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The Score This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     This was it. My entire year, my entire life, led me to this point. It was the day of the ACT, feared and revered by hopeful scholars across the nation. After today I would have a number, a score, that would be the determining factor for the course of my life. I couldn’t help feeling nervous. The ACT handbook offered the same worn-out advice that had preceded so many tests: “Get plenty of sleep the night before the exam.” What a mockery that line was! Knowing that my future weighed in the balance, how could I have slept?

The ACT is the dividing line between high school and college, the boundary between childhood and the adult world. All my life I had strived for this moment, for the chance to go to college. My family lacked the financial means to support my dream but remained encouraging. If I did well on the ACT, I could apply for scholarships and aid, so the chances for my success hinged on the outcome. Feeling the weight of that, all my studies and preparations seemed inadequate.

The drive to the testing center and the long wait in line passed in a blur. Before I knew it, I was sitting at a cramped desk in a second-story chemistry classroom. The surroundings seemed foreign; as the strangers filed in to take their places, I felt more alone than ever. For almost an hour the administrator kept us in suspense. As we waited to begin the test, I became more nervous. “Come on,” I pleaded silently with the administrator. “Everyone is ready. We have other places to go. Can’t we get this started?”

After an eternity, the test administrator ordered us to clear our desks and gave us instructions. Filling out the processing information was a test in itself. Eventually we ran out of preliminary items. Ready, set, speed read! I read through the English test with ease. I was surprised to finish with time to spare. I checked once, then again until I was satisfied with my answers. “Time!” The easy part was over. Next came math.

Mathematics has never been a pleasant subject for me. I struggled through it as best I could. Some of the questions had obvious answers; others were more obscure. One question required me to analyze a graphing function. I scrutinized the minute graph and nearly panicked; it was too small to decipher! I took a reasonable guess and moved on. The administrator called out the five-minute warning. I was running out of time and still had a dozen problems to go! Every second ticked against me. I silently recited a scrambled prayer and tried to answer as many as I could. “Pencils down!” I suppressed a moan. I hadn’t finished the last column. I trudged wearily around the break area, sure that my fate was sealed. I had fallen short and there were still three more sections!

Our break was over in a flash. We were confined to our chairs, awaiting the next stage of gruesome, torturous testing. Thankfully, the reading test separated the math and science segments. I enjoy reading and writing immensely, so I soon became overly involved in the text. One of the selections contained advice to writers. Its author seemed to be my mentor! I dreamed to write in the fashion so vividly described.

Suddenly reality struck and I realized that there were more passages to read. I was forced to neglect the others in order to meet time requirements. Once again I was frustrated. I was ready for the day to be over, but quitting was a commodity I couldn’t afford. I closed my eyes and gathered the focus I needed for what lay ahead.

The science test was excruciating. Although my love for biology and chemistry helped me excel in school, time constraints pressed my mind to stretch its capabilities. Only 35 minutes to answer dozens of questions about data tables, decipher bizarre experiments concerning ants, and solve equations with unheard of Greek variables. I interpreted data hastily. Time was over before I could review my answers. I felt like I was going to drop through the floor of that second-story classroom. The seconds had flown too swiftly. The test had been as mentally exhausting as playing a double-header would be for an athlete! Feeling totally demoralized and mentally drained, I forced myself to unseal the folder in front of me, and finish the final phase of the test.

The last section was a writing prompt that I had elected to take. Suddenly I wondered, What had I been thinking? My hand cramped from gripping the pencil and my eyesight began to blur. I was exhausted. Why hadn’t I slept the night before? The ACT was no test; it was a combat zone! I felt unarmed without notes, without books. I had only myself to rely on - myself, and a tiny splinter of wood identified as a pencil. I flexed my wrist, picked up the writer’s weapon, and attacked that essay as if my life depended on it.

When the administrator called, “Time’s up,” I sighed with relief and fear. Had I accomplished what I had come to do? I was certain that I had performed fairly well on the English, reading, and writing sections. However, the math and science left me feeling dense. I was tormented by the thought that I could have done better on all the sections.

After the test, my grandfather offered to take me out for dinner, but the party had to wait until we found out whether there was anything worth celebrating. Eagerly I checked the mail every day. For almost a month, no word came about what my future held. Most of my friends received their packets before I did, which only tormented me further. The knowledge of my friends’ results served to heighten the ominous uncertainty enshrouding mine.

Then one day, my mother called me with a tone that instantly told me my results had arrived. I raced to her. She held an opened packet, the official ACT results! I couldn’t tell by her expression if the results were good. “Well, what is it?” I asked impatiently.

“See for yourself,” came the bland reply. I savagely tore the package from her. My eyes skimmed the page and at last I found it, my score. I had surpassed my wildest expectations! The door to college was opened. I would qualify for the financial aid necessary to turn my dream into a reality.

Though I am still satisfied by my score, the elation left me with a new sense of challenge. The test is only the beginning of a life of unexplored opportunities. The score, valuable as it is, does not define me. No matter what its impact, it cannot ensure my ultimate success. My Christian faith, my ambitions, and my family’s support define me more than any number possibly could. Hope, a dream, and the persistence to make that dream a reality form the ultimate ticket to success in school and beyond.


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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ReflectionsofYou said...
Feb. 24, 2010 at 8:00 am:
This was good! I like your writing.
My test day was alot like that, flying through the english, not sleepng, a long wait, on top of that I got lost, couldn't find my seat, the test guy [whatever you call him] made fun of how many pencils I brought, and I took it the October BEFORE your really supposed to take it. The whole thing is dumb. Maybe I'll wright a peice on it too:}
Please look at some of my work! Good job on yours!
 
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