Test Time

6:15 am
Me: Brendan, time to get up! I’m making you scrambled eggs!
Brendan: mmmpfgh. Umm hmmm.

6:25 am
Me: We’re leaving in 15 minutes!
Brendan: (between bites) What?!

6:45 am
Me: OK, Brendan! Let’s go!
Brendan: (opening the sack I have packed) are there pencils in here?
Me: Trust me, everything’s there, passport, pencils, eraser, calculator, snack, water. Chop chop!

7:25 am
We arrive at the Collège du Léman. Marc waits in the car, Brendan and I follow the “SAT test” signs, along with several other bleary-eyed teenagers and their anxious parents. One girl is clutching her thick College Board test prep book to her chest, looking slightly desperate. Then it hits me.
Me: Oh, s*&t!  I forgot the Admission Ticket! S*&t!! Crap! How could I have done that?
Brendan: (shrugs).
Me: Damnation! (foot stamping). Of all the stupid things! How could I have forgotten the Admission Ticket?! (additional expletives)
Brendan: I don’t know.

The girl in front of us turns to see what the fuss is about. I glare at her. Of course she has her Admission Ticket. So does everyone else in the line.

The lady at the registration desk (under a sign listing what you need — ID, Admission Ticket, 2 pencils) calls her supervisor, who tells us it’s no problem. Brendan just needs to copy down the number next to his name on the check-off list. Talk about anticlimactic. All that swearing for nothing! My heart rate starts to level out. Brendan quickly abandons his lunatic mother and disappears into a classroom. I am grateful that Marc has missed the whole scene.

One of the many reasons I wanted to move to Switzerland back in 2004 rather than stay on the east coast was to escape the panicked, stressed craziness that getting into college has become in the US. Every year I hear more horror stories of amazing kids who get rejected. Then there are the SAT prep classes, college visits, AP tests, and “résumé” building; the years spent honing the intelligent, balanced, well-rounded ‘product’ that college admissions offices want to see. Never mind who they really are or what they really like to do. I know – it’s just the way it is. But I didn’t want to deal with it.

Back when I was in high school, nobody took SAT prep courses. We all just showed up and hoped for the best. Nonetheless, two of my classmates went to Harvard. Others went to Princeton with Brooke Shields. None of them played a niche sport, won the Westinghouse or had personal experience governing a small country, but they still got in.

Brendan’s leaning towards going to a Swiss university. As long as he passes his Maturité exams, he’s automatically in. No admissions circus here. That’s not to say there isn’t a selection process — it just happens earlier, at the end of sixth grade, and then again after freshman year, in which 80%-30% of the students fail, depending on the university and the subject. I’m not saying it’s better. But it’s not totally insane.

We decided that he would take the SAT, just to leave doors open, just in case he changed his mind and wanted to apply to a school in the U.S.  That’s why he’s doing the unthinkable today — rising before 7 am on a weekend.

Last summer I bought him an SAT prep book, and told him that if he wanted to study for the SAT it was his affair, and so the book didn’t budge off the shelf until last week, when I forced him to take a practice test. He agreed to dedicate one morning of his Easter vacation to the ordeal.

He finished the essay in 15 minutes. “You still have ten minutes,” I said. “Write some more.” After section three, I said, “It says here you get a five-minute break.”

“No way. Bring it on. Let’s get this over with.”

After section four, he looks at the rest of the form. “Ten sections! You’ve gotta be joking! No way am I doing ten sections! This is ridiculous!”

I held firm. “This is what it’s like! You have to prepare!” I had to leave at the end of section 5 for an appointment, so I just told him to finish the rest of the sections and watch the time. He told me later he just went straight through the thing as fast as he could.

He never bothered to see how he did. Neither did I. Would it really change anything? I had wanted him to see how it felt to fill in the little bubbles for three straight hours. He’d done that, albeit with a lot of moaning.

I arrive to pick him up at 12:30 on the dot, only breaking speed limits a couple of times on the way. My Admission Ticket tantrum was embarrassment enough for one day, I shouldn’t leave him stranded in Versoix while all the other, good parents pick up their kids right on time. I strike up a conversation with another waiting mother. “First time?” she asks. “They have to take it at least twice, the first time they never do well. At least now they send the best score out to the schools.”

You mean to tell me we might have to go through this again?

Her son comes out. He was taking a subject test. His brother is at Stanford, and loving it. I’m thinking, Do ya think you could lay it on a little thicker, here? Brendan doesn’t appear until 1:05. He said he’d told me 12:30 to be sure I was on time. He’s smart enough all right, this one. It was long, but he finished all the sections easily. The essay was about success. I’m taking that as a good sign.
I wish I had bought this book instead of the official one. I know I’ll get it for Luc, if Brendan manages to do well enough to avoid going through this again.

Next time, though, I’m going to tape the Admission Ticket to the dashboard the night before, just in case.

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