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Trials and Tribulations

Trials and Tribulations of Studying for Time
By Gabrielle Emanuel

Nervous glances pass over our faces as we enter the testing room. I look at the other students’ faces and I know that we must be experiencing the same terrifying feelings. But not quite. Yes, we probably are all worrying about the difficulty of the SAT questions and whether we had studied enough but our situations are slightly different. Unlike me, the other students face an additional worry: Will they finish the test.

In 7th grade I was admitted to the Individualized Education Program. I got into the program because I have dyslexia and it takes me longer to read test questions than it does other students. My IEP designation gives unlimited time on all tests. Ever since I stopped taking timed tests, I started to realize how unnecessary timed testing is. The fact that some people formulate answers more slowly, must think through questions thoroughly, are slower readers or evaluate every question's possibility does not make them less smart, and it does not justify their getting a lower score.

The notion that speed is equivalent to intellectual ability is outdated. It is reminiscent of the old belief that right-handed people are smarter than left-handed people. People who are world-renowned for being smart are often meticulous and not hurried in how they solve problems. For instance, Niels Bohr was one of the early 20th Century Nobel Prize-winning physicists who contributed to figuring out the structure of the atom. He was extraordinarily smart while being a slow and time-consuming worker. He famously deliberated over every possibility and answered questions only after long pauses. So too John Rawls. The political theorist was one of the most respected philosophers of the 20th Century and, while original and brilliant, Rawls was not “quick on his feet.”

This past year, while preparing for the Advanced Placement U.S. history test, my teacher was forced to divide up our study time. We spent some of the time reviewing facts and history, while the rest of the time was spent making sure we could recall the facts quickly and brainstorm speedily.

Several of my classmates said they felt that the time limit, not the difficulty of the questions, was the primary factor that prevented them from achieving their potential.

The College Board, which administers the SATs and Advanced Placement tests, does not intend to identify the fastest people. Instead, it is trying to distinguish the smartest and most well-prepared students. The College Board is actually defeating its own purpose with its enforcement of such rigorous time restraints, which worries some students to the point where it could hurt their scores. Perhaps more important, the strict time regulations could hurt some people’s scores more than others, thereby discriminating against those who rely on careful reflection.

Recently, the College Board has been revising the SAT. Students taking the new SAT will have the additional challenge of writing an essay. Especially with an essay, it is necessary that students have time to outline their essay and execute it properly without the clock eating away at their scores. While it might be considered unwarranted to administer all tests as untimed evaluations, it is not ridiculous to recommend that time limits should not be a worry for students. The College Board needs to change the new SAT exam so that students worry about the test and not the time. Timed tests are turning academic testing into a kind of physical sport. In the world of sports, time and speed matter. In the world of academics, insightful thoughts and clear ideas are supposed to matter. Taking a test is not like running a race. Our brains do not march to the tick-tock of a clock. Ideas must flow and the test administrators must accommodate different “flow speeds” and evaluate only the end result- the right answer.

Gabrielle Emanuel is a junior at Northside College Preparatory High School and is beginning to decide which colleges to apply to next year. Diagnosed with a speech deficit when she was a toddler, which was resolved, she also has dyslexia, and has received special education services throughout her schooling.