Monday, February 11, 2008


Saturday evening I went online for the exclusive purpose of registering Ph. to take the ACT in June (so that ACTropolis doesn't seem like something I made up, follow the link). His guidance counselor encouraged him to sign up online rather than on paper. It has been seventeen or eighteen years since I signed anyone up to take the ACT. I am old; the process has grown unbelievably cumbersome under a sharp jump in the value of high school student profiles to predatory admissions practices. This is the database at its collect-all worst. Had there been all of this data-collection all those years ago, I almost certainly would have been more enthusiastically recruited. Right?

I filled out screen after screen of profiling data related to Ph.'s high school program of study, extracurricular activities, career aspirations, and so on. Somewhere along the way, I also selected a testing date (June) and site (Jamesville-Dewitt H.S., the nearest site with an open seat). Near the end of the process, an hour later, D. and I chatted briefly and agreed that he should be scheduled for a slightly different test. The ACT offers one test with writing and one without. I clicked back into the web form, switched that one item, and clicked 'continue' until I was at the pay screen. Then I input the payment information, clicked on 'submit payment', and held my breath hoping for a felicitous conclusion to the ACTropolis 5K.

Everything was fine. And then I clicked the 'print confirmation' button. Calamity! The page showed the wrong testing date; Ph. had been signed up for the April date rather than the June date. What the? Next, I tried 'Change Testing Date'. Something I learned: you can change the testing date for a modest $20.85 (or thereabouts), even if the transaction is hot, still flowing through the pipes. Also, I have since learned that the ACT system requires you to re-submit a payment for the full cost of the test when you change the date. Within three days they will refund the amount posted for the initial (mistaken) sign-up.

Rather than panic, I retraced my steps and learned that the web form automatically resets the testing date to the default setting (April) at the moment any action is taken on that step in the process. Changing the test type caused the test date to reset. I simply didn't notice, perhaps because I was numb from the deadening tedium of filling out profiling questions for more than an hour. I would be out twenty bucks for my oversight, which was terrible enough to tarnish the entire ACT sign-up experience for me. So I filled out the customer service form, sent it, and wrote a note to myself to call on Monday. Today.

I called. The first service rep heard me all the way through a rendition of what I've just shared with you. She explained the delayed refund process, and said she would have an IT person call me about the problem with the web form. Cool. Later, the call came, I described the problem--almost certainly a short circuit between my own weekend blink-out (Why should an established entry reset without notification?) and the aliveness of the seat-counting ACT registration form (which interacts immediately, ticking off seats in the database as they are filled). You won't believe what happened next: I was thanked for the feedback, offered to by-pass the change of date fee, and asked to share the few pieces of information they needed to correct my mistake. The sun suddenly shined on ACTropolis; on the horizon, a rainbow.

It never ever works out this way for me. Thus, I have resolved that today, February 11, will be an annual holiday, a day of respite during which I shall not have a single negative thought about standardized testing, the filing and profiling of youth into quasi-normative rank (for lists, which will be $wooped up by admissions offices), the profit-making at the heart of the enterprise, the tyranny of No. 2 lead, the mechanical ways of ACTropolis (even the corny-tropolis name itself). Today I am at strangely at peace with the ACT, and maybe even a little bit grateful.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at February 11, 2008 10:50 PM to Slouching Toward

Bloody hell! That sounds horrible, but what an eloquent account. I'm glad it sort of worked out. You might treat yourself to a peanut butter pie.

Posted by: Clancy at February 12, 2008 12:35 AM

Good suggestion re: PB pie. I haven't made it since I blogged about it (last year?).

Also glad to read that little one is healthy as of the latest checkup.

Posted by: Derek at February 12, 2008 10:15 PM