This summer I am spending some time getting ready to take the GREs, in case I want to go back to school for something or other. Despite some misgivings, I have decided to "go public" with my experiences preparing for and taking the test. Since I write so much about high stakes testing and since it has had such an effect on the educational lives of my children and on my life as a teacher, I figured writing about it was too good an opportunity to pass up-- like when Katie Couric broadcast her colonoscopy live on public television. Not, mind you, that I am Katie Couric and not that I wish to increase the incidences of GRE test prep, nor will I broadcast live my review or examination sessions (can you imagine?).
So, other than this introductory post, I will also write posts about each of the sections: verbal, quantitative, and analytical. I am reluctant to submit to this test, but I can't get into graduate school without it, so I don't have much choice. If anything, the place I find myself in will authenticate (that sounds like one of those words that isn't a real word, doesn't it?) my experience. Despite other and superior means of demonstrating my qualifications for entry into graduate school, I am stuck taking this test. Am I a hypocrite for deciding to prepare when I deride test prep so much? Maybe--you'll have to see how much and in what ways I've decided to prepare before you judge that.
I took the GREs once right after I graduated from college. I was told this was the best time to take it when everything, especially test taking, is still "fresh." I actually found it was a horrible time to take it because I was burnt out and had no thoughts of going back to school anytime soon. Also, the GREs were nothing like the tests I had in college, thank god. I did not prepare, I did not take it seriously, and I scored poorly. The second time I took it was a few year later-- fifteen years ago (fifteen!) when I was applying to masters and teacher certification programs. (In case you're interested, I wrote about my experience in ed school here.) I reviewed a little--I was motivated to have a strong application--and then just took the plunge. I did surprisingly well--not like Merit Finalist well but well enough, for me--I'm not a good test taker.
For this time, I checked out a GRE book from the library and I'm currently plugging my way through it. The verbal section is really not something I can practice for. The best I can do is be familiar with the format and stick to the format. I will probably write the most about this section--it's the most problematic as far as I'm concerned. The quantitative sections, I do need to review for. Most of the math is rattling around in my brain somewhere but I wouldn't be able to access it without reviewing first, especially with the math I don't use on a regular basis. There's also some types of questions that I don't remember being on the versions of the SATs and GREs I took long ago. Preparing for the writing section will probably just mean familiarization with the format. I think the biggest hardship will be losing the ability to sleep on what I wrote and edit it later. My usual writing process is to think and read for days or even weeks or months about something, then vomit out a draft and then leave it for a bit, think more, and then clean up the mess in stages. Can't do that on the GRE.
Now, it's been very hard for me to accept that I have to take this god foresaken test. Though it's kind of fun to re-learn the math and I know that at least some of it will be helpful in certain graduate programs (and in understanding what the heck Bruce Baker is talking about), I resent having to take the test and I resent the time I have to spend reviewing for it. I feel like once you reach a certain age, you should be excused from the GREs, like age out of it or something. To be honest, I think about it (or actively avoid thinking about it) every day: I need to to study. I'm going to bomb it. The admissions folks are going to think I'm an idiot. I can't believe I missed that question. I feel so stupid. I wonder if there are any pickles left. And then when I start to resent it: Isn't there a lot more than these test scores that would show I'd be a good graduate student? I mean, I practically am a graduate student. I read and write all of the time and make no money! What a waste of time!
And then I start to understand how so many American children must feel during every testing season, or even every school day.