Saturday, October 23, 2010


I took the GRE on Friday. I stressed about it for weeks, studied constantly in the days leading up for the test. For those of you don't know, the GRE is an extremely stressful and -- some argue -- an extremely important standardized test that's similar to the SAT only you take it in college instead of in high school. The test scores are required on most graduate school applications, even though most graduate schools don't care what the test scores actually are. I went into the test knowing this, and that it wasn't going to be as bad as I was expecting, and not much else.

I don't remember much of the actual test. I remember the essay questions and some of the math questions. I remember reading lengthy, intricate passages (although I don't remember what they were about) and answering complicated questions about them, and choosing words that best fit in the blanks of long sentences that didn't make much sense. I remember sitting on the floor by my locker without my shoes on, eating cheese and crackers and carrots and Nutri-grain bars during my break.

I remember being shocked when it was over. That' That can't be it! I just got here three hours ago! The test itself only took me a little over two hours, which is relatively short for a standardized test like this. This fact alone was enough to make me feel a little shell-shocked for the first part of the ride home. I'm sure my father, who drove me to Harrisburg and back to take the test, was wondering what was wrong with me. I couldn't believe that it was over so quickly. I couldn't believe that I had stressed and studied for weeks, spent over $150, and drove for six hours round trip for a test that went so quickly that I can barely remember it. (I'm sure that the stress is part of why I don't remember a lot of it, but it also seemed really short.)

I also got my scores before I left. Since it was computerized, it was easy for the machine to calculate the number I got wrong almost before I was done. At this point I hadn't really researched what were good scores and what weren't; I just knew that I had gotten a pretty good score on my SATs and this score was lower than that one. I wondered if it was a good score; what were schools looking for? Was I going to be rejected from every school I applied to? How could I get the same score on math and verbal again? (I scored the same on math and verbal in high school too when I took the SAT; I didn't understand it then either; math has never been my strong point.)

I sat in the car, watching the red and gold trees fly by on the side of the road, trying to puzzle out this phenomenon. I figured that I could have taken this test when I graduated high school and probably wouldn't have scored much lower or higher than I did this time around. But I know that I'm smarter now than I was three years ago. So what's the deal? What does the GRE (and the SAT) actually test? I started to feel like I had wasted the last years of my life here in school, "learning" things that apparently aren't important. I felt bad for wasting my time and money (not to mention other people's) on this test, wondering what the whole stupid point of college is anyway.

Then I guess I discovered something. These tests aren't really that important. A lot of schools don't even look at the scores anymore, especially not for liberal arts programs like the ones I'll undoubtedly be applying for. College is a place not to learn how best to fill in bubbles on a standardized test about bar graphs and analogies but to learn how to better yourself as a person. It's a place where you expand your horizons, make new friends from all over the world, and figure out how to survive on your own. The things I've learned in my three and a half years here can't be reflected on any standardized test. The skills I've acquired that allow me to BS a 10-page paper the night before it's due, talk about any piece of literary work whether or not I've read it, and deal with conflict between the people I live with can't be learned by reading textbooks and can't be tested via electronic exam.

Now is not necessarily the time for a reflective piece about how much I love my friends or how many memories I've made in this small college town that doubles or triples in population during the school year (it's not that close to graduation, is it?). But it was certainly a relief to decide that the last three-plus years haven't been a major waste of my time and my parent's money. Who cares if I scored in the 52 percentile in math? I got in the 89 percentile for verbal, and what school would turn that down? I rock at analogies.

1 comment:

Lee said...

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