Have you contracted the 2400-degree SAT fever?

Published: January 8, 2011

If you score below 1,500 out of 2,400 you should be fed to the lions at the Karachi zoo.

“I abhor your loquaciousness”

“Excuse me?”

“Also, your use of rhetoric is highly un-lucid.”

“You sound like your English General teacher.”

“Shut up! I’m trying to… OK, test me again. What does tenacious mean?”

Welcome to SAT fever, the kind hundreds of students across Karachi contract when preparing for the globally administered Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), an inescapable English and Mathematics trial by fire for anyone who wants to apply to American colleges and universities.

If you haven’t registered yet, go crawl back under your rock. Your much-anticipated winter break now comes pre-packaged in a three-inch thick Princeton Review SAT preparatory book, guaranteed to get you that perfect score of 2,400 points. Come January, you’re going to need it.

And you thought you were going to attend shaadis these winter holidays? Please.

You don’t really worry about this admissions requirement when you’re studying for your O’ Levels. At the most, you will have a vague idea that it involves a test of your reading, writing and Math skills. At that point in your life, you are having nightmares in the alphabets: As, Bs, Cs… even Us. But cross over into A’ Levels and you will discover the wonderful world of parental competition in the numerical nightmares of seventeen, eighteen and nineteen hundreds.

The SAT supercedes everything. If you score below 1,500 out of 2,400 you should be fed to the lions at the Karachi zoo. Forget what the university representatives, your teachers and your parents say. Mess this one up and that’s it, yaar. There goes your MIT acceptance letter.

You’ve barely recovered from your O’ Levels and started worrying about A’ Levels (which is the British system), when the American academic requirements appear on the horizon. And as you proceed to discover, timing is everything and woe betide anyone who decides they don’t want to put themselves through the torture.

“So what was your SAT score?” asks a friend.

“Um, I didn’t sit the October exam,” I reply.

His eyes narrow. “Are you going to give the November exam?”


“The January exam? Any exam?” He leans forward, a look of dead seriousness on his face. “Do you remember [insert name of extremely intelligent student from last year]?”

I did in fact. Was there some kind of horrible car accident?

“She sat the exam in her final year,” he says. “You know, just before her college applications were to be sent? She had the flu on the day of the exam and you know what? She did awful.” He shakes his head as if referring to someone who sold their soul to the Devil.

But as I was to discover, in many ways, the SAT is an exam just like any other: it involves note-taking, problem solving, waking up in the middle of the night with visions of failing. What makes it different though, is that very few schools, if not any, actually have something like it as part of their course load or even as a side class. Why should they? These days colleges and universities, especially ones like Harvard, are more interested in your long-term school marks and not necessarily the results of an exam that you sat one day in the year. Anything could go wrong on that one day and if your high school academic and extra curricular records are good, that carries more weight.

Because schools don’t offer SAT preparatory classes, students are pretty much on their own for this one. This entails fumbling in the dark, relying on tuition teachers or word of mouth. While some students take the entire first year of A’ Levels to prepare for the exam, along with their regular schoolwork, others I know have simply walked in, sat down and picked up the pencil. Not that this approach is necessarily recommended.

As for words such as ‘tenacious’, it doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense to try mugging up one thousand new words for one exam. Surely the idea is to read steadily over the years so that by the time you sit the SAT you have a reasonably good grip on that kind of language? The same should go for Math as well. Anyone who has done O’ Level Math should be fairly well equipped theoretically to deal with SAT math.

The good news is that the SAT is important for select colleges in a select country, which means all your worrying is simply Ephemeral, which means temporary, by the way.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Saad Duraiz

    Good piece! brings back memories from my days when the fever capped at 1600.Recommend

  • Robin

    There are millions of Pakistanis who cannot afford to go to school and who have to work in order to contribute to family income; I don’t think they have this SAT fever; they are so fortunateRecommend

  • Ali

    @Robin: Surely you mean unfortunate?Recommend

  • faraz

    FSc is way more difficult than A levels. Hardly 1-2 percent medical or engineering students come from A level system. Recommend

  • Raza


  • Raza

    Thats bcoz the IBCC has this biased system which makes it very difficult for A level students to get into government collegesRecommend

  • faraz


    Well few years ago the bias was against the FSc students. An A level student would easily get above 900 marks. But to FSc students, 900 seemed like a dream; I entered the medical college with just 840 marks. Recommend

  • Dr. Amyn Malik

    Good piece…reminded me of my school days.

    But the thing is that I and most of my friends gave the exam in 2nd year of A Levels and not the first year as we didn’t want to put that extra pressure on ourselves and it worked out fine. We even had time left to retake the exam if something went horribly wrong.

    Secondly SAT scores are overrated at occasions. Yes you need a decent score but getting perfect scores doesn’t gurantee admissions either. Schools are quite interested and give a long hard look to your overall academic record and not just SAT I & II scores.Recommend

  • Laila Mandviwalla

    UGH. Thanks that was a reality check. I actually didn’t give my SAT during my ‘A’ levels, was considering doing it now, but ermmm maybe not! Good luck to you though!Recommend

  • http://ictec.wordpress.com Muhammad Uzair Sukhera

    The same phenomen then translates into 1400+ fever for GRE later on in senior and sophomore years of engineering universities. Though USMLE is still not that in vogue but GRE is there for sure.Recommend

  • Amna

    @faraz: There are fewer A level student’s in engineering/medical in pakistani universities because most of them have been accepted into universities overseas. Besides, A level students have their marks automatically deducted when applying to Pakistani universities. FSc is merely memorization and rata. A levels has a much higher standard (look at their textbooks sometime, and you’ll understand). I would not be so quick to say A levels are easy if I were you. You can teach a monkey to memorize a text-book but you can’t made him understand it. :) Recommend

  • http://ictec.wordpress.com M. Uzair Sukhera

    It might be an understatement to say “you can teach monkey to memorize a text-book but u can’t make him understand it :) ”

    Whatever percentage of A-levelers comes to engineering/medical. They are good (that they manage to get in even after deductions) and they compete well with other students. The standards of undergrad education in Pakistan is good and FSc students compete very well. Infact they are the ones on top not the A-levelers. AND if u tell me undergrad (engineering) is also ratta… then u are misinformed. The semester system is tough, rigourous and at par with systems abroad.

    Now doing undergrad from abroad depends only on financial capabilities of parents. Mostly people doing A-levels have good financial background (that’s why they can afford fees) and naturally they can afford to study in undergrad abroad (when scholarships are few and far between for undergrad).

    After undergrad, the students with Pakistani undergrad get in direct competition. They take GRE’s and do Masters from abroad. This way they save expenses. So the question is only of finances and not of intellect or capabilities. Never confuse them! …

    A levels is only easy in a sense that everything is methodical and u just study well and u can succeed. When someone says FSc is tough it refers to the fierce competition and study-hours required to be in top percentile. Those who think topping an A-level exams is piece of cake are fools and so are those who think toppers in FSc are only crammers.
    SO again you can’t compare them both right? They are different systems!

    Now let me tell you this fact as well that even if u do undergrad from Pakistan you wont be intellectually disabled. You can still get 4.0 Gpa in best of the universities around the globe (in masters studies after Pakistani undergrad).Recommend

  • http://ictec.wordpress.com M. Uzair Sukhera

    dream level cap for entering engineering/med is now 1000 marks. 900 is now too low. So equations are changed. Toppers of A-levels get till 930-940 marks. Toppers on other side are reaching upto 999! So bias is for A-levels and not FSC.Recommend

  • Noumaan Shamsi

    First of all, very interesting spelling of Mariam as your first name.
    Secondly, I hope this SAT fever does not hit you at any point in your career. This disease is contagious at KGS. With a blog like this, you are doing something no other 14 O level As and 6 A level As student is doing. Do not forget to capitalize on this, and attach links to this on your application/resume. I worked in college admissions, and I can guarantee that you will get an admissions offer from the best liberal arts and national universities in America if you choose to apply.
    Kids in Karachi should waste less time on the SAT (cross the 2200 bar and you are fine) and focus more on activities like this, and learning foreign languages (not just French; Urdu does not count as foreign). In that regard, well done for maintaining an entertaining and well written blog.Recommend

  • http://itsalonghardlife.wordpress.com Zain R Mian

    Hey, I knew what ephemeral, tenacious and abhor meant already!

    You got me on loquaicousness, though. :PRecommend

  • Zaha Manzar

    Dude I know what all these words mean now too.
    Thanks to the countless SAT Wordlists I’m supposed to memorize.
    Interesting article…but yes I agree that not all students can relate to it.Recommend