SAT – possibly the most feared empty acronym of all time (at least for a high school student). Ordinarily, as an Irish student, there’d be no need for me to go anywhere near the College Board and the SAT exams, but I had to be difficult and set my sights on America for college. Why? you ask. I’m not entirely sure. It’s mostly to do with the breadth of the range of courses available in US colleges, and the fact that I wouldn’t have to tie myself down to one area in particular. My plan at the moment is to concentrate in Applied Maths, but the beauty of the US system is that I wouldn’t have to give up other interests, like languages, at college level. I have a fairly broad appetite when it comes to learning, and so far I think I’d be more suited to that system than the narrower Irish third-level system.
But all that aside, before I get anywhere near being accepted to (or, more likely, rejected from) any schools on the other side of the Atlantic, I have to jump through a few standardised test-shaped hoops. The SAT Reasoning Test was my first big obstacle, and I managed to overcome it last May. With about a month of self-study I got a score that put me well within the average score range for the schools at the top of my list (Harvard, Yale, Brown…what? I’m nothing if not ambitious, you know me). As I had to explain to my classmates, that doesn’t mean a whole lot yet. It’s a good first step, and I’m more than happy with my score, but it’s only one piece in the 1000 piece jigsaw that is the college application. I think I could have done better in the Maths section, but I don’t think it’d be worth resitting the whole thing just to push it a tiny bit higher. I’d be at a higher risk getting a lower score, if anything – and not all the schools I’m looking at allow you to ‘Super Score’ (that is to take your best scores from each of the three sections in separate sittings).
In June I sat the French and English Literature Subject Tests. The Subject Tests are more specific than the Reasoning Test, and you’re supposed to study more for them because they test actual knowledge as opposed to reasoning skills. I say ‘supposed to’ because the reality is I didn’t open a book for them. The exams were on the Saturday morning at the end of my 5th Year house exams, so I had a fairly valid excuse. I still (somehow) ended up with 700 in English Literature and 780 in French, and I’ll admit that no amount of study would have brought the former up because that exam was dire. My main reason for taking those two was to bolster my application. I knew I had a fairly good shot at breaking 700 on both of them (French especially), so I could afford to do them at the end of 5th Year when I had better things to be studying for.
The real challenge of the SAT Subject Tests is still to come. Maths Level 2 and Biology (specifically needed for MIT applications, but none of my other colleges) are on the cards for either October or November (most likely October). I’m telling you, I’m terrified. The Maths is quite a bit different to the stuff we cover in class over here (multiple choice question formatting is literally the bane of my existence at the moment). As for Biology? Well. All I can say is the content of the Barron’s prep book makes Leaving Cert Biology look a bit…”Mickey Mouse”. I spent a good portion of my holiday in France plodding through biochemistry and molecular genetics and taxonomy and evolution and basically everything on the Leaving except in more detail. But I’m determined to get something around 720+ in the exam – and the same goes for Maths.
I didn’t go to great lengths to acquire this masterpiece of hand-held calculation to not do well on the Maths SAT, did I?
I appreciate that I’m a bit pathetic that the highlight of my Summer was getting a TI Nspire CX CAS calculator but come on, 2 years of blogging later do you really expect any better from me? It’s also a little bit scary that this calculator can do all the calculus I know how to do so far (and a whole lot more) but, rest assured, horrified teachers of Ireland, it’s not permitted in the Leaving Cert. Ha. Not by a long shot.
I have a very long way to go before I’ll be happy to sit down and sit either of those subject tests, though. There’s a great deal of self-study involved, and more practice than I would ever want to inflict upon myself, which is why I took the summer (and a month or so after) to prepare for them. My two more than satisfactory results on my previous tests already fulfil the subject test requirement for my other applications, but I’d like to take more scientific exams to show, I dunno, more facets to my ability. Or whatever.
You know, every day the US college application process makes me appreciate the simplicity of the CAO more and more.