They ate pancakes with maple syrup, eggs with cayenne pepper, and pumpkin-flavored protein bars. But some were too nervous for any breakfast at all.
This past Saturday, more than a quarter-million high-school students woke up early to take the revamped SAT. The College Board had promised to deliver a fairer, more-straightforward test, and plenty of people surely will debate the new model’s merits (and flaws) for years to come.
For now, though, let’s take a peek at what teenagers had to say after putting down their No. 2 pencils. They were confused, triumphant, frustrated, drained. For hours, test takers lit up social media with reactions that seemed to capture the nation’s ambivalence about standardized tests — so often maligned, so often revered, and so hard to ignore. Sure, the SAT is evolving, but it still stirs the same strong emotions as before.
Despair, real or not, ruled the Twittersphere after students on the East Coast finished their exams. "Never getting into college after that #SAT," @LukeYoder94 lamented via Twitter on Saturday. "Offing myself is a valid option after that test," @WadworthShelby wrote. And @nicollebbq_ put it this way: "Can u say clown college #sat."
As if cued by the universe to utter some wisdom, Deb Shaver, dean of admission at Smith College, tweeted this to the world: "YOUR SCORE ON THE SAT IS NOT AN INDICATION OF HOW SMART YOU ARE! (Note to self: calm down.)"
Confusion echoed far and wide. "What the in the hell was that #sat," @benmicallef wrote. Exhaustion was evident. "My brain is fried," @KamScrivens revealed. Generally, many students seemed to like the new reading passages (except for that one about lava), though many thought the passages were too long. Some thought the math section was more "relevant" and "easy." Others had gripes about math, perceived attempts to trip them up, and the sheer number of words they were asked to read.
Some teenagers laced their reviews with political references. On Twitter, @atomicelroy seemed to mourn the demise of the mandatory essay: "#SAT test essay optional … Do you really wonder why #Trumpocalypse is upon US?" And @cammyythompson weighed in: "Last math section was worse than Trump … #SAT."
Do high-stakes tests make people angry? Oh, yeah. @Liberalyogi was not feeling good vibrations on Saturday afternoon: "My son just came in and said he got destroyed by the new SAT. #sat #hate." @jakematt1999 offered some fire-and-brimstone analysis: "There’s a special place in hell for the person responsible for creating the calculator inactive portion of the #SAT."
As the nation’s youth blew off steam, @gzammarelli directed her scorn at her own school: "Math teachers set us up for failure #sat." Some students, not so in love with the test’s retooled approach to testing math skills, used crass euphemisms. "I wish the math section would have at least taken me out to dinner," @maddyzmudaa tweeted, "before screwing me."
Celebratory humor blossomed online, too. Hordes of test takers loved the question that apparently asked them to find the measure of "angle <DAB." As any Millennial knows, D-A-B spells “Dab,” the crazy-popular dance made famous by Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers quarterback. After taking the test, @mattvpelosi tweeted a GIF of Mr. Newton dabbing on a football field, and the question inspired other test takers to tweet clips of Debbie White, Ellen DeGeneres, and a slew of other folks doing the same dance. Quite by accident, the SAT had tapped a meme.
As the sun set over North America on Saturday night, surveys of test takers were being compiled. The early returns? Kaplan Test Prep’s survey of more than 500 students who took the SAT on Saturday revealed that most (59 percent) gave it high marks for "having questions that were straightforward and easy to follow," though many (58 percent) also said the length of the test’s sections was "tiring." As for whether the new SAT reflected what they had learned in high school, 16 percent said "very much so," 56 percent said "somewhat," and 23 percent said "not too much."
The College Board, which had surveyed more than 8,000 SAT takers, distributed a colorful news release describing what they had eaten for breakfast and what songs they had played while preparing for the test ("Love Yourself," by Justin Bieber; "Eye of the Tiger," by Survivor). According to those survey results, students preferred the new SAT to the old version by a 6-to-1 ratio, and nearly three-quarters said the test reflected what they’re learning in school. And nobody seemed too lachrymose about the College Board’s pledge to make the test’s vocabulary more relevant: Four-fifths of students said the words that appeared on the SAT would be useful to them later in life, compared with just over half of test takers who said the same thing a year ago.
Still, the curated quotes the organization gathered were not nearly as interesting as the unvarnished responses teenagers wrote well into the wee hours of Sunday morning. In response to a College Board tweet asking what students liked about the new test, @fxuzzy wrote: "pros: writing section was less arcane … con: it’s not possible to complete that 25 min math section in 25 min." @KaitlynAlycee’s reply: "loved it! Except for the no calc math part."
@CollegeBoard pros: writing section was less arcane— Fassih Sherazi (@fxuzzy) March 5, 2016
con: it's not possible to complete that 25 min math section in 25 min
With the continent’s adrenaline levels returning to normal, the messages kept coming. A mother in Texas — @browning3s — tweeted her thanks to the College Board and Khan Academy for providing "extensive & free test prep" that helped her son feel "ready & familiar" with the new test. Another mother tweeted her delight when her son came home "excited" and "eager" to share his opinion after encountering a column by E.J. Dionne on the writing test: "Standardized testing first," she wrote. "Thanks!"
Meanwhile, frustrations rained down on the controversial test. Expressing her concerns directly to the College Board via Twitter, @elizabetha0314 wrote: "it was terrible & not an accurate measure of anyone’s intelligence. I’m tired of paying $50 to prove I’m smart." On College Confidential, one student’s reflections offered an important reminder that the SAT isn’t just a test of knowledge and academic ability; it’s also a test of how well one performs on timed tests. "Time management was difficult for me," premednyy wrote. "i knew the answers but for some, i never got the chance to fill them in."
For better or worse, taking the SAT (or ACT) is a major milestone in the lives of millions of Americans. And so plenty of students celebrated, typos and all. "#SAT compleated," one student tweeted. Another, who goes by Hope R on Twitter, composed an especially hopeful message: "I’m one step closer to going to college and becoming a meteorologist now. SAT take one is complete."
Without a doubt, @Paula0422 spoke for test takers everywhere when she tweeted her relief: "It’s finally all over thank god :)." At least until May, when everyone can take the test again.
Eric Hoover writes about admissions trends, enrollment-management challenges, and the meaning of Animal House, among other issues. He’s on Twitter @erichoov, and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.