As many of my friends and students know, I take the SAT several times a year, for a variety of reasons: to keep my skills sharp; to experience what my students go through on test day (parking, navigating often unfamiliar halls, waiting, bubbling, etc.); to stay abreast of changes in the test’s administration or the test itself; to get a sense of which test centers in my area are following procedures and providing an environment conducive to success on the test. When it comes to this last point, I must say that there are wide variations in how each center fares.
Perhaps the most disturbing issue (because of both its frequency and its effect on performance) that I encounter is improper timing: proctors frequently fail to precisely calculate or monitor section start and end times. Sometimes this works out in the student’s favor; sometimes it doesn’t. Even if a student benefits from the former scenario, this is supposed to be a “standardized” test, so even an unfair advantage erodes the reliability of the results.
I will discuss my experiences in further detail in other posts, but right now, all I want to say is this: know the test, and know your “rights.” Before you take the test, you should know exactly how long you have for each section (25 minutes each for sections 1 through 7; 20 minutes each for 8 and 9; and 10 minutes for 10) and when your 5-minute breaks are scheduled (after sections 2, 4, and 6). You should know that the proctor is instructed to tell you when 5 minutes remain in each section. All of this information is readily available on thousands of websites; any student serious about his college prospects has no excuse for not knowing it.
If you’re sure a proctor is not following those very basic procedures or has made an error, however minor, SAY SOMETHING! I often find that I am the only one to speak up (as I had to do several times during the May test, such as when the proctor started reading directions for section 10 even though we had just finished section 8 ) when something goes awry. If this is because I am the only one who is willing to look like a pompous ass in the name of fairness, so be it. But more than likely, it is because I am the only one in the room who knows what’s going on, which is ironic considering I’m also the only one in the room for whom the test really doesn’t matter.