This is not a book review, unless you actually want to read a review of the Princeton Review’s Cracking the New GRE 2012. This happens to be what I’m reading these days. I’m thinking about going back to school for a master’s or a Ph.D., and that means taking the GRE.
I’m a good test taker. Very good, in fact. Something about the weird psychology of multiple choice exams — picking the best answer and ruling out the fakes — has always come easy to me. But in recent days, the Education Testing Service, the Princeton Review, and even the New York Times have warned me that as a person who hasn’t been a student in -umm- a very long time, I shouldn’t be cocky.
The last time I took a formal, day-long examination was in 1996, the bar exam. And the last time I took a “bubble” test? The LSAT, 1992. That would be 19 years ago.
The GRE is premiering its new and improved version beginning in August. Now, I was pretty happy about taking the old GRE. I’m actually good at those analogies and word puzzles that most people hate. The idea of a new test scares me. I’m an old-timer taking a brand new test. And it’s been many, many years since I needed to know how to calculate the angles in a triangle.
I can do it. I just need to get used to the idea that the test is taken on a computer (they didn’t have those in my day, heh heh heh), and actually adapts each section based on how you answer. Princeton Review cautions that taking a test on the computer is harder than we might think, because we’re used to scribbling on the test form, crossing out answers, etc. Can’t do that anymore. Plus we’re actually given a limited amount of paper, so we either have to budget our scribbles, or stop what we’re doing, raise our hands, and wait for a proctor to come around with more paper. Damn them.
And even if I think taking a 4.5 hour test is no big deal, the Times cautions me to think again. Sure, I work all day in front of a computer. But when was the last time anyone timed my work? And when was the last time I had to work for hours without getting up, checking email, or answering the phone? A very long time.
Recently I had the experience of coordinating a group of 27 education experts (nearly all university professors) through the process of writing a series of paragraphs, in a specific format and using a specific program, and under considerable time pressure. Most of them, even with their many, many years of experience, couldn’t do it. Actually, they completed the task eventually but with a lot of hand-holding and hair-pulling (mine, not theirs). Why? They are used to working on their own time, writing their own way, and reviewing their own work. And the greater the expertise, the more difficulty they had with the task.
I’m not saying I’m an expert — but when the Princeton Review tells me I need 4-8 weeks to study, I figure I better respect the book. The Times informs me that older test-takers score lower, on average, than younger test-takers. In other words, the 40-somethings score lower than the 30-somethings, who score lower than the 20-somethings.
So while a part of me scoffs at the idea of making vocabulary flash cards, I’ll do it anyway. And here’s the thing. Studying for a test after all this time is kind of fun. Kind of exciting. I actually like doing equations and figuring out word problems. And I’m a serious enough test-taker that I don’t just want to be good enough.
I want to crush this thing.
I want to tell the New York Times what they can do with their statistics.
The only question is whether, at 40, I have the stamina to keep up.