Posts Tagged ‘studying for the GRE’

There is a grand and mythic test.  It decides your fate, your future, and whether or not you’re worth the air you breathe.  It’s called (dun dun dun!) the GRE.

So what’s it really like to study for the GRE?  It’s like having your brain stuck in a blender and transported through a wormhole back twenty years.  Honestly, I started having flashbacks of the first time I learned all this.  Suddenly I was sitting in Mr. Bragg’s 9th grade Geometry class next to the window, while our teacher played with a basketball, and I met my future locker partner for the first time.  Suddenly I was standing in my grandparents’ blue/green carpeted kitchen in the 80s, just barely taller than the counter, learning to make Tang for the first time.

I had to turn off the creative side of my brain entirely.  It kept calling to me: Come out and play!  And I had to be a ninety-year-old grumpy woman and tell it to get off my porch.

Now, you can study for these tests, sure, but for a non-traditional student, you’ve got to be prepared for the hellish wasteland that is your memory.  The last time I took any math class was 16 years ago.  I took geometry 20 years ago.  Algebra (the only math I actually kind of like) is barely on the test at all.

The creators of the test claim that you’ll be using only elementary and middle school math.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha snort (oh no, she just died! medic!).

I work at a library and thankfully had access to several different review books by different publishers.  My favorite book to talk about liked to set out what appeared to be straight-forward questions, and then in the answers, the editors would laugh and make fun of you.  “Ha ha, I bet you chose answer D, but in reality, that’s WRONG! Ha ha ha, tricked you!”  I was also lucky enough, at that point, using that book, to have a math genius who was willing to help me out, and who finally took that book, flung it across the room, and explained that I didn’t need to be treated like a fool to re-learn a few math concepts.

Actually, re-learning some of the concepts was fascinating.  (I’m not being sarcastic or anything here!)  If I had been taught this way in the first place, a lot of the math would have not only made more sense, but it would have been more fun and more logical in how to use it in real life.  Unfortunately, my public school teachers were not taught to teach us the logic behind the math.  All I knew was how to show my work, every single step.  And on a timed test that only cares if you can guess what the correct answer is, this is Not Helpful.  Besides, it had been 16 years since my last math class, and I Had Not Used Math Since.  AND, even worse, if I could pass the GRE and if I could get into a university graduate program in language arts or writing, I would Never Have To Take Another Math Class As Long As I Live.  So where’s the incentive?  I could easily go back and re-learn the fascinating parts of the math and spend five or six years doing it.  But there are really no math games out there, and until someone invents The Most Fun Atari Math Game Ever, or a way to publish Fun Math Problems for Grown-Ups next to the crossword puzzle and word search in the daily paper, the only people who are going to benefit from the GRE test are the people who put together said test.  It’s a test designed to Simultaneously prove that you can CONFORM and get the right answers while Thinking Outside the Box.  This is a paradox.

The question becomes, for students hoping to get into an arts program, When do you stop?  How much is enough?  You can keep studying until you get a perfect score (at which time they’ll change the format of the test), or you can decide what’s Good Enough.  The biggest problem was that, once I got to the end of the math review book, I found out that I had re-entered all that information into my brain, but that those TYPES of questions (straightforward concepts) are not on the test at all.  They aren’t testing if you can use the math; they are testing if you understand WHY the math exists in the first place.

Also, as a non-traditional student hoping to get into an arts program, I’m currently working full-time, doing a little elder care on the side, writing and publishing short stories, submitting queries for novels… and what I found when I had to lock my creative side in a Jack-in-the-Box and be all dull and studious was that I hated who I was.  I became dull and drab and watched more television because I didn’t have the energy to be creative after studying for about five hours a night.  I didn’t have time to make Christmas pressies for my sister’s children.  My responses to stupid questions were less malleable and probably less kind.  And all because I was using a side of the brain that I (through genetics) am not supposed to be relying on for anything except to keep me from death.

Coming up in Part 2: I took the test, I passed the test, it nearly killed me.



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