The Blazing Menace of SAT Section 5


Don’t know what Section 5 is? Just wait. You will.

You’re lucky — your kid is smart and brimming with potential. High school is cruising along, and they are checking all the boxes. They even appear to be enjoying themselves. Things are heading in a fantastic direction, and everyone is excited about the future if this sounds like your kid, Congratulations! You’re doing it right! Live in the moment. Ignore my obvious foreshadowing. It’s just that.

I’m Guessing You Haven’t Hit Junior Year Yet

It’s ok — your smugness is forgivable. You’ve cruise-directed the living crap out of your kiddo’s childhood with a Lido deck full of enrichment. Perhaps, like me, you’ve had it kind of easy parenting-wise. You’ve even worn yourself out by semi-privately patting yourself on the back for raising such a neat little overachiever. But this junior year thing that’s waiting for you? It’s coming. And it’s going to shoot you out of the sky.

You, parent, may already sense rough seas ahead. Like a slowly invasive species, joy and fun begin being displaced by waves of anxiety. You recall having much more (illicit) fun at their age, and you secretly hope they are having some. Your shiny penny is starting to crack, and you’re desperate to stop it.

Getting an ambitious teen to calm the fuck down is every bit as hard as getting a recalcitrant one off the couch. Assume you can’t. All you can do is continuously seek out the decompression switch. You hope you’re helping. They’ll make it clear that you’re not. Frankly, everything you do to help them navigate around stress is probably just making it worse.

Every parent is a total failure during junior year. Your previous parenting success is meaningless. Prepare to pay for your hubris. Your punishment will arrive in the form of The SAT SecTion 5.

Parents and Students: Beware and Prepare.

If your child is taking the SAT (rather than the ACT) for college admission, they will likely spend time taking practice tests. The privileged among them have tutors or enroll in classes. Let’s acknowledge this as a racket and an amoral blight on our already inequitable education system. Let’s accept, for the time being, that it is an infuriating and necessary evil.

Bright kids who have access to the internet (which is to say, KIDS) know that the standardized tests are pointless and eroding our society. Some resign themselves to them without much protest. Others lean in and make them their bitch. College-bound kids taking the SAT face a grueling three-hour test comprised of four sections.

Four: two verbal, two math.

Back in the late ’80s, my scores were so horrendous it would have been reasonable to assume I couldn’t count to four. But I could and I still can, and as far as I can tell, unless you’re taking the essay section of the SAT (which nobody does), there is no Section 5.

Except there is. And you’d be smart to let your kid know about it before their test day arrives.


First, imagine you’re a tightly-wound little type-A overachiever.

As a smaller person, you were precocious, and adults loved having you around. Your peers thought you were a weirdo, but you leaned in. Eventually, your body and your mind were in proportion, and now the world has opened up. All you must do to launch yourself is get through the SAT.

You’re a thinking person but also a teen. That means you’re starting to analyze too much. You’ll discover injustice and hypocrisy everywhere. You’ll build soapboxes and stand on them — all the time. You argue about the inequity of everything. This week, it is standardized testing.

You are getting tedious. Even your parents, who are obligated to adore you, think so.

Your parents, committed snowflakes, crumble as you rant. They agree with you, but they know something you do not. They know that to change the game, you have to play it first. They plead with you to Suck. It. Up.

Take the test.

Do your best.

Now is not the time to take a stand.

Their submission to The Man disgusts you. Their begging repels you. You suddenly feel drunk with the power to burn it all down. But by some miracle, you submit.

“Fine,” you agree, doing your part for peace. “I’ll take it once, and we will never speak of it again.” You bask in the glow of their pitiful gratitude.

Then, you go one step further. You decide to try it, do the prep, and make your plan. You sharpen your pencils — one for each section of the test. You walk in, prepared to conquer.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. All four sections in the can.

You’ve done your part. You played the game. You delivered, and now everyone can suck it.

Except you must wait.


“Please remain seated for Section 5,” the test proctor announces, just as every kid in the room was preparing to fuck the fuck off for the remainder of the day. The collective intake of air destined to be a huge sigh of relief suddenly fuels group panic.

Section 5?? My SAT tutor never said jack about any section 5. What the FUCK is Section 5??

“This section is a series of additional questions that the College Board uses to test run questions for future versions of the SAT,” the Procter reads from a booklet. “It may or may not contribute to your score, so we recommend you take it seriously.”

Powerless, exhausted and rattled, you once again take up your fourth #2 pencil, its point now rounded down and begging for sweet death, and dive back into the fray. You curse your parents. You feel betrayed. But you’ve come this far, so find your last remaining shred of maturity, swallow it like glass, and try — one last time.

As you emerge from the test center, approximately 35 minutes later than your parents expected you, you match their puzzled and slightly irritated expression with a blazing tank of fury and injustice.

I never agreed to this!

The College Board is stealing my soul!

They can’t do that!

Except they can.


What Exactly is Section 5?

Section 5 is said to be an experimental section of the SAT used by the college board to vet future tests. For those who are not taking the essay section, Section 5 may be administered at the end of the traditional four so that the already captive audience can contribute data to the test development process.

The fine print on the College Board registration form entitles them to detain test takers and require them to take Section 5. There is no advanced notice, and the centers engaging in Section 5 seem entirely random. If you have a self-righteous teenager who is stressed and struggling with the gauntlet of standardized test-taking, you’d be smart to warn them that this is possible. Or suffer their wrath.

There is no definitive statement from The College Board on the impact that Section 5 has on a student’s score. They are diabolically vague on this point. Honestly, I would have made Christmas trees on my bubble form in Section 5 if I was 100% sure it didn’t matter to me personally. I’m guessing I’m not the only horrible person in the world and that The College Board knows this.

Most college advisors, when asked, tell students this part of their score for in this section isn’t calculated. Still, lacking an official statement from The College Board, it causes incredible anxiety for kids who are already at their breaking point.

It’s already Junior year; no one is enjoying it, which makes it total bullshit.

An Impassioned Plea from One Suffering Parent

College Board: We’re playing your game and paying you for the privilege. We’re sacrificing the souls of our children on your alter. You have owned us all for generations. It fills us with self-loathing, but we’re doing it.

In the wake of scandals and studies debunking the predictive quality of your tests, try tossing the public a bone on this point.

  1. Do away with Section 5. Minimally, warn students ahead of time they will be taking it. They can be mentally prepared, and, as a bonus, parents won’t be pissed when you make them late.
  2. Better yet, incorporate Section 5 questions into the core four sections. You’ll get better data. Which is pretty basic Data Gathering 101 advice. I was a music major, and even I know that.
  3. Be transparent with students about how their score’s calculated regarding Section 5 questions. The word is out on standardized tests with more institutions opting out of them every year. You have a PR problem, and the cloak and dagger routine of Section 5 isn’t doing you any favors.

Kids are filled with rage and anxiety as they navigate this process in their waning years of childhood. Parents are left seeking forgiveness for believing all hurdles were behind us. Fortunately, mine was eventually distracted from this one by a plate of warm cookies and a weighted blanket, but he hasn’t forgotten. Kids know they are part of an amoral and corrupt machine rife with hubris of its own. They only allow it because adults have promised that someday they can change it.

And guess what, College Board — Consider yourself warned. Someday, they will.

Previously published on

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