GREat

Posted by – October 1, 2008

Today I’m taking the GRE, or Graduate Record Exam, and let me tell you, I’m not excited about it. I don’t mind taking a test for four hours – my time spent writing often runs longer than that – but the idea of this exam just pisses me off. I don’t do well with standardized anything, but the idea of standardized intelligence is so unbelievably counter-intuitive, especially for us humanities types.

I’ve always been good at math; I just didn’t like it. My sister, who always scored higher on verbal than math, went into banking. I always scored higher on math than verbal and I’m the writer. Maybe it’s just inborn perversity, or maybe this whole idea of a “right” answer offends me. Math encouraged the wrong bits of me entirely.

I’ve spent most of my intellectual career teaching myself not to look for a right answer, but to look instead at things in a way they’re not usually seen, to ask questions that expose more of the riddle of the thing in question. I love the idea of imbuing the subjective narrative with authority; of defining the universe in a kind of Buddhist solipsism. You know, in a healthy sort of way, that maximizes the importance of our humanity and decreases our judgment of what’s right or wrong.

Call me a recovering Catholic, but I had a literature professor in my first year at Fordham – I started out a theology major, no kidding – who called me The Church Lady because I found Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” a moral outrage. I was The Church Lady with a mohawk, but judgmental nonetheless. I think that tendency is sometimes referred to as liberal fascism, or for you D&D types, Lawful Evil. I recognized the streak and since then have learned to tame it.

And then this test comes along, a test I avoided taking the first time around by getting my MA in Writing, of all things, but now, considering doing a Ph.D., I can’t avoid any longer. And they want to know the best opposite of restive is, and I have to spend the first seconds while reading the question turning off the part of my brain that wants to know the context, and whether restive is being used sarcastically, who’s using it and what they’re describing. The next seconds I convince myself to just answer the damn question the way I expect they want it answered, and the next seconds after that I have to convince myself to stop thinking about it because my first “this is the answer they want” impulse is usually the one that gets me the check mark of correctness. It’s exhausting.

I don’t believe in check marks of correctness, and the idea – at this age! – of having to take a test to give someone a numerical way of understanding how smart I am, or am not, is pretty damned frustrating.

Either way, I’m taking the GRE today.

Please wish me luck in not sticking the pencil in my own eye out of frustration.

9 Comments on GREat

  1. Madame George says:

    I know you’re taking it right now, and I wish you all the luck in the world to realize that your own eye is not the most beneficial place for the pencil.

  2. Sara says:

    Helen,

    I wish you luck on the perforated eyeball thing, and offer a sincere, “relax, you’ll do fine” on the rest. You have so much innate skill, so much knowledge and no, the test isn’t designed to measure all of those things at which you excel. It’s meant to measure how good you’ll do in higher education by setting a minimum baseline, and that’s all. And it’s not always accurate at measuring that attribute. It’s just a hoop, that’s all. Give it your best focus and concentration, give them the “right” answers, then you’re done.

    -SarasNavel

  3. Red says:

    i bet you totally kicked ass at that test.

    and i hope that you’re getting some post-test wine.

  4. sandy2 says:

    No perforated eyeballs! Gah!

    When you read this it’ll be done, so… phew. I hope it wasn’t excruciating.

    (btw sandy2 = same old sandy, just had to start over for whatever reason couldn’t find old info blah blah blah)

  5. Betty says:

    She passed!

  6. helenboyd says:

    lol, yes i did. & i can honestly say that i seem to be improving in terms of my life’s goals, since i used to be the sort that would score a 590/610 when i needed 1200 points, & now i score more like 750/450, ha! suckage at the math, but you know – the whole point of being a writer is *forgetting everything else* until there’s enough room in your brain for wicked verbal skills.

    so my evil plan is working. by the time i’m 60 i’ll have gotten the 900/200 ratio. ;)

  7. Tina. says:

    Congrats!!!
    I’m taking mine on December 1st (same thing, got an MA, want to go on to get a PhD). Dreading it, as I, too, need to get a higher score this time. And this test is just designed to make one fail. Argh!

  8. Red says:

    good for you!

  9. sandy2 says:

    Well done!

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