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The GRE: The Good, the Bad and the Stress

Photo+credit%3A+Lili+Mae+Kinney
Photo credit: Lili Mae Kinney

Photo credit: Lili Mae Kinney

Photo credit: Lili Mae Kinney

Kiley Pohn

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On Sat, Oct. 21, I wandered around an office complex in Metairie until I found what I was looking for: a professional testing center. It was a place I hadn’t known existed until I registered for the GRE, and when I entered the office I knew why. It was freezing cold and incredibly sterile, as if germs could pass you answers to the test. Eliminate every possibility of cheating, right?

All my meager belongings save for my driver’s license were placed in a locker outside what I called the “inspection room”. Here, we got waved with metal detectors, turned out our pockets, and confirmed that we were not in fact hiding test answers underneath our leggings and norts. I had to take off my headband, because the testing center gremlins could tell that I had written the quadratic equation inside it in hopes that it would seep through my skull via osmosis and grant me a perfect score.

After another gremlin had confirmed my signature matched the haphazard version I signed on my license at age 16, I was granted admission into the magical testing room, with corrals of computers lining the room. I was given my desk, a booklet of scratch paper, my ID, the key to my locker, and a whisper of “good luck”.

Joking aside, the actual experience of the GRE is what you’d expect. You sit in a cold room for hours on end, frantically typing and scribbling on your scratch paper, wishing you had your own calculator that some smart friend had rigged in high school to include every formula you could possibly need. It’s the standardized test we all know and love, just a little bit harder.

If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be this: study for the GRE. As soon as I decided I would be applying to grad school I registered for the test, giving myself months to prepare. However, this coincided with the start of the school year, and suddenly my window of time to study was rapidly closing. It came down to two days before the exam, when my thesis advisor let me know that it was probably too late to start studying, and oh my gosh I hadn’t even looked at a practice test?

Knowing what you’re getting into is the easiest way to prepare in my mind. The GRE consists of three sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. The test begins with two writing prompts, with thirty minutes to answer each. You’ll hate listening to everyone’s frantic typing, but as long as you can form coherent arguments this tends to be the easiest section of the test. Once that’s done you’ll get two sections each of verbal and quantitative reasoning, plus an extra “experimental” section designed to help the test writers come up with better exams.

What this meant for me was struggling through not two but three sections of math, not knowing which were included in my score and which was experimental. Upon completion of the test, the computer spits out your score for the verbal and quantitative sections, ranging from 130-170. You can choose to send scores to grad schools now for free, or wait and send them later for a fee. Once you’ve done that, you’re able to collect your belongings and leave the center. If you look sad enough on the way out the security guard might toss you a piece of candy, but don’t tell him I warned you. And remember this: I can promise that a high score is sweeter.

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The GRE: The Good, the Bad and the Stress