Taking the SAT worth one good try

Smoky adventure leads to day of testing at Liberty HS.

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Image by lecroitg from Pixabay

If I have to apply to college during a global pandemic, I’m going to do it with a decent SAT score.   

That’s why I took my Scholastic Aptitude Test on Saturday at Liberty High School in Brentwood. Plus, until Tuesday, the University of California campuses were still accepting SAT scores, as well as many schools abroad. 

Or, at least, that’s what I thought. On Sept. 1, two days after I took my SAT in Brentwood, California, Judge Brad Seligman of the Alameda County Superior Court ruled that the UC schools would be barred from allowing any student to submit SAT scores, even voluntarily. The injunction follows accusations that taking the SAT would tip the scales in favor of certain students, and that disabled, minority, and low income kids would be at a disadvantage to study for and take the test amidst a pandemic.

Despite the UC ruling, many schools around the country and abroad are still accepting test scores- and besides, I had already paid my $90 to the almighty College Board to reserve a testing spot for me. That’s why I took my SATs on Saturday at Liberty High School. 

Originally, I thought waking up at 6 a.m. to make the drive to Brentwood was a ridiculous idea. Not only was it far away, but the smoke from the SCU fires was so thick, it had the sun in Brentwood looking like it belonged on Tatooine. But Liberty High was one of a handful of SAT centers in the entire state that stayed open, despite the fires and the global pandemic.   

Given the circumstances, Liberty High handled SAT administration very well. Their claims that they would manage things safely and efficiently was mostly backed up, with just a few instances of human error.      

I pulled into the parking lot at 7:30 a.m. to find the head of staff splitting students into two groups as they trickled in. SAT test takers went in the front entrance and subject test takers went around to the side entrance. There was some intermingling of the two groups (I think at one point I got within four feet of another student), but this was a good first step that was executed pretty well.   

Additionally, our friends at the College Board implemented a new rule: before entering the testing site, students had to verbally respond to four questions confirming they hadn’t broken CDC guidelines regarding health and travel. After students answered those questions, they were given a numbered group to look for in the courtyard, which would then be led into the testing room.      

Although the questions were necessary (and legally mandatory), this pushed back the start time by about half an hour. But letting students in one by one after being questioned did make it really easy to space out and avoid crowds scrambling to see their testing groups.      

I was one of the last students in my group to arrive, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that only six other students would be in my classroom taking the test. In fact, the maximum number of kids in a room was 12, spaced out with at least two desks in between.      

After everyone was gathered, groups were led one by one into their individual rooms. The closest I got to other students was while walking, when a few absent- minded kids would wander a little too close for comfort. All I had to do to avoid it, though, was move a few steps in the other direction.      

From there, the test went pretty smoothly. I never left my desk except to stretch, and hand sanitizer was everywhere. The staff kept things upbeat and organized, and kept thanking us for being so patient. They were the ones spending their Saturday surrounded by various Bay Area teens with horrible attitudes, so their caring went above and beyond.      

There were, of course, some things that were questionable as far as health goes. My administrator frequently took off her mask when she was at the front of the room, despite requirements to keep it on at all times. Pro tip: making a joke about not being able to breathe in a mask to a room of students wearing them for five hours while taking one of the most important tests of their lives is never going to get a laugh.     

So, was it worth it? Should I have taken my SATs? I won’t know until I get my scores on Sept 21. But if you are nervous to take the SATs because of safety, I recommend signing up for one anyway. I felt safe the entire time, and the quiet of fewer kids in a room actually made it easier to focus.     

I heard the supervising administrator say that the goal was to make a morning taking the SATs no more risky than a trip to the grocery store. I’d say they exceeded that goal, and even though I would never retake that test voluntarily, I don’t regret taking it last Saturday, global pandemic or otherwise.