Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I'm studying for the GRE, for reasons unknown even to myself.

So far, it's way fun. I haven't read further than the English part of the basic (not the Subject) GRE, so all my observations are relegated to sentence completion, analogies, antonyms, and reading comprehension. Maybe when I move on to fractions I won't be as infatuated.

I'm struck by a couple of things: The first is how amazingly clever their test-taking strategies are. The second is how unnecessary strategy is if you have any type of schooltest vocabulary at all. Certain words will always, always be on a test, and they will always be defined certain ways. Catholic never means religion, always means eclectic. In the outside world, malinger means to pretend to be sick to get out of work. But in testland, it has to mean "pretend to be sick" or "get out of work." Not both, because that's too complicated.

Other words live for standardized tests and simply don't exist anywhere else. Mendicant means begging, not to be confused with mendacity, which means lying. Pugilist is a boxer; pugnacious just means argumentative. None of these are viable outside the test womb.

The thing is, I learned all that crazy vocab for the SAT. So, um, everyone else must have, too -- or just gotten a low SAT score. I mean, most people take the GRE about five years after they take the SAT. They really aren't going to learn words like obstreperous in college, because nobody talks that way. So whatever SAT score they got, that's their GRE score. If they're studying in college at all, they don't have time to learn all the useless stuff they'll need for the GRE. Making the GRE the weirdest test this side of high school.

I guess, from what everyone says, I expected it to be incredibly hard. Like qualitatively, as well as quantitatively, more difficult than the SAT. I don't know what I thought they were planning to test on -- my grasp of Deconstructionism or New Criticism. But my ability to understand two to four reading passages just doesn't seem...worth testing.

Not that I've taken so much as a single scored sample test, but hey, who says pride goeth before a fall? The one thing I'm sure of is that I'm not patient enough to employ the fantastic strategies outlined in my study book. Identify the parts of speech, eliminate terms that don't have opposites, memorize trigger words...each algorithm takes about six hours to execute. So much faster to simply, um, read.

Now, let's see if they have any workarounds for the quadratic equation.

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