The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Bookin' It
Perseverance Will Help Me Conquer the SAT
Hattie Rice
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Over the summer I decided that I was going to study a little bit every week for the SAT. I was thinking about my long term goal, which is to attend a competitive four-year college. I decided that if I really want to go to one, I’d need a score of at least 1200.

I figured out a coherent plan and did some calculations. To master the most frequently used words on the SAT by December, I’d have to learn 250 words in 228 days. Maybe you’re thinking, “Damn, that’s a lot of words,” but I’d be damned if all my traveling from my group home in the Bronx to the library in Queens (I don’t like the loud libraries in the Bronx) was going to be wasted.

Hitting the Books

My goal is to score 660 on the math and 660 on the reading to total 1320, which is halfway between the average scores for Harvard and UCLA. Perhaps you’re thinking, “You talk a good one, but how you plan on doing that?” Well, the answer is very simple: by studying from my trusty Princeton Review for the SATs (the second best thing to cheating).

The book is didactic, telling you the do’s and don’ts of choosing an answer. (Thank the Lord, the SAT is mostly multiple choice.) The book has sections on the math techniques used on the test, the 250 most common SAT words, and three practice tests so you can get a sense of how to take the test and what your real score might be. Sounds simple, right?

My first week, I found studying kind of hard because SAT words are so boring. I defined each word, wrote it three times, and used it in a sentence. I also spent a couple of minutes looking at the math techniques. Yup, extremely borringo. (Like my Spanglish?)

But I kept studying, because I knew that getting a good SAT score would be an investment in my future. I needed these words to succeed in college and to communicate in the corporate world.

The hardest part of studying is being mentally ready to do it. You have to make studying a priority even when you don’t feel like it.

Not ‘Slow’ Anymore

A few bad situations gave me the impetus and drive to stay focused. First, I was often called “retarded” and “slow” by students and teachers when I was little, because I did not participate in class. I dropped out of school for most of a year, partly because I hated school and partly because I felt I needed to take care of my mom, who is schizophrenic and addicted to crack.

When I came into foster care a few years ago, I found that I’m actually good at school. (I have a 90 average this semester!) Now my grades substantiate that I’m incontrovertibly smart. The kids who still think I’m not that bright will think twice when I get into the college of my dreams.

My Personal Vendetta

Another bad situation is my group home, where it’s more popular to chill in the streets than keep your nose in the books. Luckily, the more contemptuous I feel towards the girls in my group home, the better my study habits. Feeling like an outcast fuels me to study. Studying is my personal vendetta—I will show these people that the tension and negative energy in the house will not hold me back. I deal with my rage by pushing myself to meet my goals.

Living right next door to the projects and going to one of the most dangerous schools in New York City, I’m constantly reminded of what my future might look like if I don’t go to college to escape.

Strong Minded, Obstinate, Stubborn

The greatest barrier to studying is that it’s hard to concentrate when you have painful, pressing matters on your mind. As I’m pushing myself to deal with life with clarity and eloquence, my family is dealing with serious problems. My mother suddenly doesn’t recognize anyone in the family. My father lost his job and my parents got evicted from their apartment. I’m worried about them, but I tell myself, “There’s nothing you can do.”

I hope that by achieving a good SAT score I’ll be one step closer to graduating from college, earning a high salary, living upstate and providing my mother and father with the help they need. I can only hope my plan will run fluidly because I’m very systematic and have basically planned my whole life. Plus, I’m very strong-minded (that’s my way of saying stubborn). The only support I feel I need is from my bra.

The Results

To keep myself on task throughout the summer, I made sure I completed my SAT studying before doing anything fun. I also set a goal of using at least one SAT word during a conversation I had during the day.

After two months, I decided to take a practice test. I’ve never felt so remedial as when I saw the results. Expanding my vocabulary and thinking beyond the box are two of my finest qualities, but this test made me feel like a jackass. I got maybe three out of 10 right. My score petrified me. It seemed that I might fail in my quest to attend a good college and had studied all those hard words for nothing.

Will My Best Be Enough?

For a few days, my practice test score left me shaken. I felt scared of failing and suddenly doubted my intelligence. I wondered whether I would ever be ready for the SAT. What if my best was not enough? What if I couldn’t achieve my goal?

image by Leo Maisouradze

Then I changed my perspective. I realized my score was just an indication that I could not be lenient with myself. I would have to commit myself to the task of learning these words, even though doing so will consume a lot of my time. I have to view myself as a wounded soldier fighting for her pride.

Reaching for the Moon

No matter what my score is, my biggest accomplishment may be that I’ve made myself follow rules even when I don’t like what I have to do. I think it’s great that I have so much discipline. It’s a triumph that I’ve tried my best to excel no matter what disconcerting situations stand in my way. I hope I’ve set a precedent for my future.

Ultimately, while reaching my goal has been more difficult than I had imagined, studying has been salutary. When I returned to school in the fall, I used my SAT words in essays and used my study skills to prepare for tests, and my grades improved.

I know studying will help me way more than chilling on the streets. No matter how well I do on the SAT, my score will be better than it would’ve been without studying. My goal will be tough to reach, but I believe in reaching for the moon. If I miss, I’ll be among the stars.


What Those SAT Words Mean

Coherent: Logically connected

Didactic: Instructive, with a pushy attitude

Investment: A contribution you make in hopes of a big return

Impetus: Motivation

Substantiate: Verify with proof

Incontrovertibly: Indisputable, definitely

Contemptuous: Feeling hatred or scorn

Vendetta: A long feud or fight to get back at someone

Obstinate: Stubborn

Clarity: Clearly expressed

Eloquence: Ability to speak vividly

Fluidly: Easily flowing

Petrified: Extremely scared

Lenient: Easy on, tolerant

Disconcerting: Upsetting, surprising

Precedent: A previous situation you can use as a guide

Salutary: Beneficial

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(FCYU-2005-05-08)