by | Mar 16, 1997 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I’d like to say something to all the high school juniors and seniors who just finished taking the SAT this weekend.

Don’t worry. We didn’t get it, either.

Has there ever been a more mystifying exam than this? Four hours on a Saturday morning, complete with sharpened pencils, synchronized clocks and an eagle-eyed watchdog whom you refer to as The Proctor (translation: “person with nothing to do all day”).

You get one official break to stand up. You cannot say a word. And you have to wait for The Proctor (new translation: “person with nothing to do all weekend”) to give you the official signal, as if he or she were the starter in the Indy 500.

“Ready . . . begin!”

Great. You snap the seal (don’t be impressed, they put seals on toilet seats, too) and finally, finally, you can dive into the questions, important, probing queries that test the depth — and sometimes the height — of your education to date.

Questions like . . .


a) dust: diabetes

b) mites: insomnia

c) dandruff: gout

You can study that question all day. Go ahead. I’ll come back tomorrow. I defy you to find one thing in it worth knowing.

(Wait. I take that back. If you have insomnia, then you might as well know that there are thousands of tiny mites all over your bed. Maybe if you count them, you can fall asleep.)

Reading but not writing

Soon The Proctor (new translation: “person with nothing to do all month”) is declaring the official sentence from the Official Proctor Guide, a sentence that takes great concentration and must be practiced for weeks before

delivery. It goes like this:

“Put your pencils down.”

Wow. You sure would like to hear that one again. But there’s no time! We’ve moved into the “reading comprehension” part of the test! Here you are given small stories about any number of topics, each of which is, incredibly, more boring than the last.

No one in real life would ever read such stories. No one in real life would ever tell such stories. Well. Maybe the guy who told you there were mites in your bed.

But besides him, anyone who actually told such stories would be laughed at until he died of embarrassment. But you are not allowed to laugh. No. You are expected to answer questions!

Yeah, right. As if you were listening.

So what you do is go back and read the story again. And then, when you notice the drool on your shirt, you wake up and read the story once more.

And just when you go to try a question . . .

“Put your pencils down.”

Goody! Time for math.

A numbers game

Math on the SAT is frequently referred to as “algebra” or “geometry,” both of which are Greek for “useless.”

Such as this:

x (4y + 7zy)

————- = purple

32 – 9(qy)

Trust me. This will help in life as much as the ability to dissect a frog.

But at least the SAT is the last time you will see a question as moronic as this. Once you actually get to college, the math problems are more verbal, such as: “If I have $11 in my account and I write a check for $20, how long before it bounces?”

Now, it’s true, questions like that don’t prepare you for adulthood, either. As adults, you will be faced with more complicated matters, such as,
“If I have $11 in my account, and I write a check for $300, how long before it bounces?”

But, meanwhile, back to the test. You are stumped. You are panicked. You are completely unprepared. And just as you are about to break into tears, you glance at the clock and realize you are down to your last 45 seconds.

So you revert to the time-tested method for dealing with multiple-choice disasters such as this:

You answer “C” for everything.

And then The Proctor (translation: “nothing to do, ever”) reads another Official Sentence from the Official Proctor Guide, which goes like this:


Defeated, you go home. You wait a month. You cry every night. Then your score arrives in the mail. Guess what? By answering “C” to every question, you’ve finished in the 99th percentile!

You go to Harvard, get hired by a multinational corporation and eventually are elected to Congress, where you finally face a question you can handle.

The question is: “If we have $1 billion in our account, and we write a check for $10 billion, how long before it bounces?”

The answer is the same as always.

Who cares?


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!