Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The @#$& GRE!

The Basics
A week from Friday I will be taking the GRE for the first and hopefully the last time ever. Believe it or not, I've pretty much gotten through two entire masters programs without ever having to take it.

The Background
I used to be really good at standardized tests. At least I was good at the math sections. On both the SAT and PSAT I scored well above the 700 mark on the math sections without studying. Then in my Freshman year of college I took a course called "Finite Mathematics." As I remember, we wrote some short essays on the importance of mathematics to daily life and learned how to calculate simple and compound interest.

That was in 1991.

The Challenge
So here we are, eighteen years later, and I'm trying to remember how to do basic algebra. The weird thing is I'm still good at the math I've had to do over the years. Trains headed in opposite directions - no problem! Determining the profit margin on a shirt marked down by 20% - no problem! 4x - 2 = 5 + 3x? Not so much! (I know, I know... x=7...I think.) I stare in horror at things like those little lines they use to indicate absolute value, and find myself asking questions like, "What's the formula to determine the area of a triangle?" (I know. 1/2bh.)

My brain's a little rusty on analogies too, but that can be solved by learning about a thousand vocabulary words.

The Process
I started preparing for the GRE last November by taking a Princeton Review class. That really helped to shake off the cobwebs, but I didn't take the test after the course. See, cause some of these schools are evil. They don't just take your highest or most recent score. No, some of them average all your scores together, and some actually take your lowest score! Can you believe that?! It should be illegal!

I spent the better part of the Spring and Summer memorizing vocabulary words. There are 5,000 possible words, but most of the prep courses (of which the most popular are Princeton Review and Kaplan), and most of the prep books (of which there are many...I have seven, at last count) try to recommend the 300 or 500 words most likely to appear based on historical survey. Listen, you can't memorize that many words. Or if you can, you're some freakazoid from planet Erudite. (That's a GRE word. Go me.) So I took the top 300 words recommended by the Princeton Review, and went down the list, one by one, putting words in sentences. I went through the list several times over.

The final push toward the goal started Monday of last week, and involves twenty two-hour sessions with the person that's supposed to be the best tutor in the San Diego area. My last session will be next Wednesday, and I'll take the GRE the following Friday, October 30th.

The Logic
Somebody ask me why I'm spending about eight hours a day for a month of my life studying for this test. Somebody please ask me why we've invested over $3,000 in tutoring and books. While you're at it, you might as well ask me why I've devoted a whole year to studying for this ridiculous test. ASK ME!!

Quite simply, the answer is that my whole life is riding on this stupid test. It's so simple it makes me want to throw up all over my keyboard even as I write this. If I can make a 1300 (with a minimum score of 650 verbal), I can probably get into a Ph.D. program. If I can get a 1400 (with around 700+ verbal), I can get funding. Yes, that's right. They may just pay me to go to school. If I get 1200, I can go LIVE IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER!

(Incidentally, if anyone needs a motivational speaker, I work cheap.)

Am I being a little over-dramatic? Maybe. But it feels like my whole life is riding on this stupid test. @#$& GRE.


  1. Man, how I miss Chris Farley! Who was funnier than that? David, puhlease. I think anyone who knows you is perfectly certain that you will ROCK the socks off the GRE. You're, like, freakishly smart.

    (But I'll be praying for you anyway!)

  2. That's really nice of you to say. Thanks, and please do by praying for me. I'm looking for providence to work here.