Taking The SATs With A Concussion

Madeline-Uretsky-300x202Brain Injury Blog by Madeline Uretsky

March 29, 2013

Taking The SATs With A Concussion

On Saturday March 9, I woke up at 6:00am to take the infamous test that would decide my future…the SATs. I have been preparing weekly with a tutor for this test since January and it was a lot of hard and extra work. Going into the test, I felt very prepared and confident in my knowledge and ability. However, unlike someone without a concussion, I had to worry about more than just the test; I also had my symptoms to be concerned about. I also chose not to have extra time or accommodations for this test.

I woke up well rested and had a great breakfast. I was ready to tackle my biggest challenge to date. I got there with plenty of time to relax and I was feeling confident. Only one person in the room knew that I had a concussion, and I was just taking the test like everyone else. When the proctor started our room on filling out the general information on the answer sheet, I immediately knew that the answer sheet was going to be my problem. He moved fast on filling out the sheet, and I was the last one done. It was awkward when everyone was waiting for me to finish filling out my bubbles. I couldn’t help being slow with it because I didn’t want to make a mistake but the bubbles gave me a really bad headache, which made it difficult to concentrate. The test itself was timed, and I had been preparing for that, but I was not prepared to move this fast at the beginning. The setting itself was also not ideal. There were 30 other kids in the room, all somewhat close together, and the sun coming into the room was strong and I am still very sensitive to light.

Since my accident on October 13, 2011, my symptoms have greatly improved, although I am still extremely sensitive to light, experience severe headaches daily, have some trouble concentrating and processing information, and I have a great deal of neck pain. How could I deal with my symptoms and still do my best on a four-hour test? I could not have any help or ask any questions; I had to complete this challenge all on my own.

When I started preparing with my tutor in January, I was the most concerned about the math part of the test. Math is more of a challenge to me than English and I had not done any advanced math in over a year. As I became more familiar with the format of the SATs, my tutor started to work with me on general strategies for the test, especially the math section. She also helped me with strategies that would help me in terms of my concussion.  Every week, I wrote these strategies in a notebook so that I could refer back to them while studying. Some of these strategies were to answer the questions I knew first, not spend time on really difficult questions, learn my strengths, and always eliminate the wrong answers on multiple choice questions. During my months of preparation, I was concerned about my fatigue lasting throughout the test, my ability to concentrate, my headaches, understanding the questions, and filling in the answer sheet. My tutor helped me with strategies to prepare for these symptoms, and how to take the test the most efficiently for the way that my brain was currently working.

She also told me to write down any words that I did not know the meaning of in that notebook as well, and to look them up when I got the chance. She discovered that I am more of a visual learner than an auditory learner, and because of my concussion, memorizing a bunch of words and definitions was not the right way for me to learn vocabulary. So, instead, she had me draw a picture next to each word that would help me to remember the definition. She also had me purchase a boxed set of vocabulary flashcards with pictures on them. Numerous times, I practiced full length and timed sections of the test so that I would have the stamina to take the actual test without completely exhausting myself. It is tiring for anyone to take a four-hour test, but I knew that my headaches and my ability to concentrate would be a problem, so I practiced this aspect of the test to make it a little easier on myself. Reading/understanding questions and essay prompts has been more difficult for me since I got my concussion and that is part of the reason why I need extended time on my tests at school. It takes me longer to understand and try to figure out what a question is asking, and then put my thoughts together to make sense on paper. To prepare for this on the SAT, my tutor had me outline several past SAT essay topics online so that if one showed up on the test, I would know how to answer it and I would already have my examples; this would give me more time to write the actual essay part rather than spending most of my time figuring out what the question is asking and what to write about. For other types of questions, a useful strategy that I used was to read the question several times quietly out loud to myself.

The biggest concern that I had going into the test was filling in the answer sheet. Answer sheets for standardized tests, although self-explanatory, are extremely difficult on the eyes for a concussed person. The small bubbles, the bubbles being so close together, the color of the paper, and the small print are all things that contribute to headaches and make concentrating difficult. When I took the PSAT, I found it a challenge to track where my answers had to go, and my headaches increased because of this. Even though this may not seem like a problem to most people, my tutor understood my concern and thought of strategies to make this easier for me on the SAT. A way to save time on the SAT is to answer a few questions at a time and then mark them down on the answer sheet as a group. This was more difficult for me for tracking purposes, so instead, we practiced filling in just one answer at a time, even though it is more time consuming. This strategy is more effective for me, though, because it is less likely that I will make a mistake copying the answer down. Another strategy that we found helpful, which was also more time consuming, was to use the side of the test booklet like a ruler and put it under each row of bubbles to make sure that I am on the right one. When I went in that Saturday to take the test, all of these strategies and all of my preparation definitely gave me more confidence while taking this test.

During the test, I thought that I paced myself well, and I did not exhaust myself. I felt pretty good throughout the test and on the breaks I drank plenty of water and took some deep breaths. I made it through the test, in that room from 7:30 to 1:15 with not too many more headaches than usual. I was able to drive myself home and I felt okay the rest of the day, whereas I had expected to be completely wiped out. I did not need to take a nap and I even went out that night! Overall, filling out the bubble sheet was the most difficult part but the day was a success and preparing for it definitely was a big part of that. I look forward to receiving my scores and preparing to take the test again when I am hopefully feeling better in the fall!




4 responses to “Taking The SATs With A Concussion”

  1. Sally Johnson says:

    Way to go , Madeline! I am so proud of you and the way you approached this difficult challenge! Practice, practice, and more practice, and you DID! I hope you “treat” yourself for a tough job well done!

  2. Sally Johnson says:

    Way to go, Madeline! I am so proud of you and how you approached this very difficult challenge! Practice, practice, practice, and you did. I can imagine how important your example is to other teens post concussion. Hope you “treat” yourself for a tough job well done!

  3. Deet says:

    Great writing, Madeline.

  4. Andrea says:

    Nice work on that test! I think this perspective is an important one to share with people who see a student with TBI and can’t understand why they might need accommodations.

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