Have you contracted the 2400-degree SAT fever?

Published: January 8, 2011
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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?”

“Nope.”

“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.