Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Does taking the SAT matter?

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 10

Our son came back from taking the SAT after four hours of sitting, reading, computing, and bubbling. When asked how it went he said, “I actually had time for the reading section this time, but I don’t know why they can’t just ask the question. I mean, you’d think they’d ask the questions like a kind person – just ask, not throw in a lot of extra words.

When I inquired further (treading lightly as to not poke the bear who didn’t want to take the test in the first place)…I asked what he felt was the hardest part. Surprisingly, he said, “I had to walk across campus in the cold with 25 mph winds whipping, unsure of which building to enter. So I followed the only person in front of me. Turns out she was clueless too, but we found the entrance together. I was told to go to room eight, so I then walked into four different rooms until I found not room “eight” but room “A”. So the trickiest part was finding the testing room…and now my neck hurts from looking down.

I put the kibitz on my questioning and left him alone.

SAT Prep

Our very calculated daughter prepared for the SAT by utilizing the “Khan Academy 20 minutes per day” a few months prior to the SAT. It served her well. Our eldest son’s SAT prep consisted of packing two No.2 pencils, borrowing a fancy calculator from a friend at 11:00 pm the night before, packing a snack, and setting his alarm. Our kids couldn’t be more different, but thank God they are…

I thought about the pressure these tests and parents – myself included – put on our kids. Maybe a high score will lead to a scholarship…or boost his confidence…or God-forbid…crush it. At one point I was close to falling for my son’s constant pleas not to take the SAT because “he had to lay sod for the neighbors” or “change the oil in his truck”, but I thought better of it. After all, don’t we all grow from being challenged?

According to author and psychologist Dr. Lisa Damour, “Stress doesn’t deserve its bad rap. Psychologists agree that while chronic or traumatic stress can be toxic, garden-variety stress — such as the kind that comes with taking a big test — is typically a normal and healthy part of life.”

I then thought, given the rapid-fire inquiries my son can throw at me, I should learn a about “the Why” behind who invented these bubbling sheets and why? If nothing else, I could distract him with fancy words like “optimal mark recognition” and “phototubes”.

So I did some research and here’s what I learned:

Michael Sokolski, an immigrant to the US from Poland was a soldier, engineer, and inventor of the Scantron. The tests were a form of Optical Mark Recognition – OMR system. Basically it’s a scanning machine that beams light through the back of a test paper and notes the areas that are dark with the use of phototubes (light-sensitive devices). Enter: The No. 2 pencil. When pressed down to fill a small circle (no stray marks!), the dark mark it makes blocks the light thus, bouncing off the paper, and the results are compared to the answer sheet.

Turns out I didn’t need the talking point above. However, a few hours after the test my son realized he forgot his jacket at the testing site. Shocking how quickly he dashed home without a jacket after battling the “25 mph winds” on the way in! So after a few phone calls, two amazing counselors who were still working on this cold Saturday tracked down his jacket.

There’s always kindness out there, even after a long day.

So does taking the SAT matter? If nothing else, it gives our kids a destination, an experience they can battle through and file away in their memory, or not.

Please pray for Ukraine.

FUN FACT! Why a No. 2 Pencil?

According to, “In the 1820s, Henry David Thoreau’s father started manufacturing black-lead pencils. Between teaching students, surveying land, and working as a handyman, Thoreau made money by working for his family’s pencil business. After researching German techniques for making pencils, he invented a grinding machine that made better quality plumbago (a mixture of the lead, graphite, and clay inside a pencil). After his father died, Thoreau ran the family’s pencil company.”

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