I glance over the scantron, the matrix of little bubbles etched fully with my number two pencil. Not a single smudge outside the light blue circle. What test am I taking? The Plan Test? What Plan? I’m in tenth grade, I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, and I doubt a piece of paper or computer can tell me that.
Answer the following questions to the best of your ability. How will you know if I have? Fill in A for Yes, B for No and C for Not Sure. Easy enough.
Are you interested in writing? It’s not like I have a choice. I fill in A, mainly because I see no benefit in saying no, and “not sure” makes me sound flaky. I’ve been told this test “doesn’t count,” but that’s ridiculous. Everything counts. Why else would I be spending my Saturday morning at school?
Do you like watching for forest fires? What kind of a question is that? I think back to my PSAT flashcards (yes, I did study them) and remember that one advised to “read between the lines” on standardized tests to find out what they’re really saying. If that’s the case, then B, I don’t want to be a park ranger. Sometimes I think that all the scantrons I’ve filled out should be filed away instead of graded. Then, after graduation, the College Board should take all our scantrons and run them through a computer, creating one master plan for each graduate. The results will be like a code for every college. BCDAAEC will go to Harvard, while AEDAAEC will attend Cal Tech, and so on and so forth. After all, computers have good judgment.
My parents are the kind who give their kid a Word Box for their fourth birthday. They’ll whip out a flashcard with the word “THE” written in big bubbly handwriting, as if our toddler eyes were blind. We’ll mutter syllables and muffled sounds and wait to hear the “almost ... yes, that’s it ... .”And then blurt out “I don’t know!” and burst into frustrated tears. They start earlier every year. Just last Christmas my three-year-old cousin got “Hooked on Phonics for a First Grader.” If my aunt and uncle had any idea what proportion meant (i.e. don’t give a three-year-old a seven-year-old’s homework), maybe they wouldn’t have to start “educating” their kid so early.
In ninth-grade, Alix Parker pulled a Mr. Bubbles shirt over her head as we changed out of our sweaty gym clothes.
“Nice shirt,” Carolyn commented.
“Thanks,” Alix said, smoothing out the wrinkles on the foamy sponge. “Mary was wearing a shirt like this the other day and I wanted to ask what she was doing, ’cuz this shirt’s not supposed to be for people like her.” People like her. Wannabe is what she meant. According to Alix, Mr. Bubbles shirts are only suitable for so-called punks. Otherwise, you’re trying too hard. I want to tell her that a punk is, by definition, someone who accepts all types of people, punk or prep. It’s why they dress differently and act spontaneously - to prove that they can be themselves and it’s okay. I want to tell her she’s nowhere near being a punk, and to stop posing. Too bad that’s not on the SATs.
“It’s a weeding process,” my dad explains over spaghetti. “They weed out the dumb kids and move them down a level and call it “upper standard” so they aren’t discouraged. The smart kids stay in the advanced track, and those are the ones who will go to college. You know what that’s like, you got moved down a level in math this year. Now any chance you had for an Ivy League school is out the door.”
Weeding. Kind of like what I do every summer. I dare not calculate how many hours (or weeks) I’ve spent on my hands and knees pulling up the “unacceptable plants” so that the beautiful Kentucky blue grass can grow and my mom’s withering flowers have a chance to live - kind of like how I don’t have a chance at an Ivy League school.
It started at age five, when we moved into a house with half an acre of crabgrass (a weed that looks like grass only with thicker and coarser blades) and several gardens. My arms and legs were pudgy and soft back then. Now they’re tough as chain mail and tan as potatoes.
“Get ’em by the roots, otherwise they’ll grow back,” my dad advises. When the wheelbarrow is full, my three siblings and I do rock-paper-scissors to see who has to take care of it. My oldest sister loses, but since I’m the smallest, they make me cart it to the woods.
The _____ teacher gave candy to the students who had studied ____.
a. benevolent : proudly
b. magnanimous : ardently
c. vehement : plaintively
d. effluent : coarsely
e. judicious : vivaciously
What’s this section called, Reading and Writing? Well, reading implies that I am analyzing and interpreting a passage, writing implies that I am answering a question in a well-thought-out response. What a magnanimous teacher and her ardent students have to do with that, I’m not sure. I wish they collected the answer booklets, because I wrote the SAT Board a little note next to this question. Oh no, I have 30 seconds. Better get going.
It took Thomas Edison 97 tries before he perfected the light bulb. That’s what I told my physics teacher as she impatiently held out her hand for me to give her my exam. I told her I needed more time, that I could finish, and that I just had to get an A so that my final average would be a B-, not a dreaded C+.
“Well, if you knew the material better, you wouldn’t need so long,” she said, briskly taking my paper. I still had to answer the question about the dimensions of a bubble, but it didn’t matter, I didn’t know anyway. I made sure, a few days later, to disconnect her lights so that she would have to teach in the dark. That’s what life would be like if Thomas Edison had been her student.
It’s the SAT II retakes, fall of my senior year. I thought I’d be done with these long ago, but apparently a 730 on American history is “no good.” I pause at question 9: What is your ethnicity? I am tempted to put C. Pacific Islander instead of F. White. It’s as if the word is a curse, and they had to say “white” instead of “Caucasian” because they knew they could get away with it. I go to an all-black church in Boston where the singing is vivacious and the sermons are hours long. Maybe I should add that as a side note - that even though my skin pigmentation is lighter than a “minority,” I’ve stood in a circle holding hands with 75 black people in the religiously decorated gym of an elementary school, which is more than some Pacific Islanders I know can say.
The summer I turned 12, my favorite thing to do was jump in the pool at night with the underwater light on. Along with my best friend Kayt, I would press goggles to my eyes, look down, and jump backwards off the diving board. A swarm of electric-blue bubbles would pelt my goggles and blind my vision so that all I could see were dozens of little spheres of air. For an instant I would become a column of bubbles, the epicenter of an underwater volcanic explosion. They tickled my skin and then drifted peacefully toward the surface where their short lives were snuffed out. I would jump in again and again until I shivered uncontrollably and my lips turned blue. The thousands of bubbles were just too much fun.
The answer to number 32 was either B or C, but other than that I had no idea. I scribbled in circle C, so that the last four answers spelled out ACDC, my brother’s favorite band. There’s bound to be something lucky in that. Number 32 was just as hard. I picked C again - it was a common answer. Not so for 33, because by then there were just too many Cs. I wonder which school’s code was all C’s on this test. Maybe NYU ... that wouldn’t be so bad, that’s where Mary-Kate and Ashley go. What am I talking about? NYU’s a great school, which surely had some complex motley of letters, and why am I wasting my time thinking of an essay for the contest that the sign on the bulletin board’s advertising? I could be on question 45 by now, halfway to Stanford ...
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.