The Blithering Idiot’s Guide to Retaking the SAT…at Age 35

If you’ve ever considered doing something stupid like retaking the SAT when you didn’t have to, put down that No. 2 pencil and heed the hard lessons this writer learned.

CalculatorTravis RathboneGood Equipment Is Essential

Don’t skimp on pencils. One time I skipped over the question without skipping over the affiliated line on my answer sheet, which meant I had to erase the answers and move them all forward. Only I had a crappy eraser, which failed to erase my mark and instead smeared graphite all over my sheet.

Reading Comprehension? Better Stock Up 
on NoDoz

In the verbal sections, all of the questions involved choosing the right word for a sentence (piece of cake) and reading comprehension (guhhhhhhhh).
Reading comprehension is every bit as horrible as you remember. You get a few paragraphs of bone-dry text about a random subject, and then you have to answer questions about what the text means. In some cases, you’ll have to compare two bone-dry passages. It all reads like it was written by George Will.

The Secret Behind a Successful Test Is …

At the end of each verbal section is this command: “STOP. If you finish before the time is called, you may check your work in this section only. Do not turn to any other section in the test.”

Since I was simulating the experience of taking the test for real, I never went back to check my answers, because I never went back to check when I was a student. Instead, I did the same thing I did back when I had free test time as a kid: I stared out the window and thought about girls.

These small moments you get during the testing process—times when you’ve finished early and you have a little oasis in which to set your mind free—that’s all that matters, really. Because the SAT is less a test of your brainpower than it is a test of your endurance. If you’re taking it cold, and you haven’t been inside a classroom for 14 years, forget it, you aren’t physically prepared for it. Your back starts to kill after 30 minutes, and your brain can’t handle being assaulted with so many questions in such a short time frame.


The essay is graded on a scale of one to six, with six indicating “complete mastery” of writing and one indicating that you will probably end up writing a ransom note at some point in your life. I sent my essay to a teacher with the Princeton Review. He gave the essay a four, explaining the grade thusly:

This essay successfully addresses the assignment and develops a complete response to the question with specific and generally relevant examples. Nevertheless, the essay would have been much better had it not relied on self-conscious, awkward transitions and wince-inducing colloquialisms (I’d written, “People are often at their most creative and efficient when working within sensible boundaries,” and then added the offending … “This isn’t to say there should be a man with a cattle prod hanging over you”).

As for the rest of the test, I scored 200 points better on the verbal section than I had back in 1993. I was 20 points worse on the math section. This makes sense, at least for me. You never stop reading, particularly in the Internet age. Granted, everything I read is written in LOLCATS language, but still. If you read and write every day as I do, you’ll stay relatively sharp.

I took my final score and adjusted it proportionally (the highest score you can get today is 2400, as opposed to 1600 when I took it). I’d improved by roughly 190 points. (I got 2140 this time.) I’m smarter than I was when I was 17, and that’s a relief, because I was a moron.

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