For some reason, I had a lot of pre-test anxiety about the Essay, which was a new addition to the SAT since I originally took it back in 1982. It wasn’t necessarily logical, more of a nice resting place for the anxiety at large to land. I was fearing that I’d draw a complete blank on test day, which of course would be particularly embarrassing given that I had spent 20+ years in book publishing.
And the sample “Prompts” from the College Board “Blue Book” were only making matters worse. To give you some idea, here is a sample Essay Prompt, which I’d say is typical of what they are like:
Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.
“No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biology of great men.
Adapted from Thomas Carlyle, “The Hero as Divinity”
In historic events, the so-called great men are labels giving names to events, and like labels they have but the smallest connection with the event itself. Adapted from Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
Assignment: Can the daily actions of average people have a significant impact on the course of history? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on the issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.”
When I see that, my mind completely empties and I can’t think of a single thing to write. It’s as though I become illiterate. My 13-year old daughter tells me this is how she feels almost every time she takes a test in school. Yikes.
My anxiety about the essay became so extreme before the SAT in January that it actually drove me back to yoga (I’d been on a 5 year hiatus) where I had a savasana epiphany that the best way for me to prepare for the SATs was to figure out how to relax.
The Essay is the first section of the SAT, and it turned out not to be as hard as I feared (though I haven’t gotten it back yet so it’s quite possible that it was much harder than I feared). My biggest issue on test day seemed to be timing. I read the prompt, ideas came to mind, I was writing, writing, writing, and then the next thing I knew I was being told to wrap it up and put my pencil down, and I was barely halfway done.
I know I need to practice the essay at home so I can get the timing down, but I feel extremely resistant for some reason. That said, I did force myself to try the Essay last night on the College Board site (I’m taking the College Board Online Course) and after spending 25 minutes, I was cut off mid-sentence when the time was up, and then received a computer generated message saying that it couldn’t be graded, which was very frustrating. And it was unclear from the message whether the site had kept my essay for grading in the future, or if it had been lost completely.
Luckily when I checked in a few hours later the computer had graded my Essay. Honestly, I was TERRIFIED to get back the results.
Turns out I got a 5 out of 6, which I can live with for the moment, and given that I didn’t even finish the last sentence, it seems like there’s easy room for improvement.