3 Small Miracles, No. 2 Pencils, And My Number 1 Saint

To be honest, my second SAT exam is still a blur. Being cooped up on a Saturday morning with twenty or thirty other students – who may or may not have stopped breathing a few times – is not particularly fun. 

A senior in high school, my sweaty hands really didn’t have much to do with anxiety over the test, though. I am one of those weird people who actually enjoy taking tests. I was nervous because I was going through a lot that year and had more than a test on my mind. As you can imagine, this made for an exhausting day of frantically filling in answers while trying to shoo away nagging worries competing for my attention. 

I was retaking the SAT because I needed a higher score to qualify for a full merit scholarship at one of the universities I had been accepted into. In a daze, I worked methodically through the essay, reading, and writing sections. Then, I had to face the math sections. 

In case you haven’t had first-experience, SAT math is not normal math – it’s mutant! The past year-and-a-half, with the aid of countless practice problems, two gigantic SAT books, and an entire class dedicated to the SAT, I had been able to raise my math score on SAT practice tests. However, on my first test, which I took during junior year, I hadn’t performed as well as I wanted on the math section. 

At the end of the day, I wasn’t sure if I was just exhausted, but I felt as if the test material hadn’t been that hard. The following days, as I waited for the scores to come in, I hoped to score in the late 1300’s range or a 1400. The most I’d scored on a practice test was 1370, which were very high scores I would have been extremely happy with. 

When the results came in, I was in total denial. 

I had scored a 1420 – a score well above average and at least 50 points higher than I’d ever scored on a practice test. I had raised my score by 110 points. 

I was in shock. I was even a little afraid, but a good afraid. I knew that I had not been in an ideal frame of mind when taking the college entrance exam. As far as I’m concerned, my SAT score was a small miracle that was truly no small miracle to me, since it enabled me to get through undergraduate school tuition-free. 

All I could do was say under my breath, “Wow, you really did it this time, St. Joseph of Cupertino.” 

I had been praying for St. Joseph of Cupertino’s intercession ever since I was in elementary school. This Italian saint born in 1603 is the patron saint of test-takers, which seems odd given that he had the reputation for being the slowest one in school. 

St. Joseph’s prospects of passing the final exam for the priesthood looked pretty bleak. He studied and showed up to the test, though. After all, you can’t pass an exam if you’re not there. 

That’s when the miracle happened. The only subject he’d been able to memorize was the only one he was tested on, and he aced the exam! 

St. Joseph’s story has always fascinated me and helped me grow in faith that if we do our part and show up, God will handle the rest. In my case with the SAT, I studied extensively for months and did my best on the exam, and I got a score higher than I ever dreamed possible. I can also have faith that if I don’t do well on a test, God can use that experience for good, and I don’t have to worry about it. 

Whenever I pray the St. Joseph of Cupertino prayer before tests, the prayer is always accompanied with the reminder to share any test-taking stories with others, especially through media. I’m finally getting to do my part, which makes me very happy. 

In closing, two other stories come to mind. 

A relative who wanted to take dual enrollment classes at a community college had to take the PERT entrance exam. She did very well in the English component, but because she was in seventh grade at the time and hadn’t learned algebra yet, she could only place high enough in the math portion to get into remedial math. Determined to place into college algebra, she prayed for St. Joseph of Cupertino’s intercession and did her part, studying algebra. 

When she retook the math portion a few months later, she not only placed into college algebra – she got a perfect score. 

A last story is from when I was in fifth grade taking the state standardized test. 

Beforehand, I prayed, asking for St. Joseph of Cupertino’s help. The teacher prefaced the test with a grim exhortation to use the trash can if you had to throw up (I had already seen a kid vomiting outside the office a few minutes earlier!) 

Weeks later, the test scores came back, and I had earned a perfect score in the English reading comprehension section. I received a letter from the governor congratulating me, as well as an essay-response survey asking what strategies or resources had helped me earn a perfect score. 

I wrote back to the state and just told them the truth: reading lots of books, going to Daily Mass, and asking for St. Joseph of Cupertino’s intercession! 

Image: St. Joseph of Copertino is lifted in flight at the site of the Basilica of Loreto by Ludovico Mazzanti

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Emily Chaffins is a fiction writer who has won multiple awards, including a Silver Key Award in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards (Humor Category) and First Place for Undergraduate Fiction in the Florida International University Student Literary Awards. She is also a freelancer for the Florida Catholic newspaper and OSV News, and contributes to the Archdiocese of Miami's Let’s Talk Blog and Catholic Exchange. Additionally, she curates and contributes to the Archdiocese of Miami’s “Through the Catholic Lens” blog. Besides writing, Emily enjoys singing at church, cooking and baking with her family, and reading really big books. She can be found on Instagram as @the.smallest_things.

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