First Person: The Woes of an Incoming Junior

Maxine Wally, Special to the Planet
Tuesday September 05, 2006

It had seemed so easy at the time; sitting in the library computer lab at Berkeley High School, clicking merrily through the many classes I could take next year as an 11th grader. AP Writing and Composition, sure, I’ll sign up for that. AP U.S. History, that’s a must. Politics and Power as my elective (the teacher, Mr. Teel, is leaving after next year, I might as well take it). 

It was so simple to sign up for the classes, and I thought I could bear the workload easily. 

However, now that summer vacation is over, junior year looms over my head like a dark cloud. The reading for my AP Writing and Composition lay untouched until now, but yesterday I decided to pick it up and flip through it. It might as well have been written in Tibetan; Aristotle’s rhetoric theory makes hardly any sense to me. 

As soon as I began to see the $10 words and complicated explanations that were sprinkled across the page, a tightness in my chest started to rise to my throat. It seemed as if junior year wasn’t going to be such a cinch. 

Besides difficult classes, SATs are making me nervous. While flying back from my short vacation on Cape Cod, I struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me. He informed me that the college board looks at SATs first, and that it is one of the most important things in a college application. 

Thus, the deal was sealed: I had to do as close to perfect as possible on my SATs. Not just because I wanted to go to an Ivy League college, but also because of the pressure building up on me since my sister did a less than satisfactory job on her test. 

So the other day, my mother and I trekked to Barnes & Noble and I bought four books that were supposed to boost my score. An entire section was devoted to preparing for the SATs. While most of my friends were signing up for classes that cost upwards of $1,500 to get them ready for the test, I was spending $20 on books that would hopefully do the exact same thing. 

Fiction novels that use about 15 SAT vocabulary words per page have been written as a quirky alternative to flash cards, so I picked up two of those. Along with a dictionary of 1,000 words most used in the SAT and a mammoth book called, 2,400: Shooting for a Perfect Score, I was set. Purchasing those books made me feel a lot more safe, and, for lack of a more appropriate word, better. 

The cloud above my head was getting smaller, and I felt content with resolve. I could go home, read these books, and build up my test-taking skills and my vocabulary. I could understand Aristotle’s rhetoric if I really sat down and read, rather than just let the words wash over my eyes and remain meaningless as I focus only on the problems junior year will throw at me. I decided to stay positive about next year: perhaps my classes could be fun. 


Checking out, the woman working at the bookstore chuckled and said, “Preparing for your junior year?” I replied, “Lady, you have no idea.”