Taking the PSAT

The PSAT. The NMSQT. $14, 125 question, 130 minutes, and 2 stretch breaks.
So here’s my experience:

First we have to bubble in our name. Oh, but wait! You can’t write your name until you’re instructed to do so. Heaven forbid you should get ahead of the group and fill in your name before anyone else. After your name, put down your pencil and look to the front of the room and wait until instructed to move on to the next section. With 21 sections, all just as simple as the first, it takes longer to fill in your personal information than it does to take the writing skills portion of the test.

After giving the College Board all of our personal information, we move on to the rules.

1) You must get to school by 7:30. That’s the first rule. Pretty self-explanatory.
2) You must have a calculator. Easy enough, as long as I don’t forget it.
3) You must use a number two pencil. Also simple, since 0.7mm lead in mechanical pencils is always number two. But the really old lady in the media center didn’t know that, of course, so she yelled at each individual person who was using a mechanical pencil and passed out what she called “real pencils.”

4) All cell phones and pagers must be turned off. If a cell phone or pager goes off during the test, the tests of everyone in the room may be invalidated. First of all, who on earth other than doctors has a pager anymore? To avoid all scores being invalidated, our counselor collected everyone’s phones on a cart at the front of the room. More on that later.

After covering the basic rules, we moved on to the slightly more complex ones. 5) During the critical reading and writing skills sections, you may not use a calculator. I kid you not, this is a rule. Because, you know, I was so looking forward to using my calculator to help me read. Seriously!?

6) You must fill in the bubbles completely. Didn’t we learn how to do this back in elementary school when we took the ISTEP? I’m pretty sure we all know how to fill in a bubble. Even the artistically challenged kids who can’t color in the lines have been trained to fill in a bubble perfectly on a multiple choice test. However, when I only have 25ish minutes to take a test, filling in bubbles perfectly is lower priority than getting through the questions. But then I get to thinking… maybe it really is important to fill the bubbles perfectly. So then I spend 20 seconds agonizing over whether or not I should go back and erase that answer and fill in the bubble better. That’s 20 less seconds I have to answer questions. And at this point I so upset that I wasted 20 seconds that I’ll waste 20 more seconds reading and rereading the question since I’m so distracted by the darn bubble-filling technique. 25 questions in 25 minutes doesn’t leave much room for a 40 second decision making process.

7) If you answer a question correctly, you gain one point. If you answer incorrectly, you lose 1/4 of a point. If you do not answer, you do not lose or gain any points. So I have it narrowed down to two possible answer choices. Really I have no idea what the answer is, but I know it’s not the other options, so I can assume it’s one of these two. If I guess correctly, I get a point. But if I guess incorrectly, I lose 1/4 of a point. If I just leave it blank, I’m not gonna lose anything. But if I do get it right, I’ll gain a point! 20 seconds spent deciding whether or not to gamble on the answer plus 40 seconds from rule #6 leaves me with one less minute, meaning one less question.

8) If you get sick during the test, you can request that your responses be destroyed before you leave. Otherwise your test will be submitted for scoring. So if you pass out and die during the test, they’re still gonna submit your answer sheet for scoring. Awesome.

9) Do not share any information about the questions on this test with anyone via text, email, twitter, facebook, or any other communication or social networking service. (That includes this blog.) This means I can’t tell you that [insert name here] was the emperor of [insert country here] because it was included in a question on the test. And I can’t tell you that Passage 1 expressed a [insert adjective here] attitude about [insert political stance here] because that was on the test, too. I also can’t tell you that the answer to the last multiple choice math question was [insert letter here]. You know, just in case you were wondering. Sorry, but I can’t tell you. And I can’t tweet it, either.

Once we’ve finished the test, we have to retrieve our cell phones from the cart at the front of the room. The cart made its way around the room excruciatingly slowly. One person with one cart made an extremely long stop at each of about 35 tables, and no one could leave until everyone had their phone back. After this horribly long process, someone realized that he didn’t have their own phone; he had someone else’s phone. “Everyone check your phone and make sure it’s your own!” “Someone call it!” “It won’t ring, it’s probably turned off!” “Everyone check, or else we’re going to have to check you all, one by one!” Seriously, guys, everyone please check your phone so I can leave. “Oh, sorry, I had it…” This led to us being lectured and warned that once we left, they couldn’t track us down to find a missing phone, so everyone should check their phone again just to be safe. We all acknowledged the warning and double checked, then prepared to leave and go to class.

But wait! There’s more!

We weren’t allowed to leave until passing period, so we sat and socialized and talked about how many questions we skipped and which ones were the hardest and which sections were easy. As we sat and chatted, I realized how ridiculous the whole PSAT thing seemed with its rules and regulations, and I thought to myself, “Gee, that seems like a blog post.”

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