Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My GRE Experience

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.


  1. You may very well already know about it, but the GRE does offer a downloadable app that has practice content, including practice tests. I thought it was super helpful, and it's where I did the vast majority of my review. (I took the GRE 3 years after finishing my BA.

  2. Another interesting thing about the GRE. Most colleges don't care! When I called one of my prosepective graduate schools they said that the GRE is usually the last thing they look at when deciding whether or not to accept you

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