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Rituals the Last Step In Prep for New SAT

Students Employ Lucky Customs

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 13, 2005; Page C01

Jordan Rosenfeld, a junior at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, took all the standard steps to prepare for the new SAT yesterday. He enrolled in a preparation course at school. He wrote 20 to 30 essays to practice for a new requirement. He studied and drilled until in his words, he had "everything down to a science."

A few hours before the exam, Jordan, 17, took the final step in his carefully plotted test preparation plan: He hopped in the shower and sang the Eagles' "Hotel California" at the top of his lungs.

Jordan Rosenfeld, 17, of Germantown talks with his father, Warren, after the SAT at Damascus High School. (Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

An estimated 330,000 students across the country participated yesterday in the angst-inducing, time-honored tradition that is the SAT -- but there was a twist. These students were the first to see the new SAT, a longer version of the test that includes an essay. The new test is three hours and 45 minutes, compared with three hours for the previous one.

"God, that was long,'' Jordan told his dad, Warren Rosenfeld, as he emerged from the Damascus High School cafeteria about 1:15 p.m. looking a bit dazed. "It wasn't hard, but it was long. It hurts to think.''

For many students, it wasn't the essay that was the issue as much as the length of the exam.

"It's really, really, really long," said Djenny-Ann Marcelin, 16, also a Seneca Valley junior. "I didn't know there were going to be 10 sections."

Djenny-Ann said the math section was difficult and included some pre-calculus questions. But for the most part, it was similar to the PSAT she took last year -- just longer.

For Neha Agarwal, 16, a junior at Seneca Valley, the new SAT also was her first try.

"I tried my best, but the critical reading passages were definitely harder than the ones on the practice tests,'' Neha said. She said that the "words in context" sections of the test also were more difficult. But she wasn't at all fazed by the essay. She and Jordan said they felt really good about that section.

A number of students were like Jordan, with their own pre-test rituals: donning a lucky shirt, lucky socks or even eating cornflakes from their lucky bowls with their lucky spoons.

"Whenever I have a big test I sing 'Hotel California,' said Jordan, who was born long after the song was released. Occasionally, he said he substitutes another Eagles' song, "Desperado" -- but with admission to Princeton University on the line, it was not a day to be fooling around.

"Students are a superstitious lot," said Jennifer Karan, national director of SAT and ACT programs for the test preparation company Kaplan, which has surveyed students and their test preparations. (Kaplan is owned by The Washington Post Co.)

Last time around, under his musical prep-plan, Jordan scored 1520 out of 1600 on his SAT. This time, though it's a new exam, he's hoping for even better numbers that will land him at Princeton, where he plans to major in business.

He knows others may be tempted to snigger at his singing ritual, but doesn't care. It wakes him up and relaxes him. Having gotten a perfect score on the verbal portion of the SAT the last time around, he's not going to muck with success.

However, he did throw in something more for good luck, listening to both Eagles songs in the car on the way to Damascus High.

While most specialists recommend that students get a good night's sleep the night before any big exam, Neha had an additional strategy. She donned her lucky pants: a well-worn pair of Mudd jeans.

"It's not a huge deal,'' said the teenager. She took a prep course and devoted an hour a day plus all day Saturdays to study, so the jeans really were like an extra insurance policy. They made her feel, well, comfortable. And when she's comfortable and not fiddling with sleeves that are too long or a sweat shirt that's too warm, it's easier to focus.

Neha said her parents also indulged in a pre-test ritual of their own. About a week before the test, they went to their temple to say a prayer. They asked for a blessing so their only child would do well on the exam.

Neha, who wants to become a doctor, is hoping her score will be high enough to get her into Johns Hopkins University.

After the exam, she said she was relieved to have her first SAT behind her. Still, for Neha, there will be little time to relax.

Next on her agenda? Laundry, of course. She'll need those jeans to be clean for the AP exams that begin in May.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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