The sounds of nail biting, pencil tapping and head scratching filled the hot Oakland Tech high school classroom on Monday after school as students filled in the bubbles on their test answer sheets. While many of their classmates were headed home or were hanging out on the school’s front lawn, 18 Alameda County high school students were preparing for an exam that will help determine their futures—the SAT, also referred to as the college entrance exam.
This was the first in a series of SAT prep classes at Oakland Tech; the free, 10-week course is open to all Alameda County students. The preparatory courses are sponsored by People’s Test Preparation Service, an organization that teaches standardized testing skills to students in urban communities. The program, run by students at UC Berkeley, offers these courses sponsored by multiple schools in the area.
“This class will give me new strategies about how to deal with the test,” said Kyle Kelly, 17, a senior at Oakland Tech who came to the class on Monday.
At the beginning of class students were given a diagnostic test to gauge where they needed help. As students took their tests, the room was quiet—interrupted only by the teacher announcing the time left for students to finish each section.
“You have 10 minutes,” said Niku Jafarnia, 19, a critical reading and writing teacher for the prep course at Oakland Tech and a sophomore studying political science at UC Berkley. “You have five minutes left,” she later added.
Students worked down to the wire, some not finishing until Jafarnia gave her final call. “Time is up,” she said loudly. At that moment the room filled with the sounds of booklets closing, pencils hitting desks and sighs of relief as the students took a short break and prepared to take the next part of their exam.
“I think the SAT is a really easy thing to improve scores, as long as you have strategies,” said Jafarnia. “I really just want them to increase their scores during the course.”
As part of the program, instructors will give the students multiple practice tests on math and vocabulary, as well as test taking strategies to help them prepare for the SAT.
At Oakland Tech, the SAT prep classes are held every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:30 to 5:30 pm in room A5. Once students complete the 10-week course, volunteers from People’s Test Preparation will administer an official SAT test, free for students in the program. “We are trying to make a difference by helping low-income students get into college,” said Karla Mendez, 19, the student group’s executive director and a sophomore studying applied math and business at UC Berkeley.
Members of People’s Test Preparation Service decide where to hold the courses based on the schools that apply for the program, which is open to all schools in the Bay Area. Each school has to submit an application specifying where the classes will take place and how the course will be publicized to students. “It’s the school’s responsibility to publicize the event to their students,” said Mendez, who also noted that last year at Oakland Tech, a school with 1,793 students, there were only five attendees.
By Tuesday morning only five students had signed up for the course on the group’s website, although 18 had showed up for Monday’s first class.
As students who were participating in the prep class worked diligently inside the classroom to complete their sections before time ran out, other students outside said they weren’t aware the course was available.
“I’m interested in going, but I didn’t know about the classes on campus,” said Samuel Gutierrez, 17, a junior outside skateboarding after school who said he was unfamiliar with the SAT.
“I just heard about it five minutes before the bell rang,” said Ginana Hamilton, 17, a senior who is also not enrolled in the course. “I never saw posters.”
But other students said they saw signs on campus or that their teachers reminded them about the class. “I heard about it from one of the teachers,” said Tanika O’Guinn, 17, a senior who took the SAT and a preparatory course last year.
“Teachers told us in Health Academy,” said Laray Williams, 17, a junior. “But I didn’t see a sign.”
Although the course has already started, People’s Test Preparation Service is still allowing students to register online. “We encourage students to sign-up within the first or second week, but we do let them sign-up when they choose to come,” said Mendez.