To the 1.5 million teenagers who will fret, cram and agonize over taking the most widely used college-entrance exam, the SAT, over the next 12 months, I have something to say: I’m right there with you.
On a challenge from my teenage son, I took the SAT earlier this month to see how a 57-year-old mom would do. My son says today’s teens have to be smarter, faster and more competitive to succeed. I suspect he’s right; I haven’t been able to help my kids with their math homework since eighth grade. Moreover, in the 41 years since I took the SAT, our culture and the expectations surrounding the exam have changed drastically. To see how I’d measure up, I swallowed my fears, crammed for six weeks and took the test May 2.
Life for teens is indeed harder, my experiment taught me, but not in the way I expected. Aging took a toll on my mental abilities, to be sure, but I was able to erase most of the losses by studying. What surprised me more were the psychological hurdles. Coping with the ramped-up expectations and competitiveness that infuse the SAT process — a reflection of our entire culture — sent me into a tailspin of adolescent regression, procrastination and sloppy study habits, all the behaviors I’ve taught my children to avoid. What I learned will make me a more tolerant parent.
Some reflections from a diary I kept: