Dedicated to my grandmother: Anna May Black.
This is my family.
“Well, honey, you know when I was young, we actually had to sit down and take these tests. I’d stay up all night before reviewing notes from my tutors and sharpening pencils, praying that I had studied enough words to get at least four-fifty on the writing and language portion of these tests.”
“Yes, Grandma, you’ve told me.” At least ten times in the last twenty-four hours I might add.
She means well. The early-2000s were seemingly quite quaint: sending AIMs to your friends, meeting strangers on something called MySpace, and sending texts off phones that didn’t even have a touch screen. That being said, I’m still not sure why my grandmother insisted on hoping in the AV, also known as an Automated Vehicle, with me on the way to my first Scholastic Aptitude Test.
These tests have been around forever. They judge every senior on, you guessed it, their scholastic aptitude or, as most people would say, how smart you are. Apparently, the SAT used to be taken by hand. You would be put in a room with a bunch of nervous seventeen-year-old kids and some old math professor for three hours and then wait weeks for your results. If you haven’t guessed it already, no, that is not how things are done now.
Today, I am heading to the Department of Scholastic Aptitude to be screened. While my grandparents may have spent the night before their SATs sharpening pencils and memorizing all the big words they could find, I have spent the last twelve months cleaning up my social media presence and perfecting my academic record. Back in the day, your academic record may have only referred to your transcript, but it now refers to your immediate academic status on Grade Prowler.
While you don’t have to make an account, why wouldn’t you? My parents think it is ridiculous to see a daily class rank, but I know they are secretly checking it every night to make sure I stay in the top twenty. GradeProwler not only dictates what classes you can take, but really dictates who you can be friends with. If you don’t make top one-fifty in the city, there really is no point in showing up at that weekend’s happenings. Yes, there are always exceptions: some people just like to be smart for the sake of it, but where’s the fun in that?
So, why does this all matter? Well, when you enter the Department of Scholastic Aptitude, controlled by the University of Chicago, you aren’t just being measure on your ability to solve problems once you enter the virtual world of SAT questions, but your social media, your GradeProwler and every other interaction you’ve had on the internet in the past twelve months in under the microscope.
The goal of all this: to place you in the ideal school, surrounded by likeminded individuals with the perfect balance of your social and academic status. It sounds intense, but I promise it works. My sisters both love their placements. They weren’t the brightest bulbs, but their social media made it very obvious they loved a good party. Now, they’re both at good schools having the time of their lives. My dream is Dartmouth, not only because my best friend’s dreamy older brother goes there, but because scientists from the Big Green basically invented data processing years and years ago.
From what I’ve heard, the test doesn’t take long. My grandmother will have just gotten comfortable at home by the time I find out where I’ve been placed. During the half-hour I’m testing, the computers process my social media, GradeProwler and every other virtual interaction I’ve had. Then, with some complex algorithm, the two programs combine and, within minutes, will dictate my perfect placement.
“We’re almost there. Are you getting nervous, honey?”
“Well, there isn’t much I can do now, Grandma, we’ve been monitoring my virtual presence for the past twelve months. If I’m not in prime shape now, I will fully define what it means to be virtually screwed.”
“Oh, sweetie, you’re being dramatic. Just do what you always do, and try to act as little like your sisters as possible.” Again, I know she means well, but not exactly what I am looking to hear minutes before my academic fate is decided.
As the AV is pulling up to the Department, I feel my stomach drop. What if I don’t get placed at Dartmouth? What if I end up at school with my sisters? What if I’ve dropped on GradeProwler since the last time I checked? What if I was tagged in a crazy photo in the Virtual World? What if the computers are recording all of these thoughts? Computer, scratch that, I take it back. Grandma thinks I’m being dramatic, maybe she’s right.
The AV comes to a halt, quite a screeching halt I might add. As I exit the vehicle, I look up towards the monstrous glass windows that make up the Department. “You’re amazing, I love you,” my grandmother hollers as the AV begins to drive away.
‘I’m amazing,’ that’s all I have to remember. I spent months combing through the Internet, ensuring I give off the ‘right’ image for Dartmouth: smart, really smart, while still seeming fun and as easy-going as I could possibly appear in the Virtual World. If I’m not ready now, I will never be.
I cross the life-altering threshold: I enter the Department of Scholastic Aptitude. There are hundreds of doors, proctors running around, kids crying, both happy and sad, and nervous parents biting their nails in the waiting room. Slowly, I approach the check in desk. The woman at the desk looks friendly enough.
“Name?” I take it back, not so friendly.
“Colleen S. Black.”
“Great, you’ll be in room seventy-three. Follow the hallway to my left, turn right and you should see you’re testing room. Good luck.” Good luck. Don’t they realize none of this is based on any actual luck? The Department has made sure of it.
The woman hands me a series of sensors and sends me on my way. I approach door seventy-three. Turn the doorknob. This is it.
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