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The Road to College Admissions: Help! I Forgot My Calculator for the ACT

On the second Saturday in September, I rose at dawn, ate a quick breakfast, and set off to take the ACT. I was well-rested, and thanks to a fair amount of studying, I went into the test center feeling reasonably confident. As I waited to check in, however, a horrifying realization hit me like a herd of elephants — I had forgotten my calculator at home.

A pit formed in my stomach and a million thoughts raced through my mind. I briefly considered running home to get it, but with only minutes to go until test time, that wasn’t an option. In desperation, I asked everyone I knew in the test center lobby if they had an extra. No dice.

My original confidence was now at home with my calculator.

As my group walked toward our test room, I couldn’t stop stressing about my predicament. I was embarrassed to have forgotten the item that is — besides a No. 2 pencil — perhaps the most important thing to bring to an ACT, and I was terrified to take the math section (already my weakest link) using only my brain and scratch paper. By the time we took our seats, I was fairly resigned to the fact that this test was going to be a bust.

As we all filled out our personal information on the test document, however, I began to see the situation differently. Yes, taking the test without a calculator would be a disadvantage, but it didn’t mean I was completely doomed. The non-math sections wouldn’t be affected, and I was hopeful that I could make up for lost math points in these areas. When the test began, I opened my answer booklet and got straight to work. I had come in aiming for a certain score on the test, and I decided that there was no reason the lack of a calculator should prevent me from achieving it. I was determined to work doubly, even triply hard to eke out every point possible. While my hopes were cautiously high, I constantly reminded myself that if the test didn’t go as planned, then hey, there was always next time. In a weird way, forgetting my calculator took a lot of pressure off of my shoulders, allowing me to relax and take the test one question at a time.

Even without a calculator, I gave my best effort on that ACT. During the math test, I worked every problem out by hand (which worked until I ran out of time with several questions left). When I got my scores back a few weeks later, my math score had unsurprisingly dropped by just a point from my previous test date and every other section had increased by several points.

The September ACT (and my last-ditch effort in October, during which a parade passed right by the windows of my test room) taught me an important lesson that applies to many aspects of the college application process. I realized that sometimes, things happen that are entirely out of your control. When you’re confronted with these scary situations, it’s how you react to them that really matters. Perhaps this is a good life lesson as well.

John Fulton