I turned the light on in my son’s bedroom. It was 5:55 a.m., PSAT Saturday. He pulled the down comforter over his head. I sat down on the edge of his bed and nudged his shoulder.

Zac raised himself enough to eye the clock on his wall. “It’s five in the morning,” he muttered. “I have a game today; this isn’t helping me.”

I knew enough not to say, ‘you have two games, the PSAT first and then Windsor Locks.’ He’d have sacked that for serious yardage.

“See you in five minutes.”

I went downstairs and lowered the flame under the breakfast skillet. I didn’t want the butter to burn. I wanted Zac to have a big, healthy, delicious breakfast 90 minutes before the exam.

Then I wanted him to review verbal and math sections for one hour. He wouldn’t start his football game later that afternoon without warming up. He wasn’t going to go into the PSAT cold.

Five long minutes go by and I’m staring at a jar of jam, a sliced cantaloupe, a stack of American cheese and six eggs I’d taken out of the fridge.  No Zac.

I thought of the kids I knew who took the SATs (not the PSAT, which is a practice SAT) in shoulder pads, because they had games that afternoon. I thought of the kids who overslept on test day or who forgot their calculators. One boy’s calculator batteries died during the exam, another chose to take the test on the floor because the chairs were too small for his large frame (he never got comfortable), while others ended up in rooms this October with honking, marching bands practicing outside their windows.

I went back upstairs to Zac’s room. He was deep in sleep. I tapped him again and told him something funny.  He laughed. I left the room and he headed for the shower.

The air in the kitchen was filled with great and greasy breakfast smells. Zac took no notice. He put his head on the breakfast table and tried to fall back into the nothingness I had pulled him from.

The ham crackled in the pan, a Bee Gees tune played in the background, and Zac might as well have been on the fourth planet from the sun. “Zac,” I said, trying to mask the slightest concern. “What do you like about New Orleans Style?” It’s a strategy I designed to help students do sentence completion questions.

“I wanna lie down,” he mumbled.

I laughed. I was very glad that we had started very early that morning.

I put his breakfast in front of him. He took the toast and jam and started to review some sentence completion questions from an old SAT.

It wasn’t too long before his fingers were awake enough to turn one page rather than three at a time. “What’s a coup?” he asked, scratching the top of his head, seated somewhat erect. This is good, I thought he’s starting to wake up.

I watched my 16-year-old’s face wake that morning. It wasn’t much longer before he asked a question about an ambiguous pronoun that demonstrated his brain was back on PSAT/SAT alert. A sleepy eye doesn’t spot ambiguous pronouns and antecedents.

I share this funny morning, because SAT scores don’t always accurately reflect what a student knows. If Zac had been left to his own devices and got to the test half-asleep, it might have affected the first fifteen questions. On the current SAT, 15 right answers are generally the difference between a 650 and an 800.

I also share this story because it’s important to plan ahead and to be certain that there are no conflicts with SAT Saturday. Since Zac plays football on Friday nights, he should never schedule to take the test on a Saturday morning following a game.

Taking the test with a head injury or a freshly twisted ankle should be avoided. Nor should he take an SAT the day of a football game; his head would be in the wrong game.

Students can prep like mad for the SAT and then get to a testing site and find the school band practicing right outside their window as a group of my students did earlier this month. Or they may find themselves seated next to a student whose runny nose results in disturbing, distracting noises.

Field conditions are critical. If a student finds sniffling distracting, he should get to the test early and advise the proctor that he will want to change his seat if the person next to him is disruptive.

I suggest finding out in advance as much as you can about the test site – that’s everything from the types of desks and chairs to how the building is heated.  I’ve proctored exams where students were cold. I’ve proctored exams where students were hot. I’ve proctored exams where it was noisy in the building.

Since the SAT counts for more than any other single test that a student takes in his high school career, I recommend that students prepare long and hard, get up early on test day, warm up, dress in layers, and be aware that they may need to move their seat.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at sam@satprepct.com