Betsy Shebang - Column for 10/16

GRE is to Reality as _____ is to _____

I took the GRE last Thursday, as one more stone-hop across the river to grad school and my teaching credential and/or Master's degree. Arrived at 8 am, thirty minutes after a high-protein breakfast and four weeks after realizing I hated every job I've ever had and I should become a high school drama teacher ASAP, since it's the only paying occupation that I'm more or less qualified for, and that I have any interest in, and that I would consider worth my time.

I'd kicked ass on the C-BEST test five days before. For those of you out of the loop, the C-BEST is the "You must be at least this tall to teach in California" sign that separates the competent and the incompetent from the really incompetent. Kicking ass on the C-BEST is like doing a really really good job taking out the garbage. Everybody will know if you fail, but nobody will even notice if you succeed.

So, I whupped ass on the C-BEST, I repeat, wringing all possible glory out of the triumph, but I knew the GRE would be much harder. I haven't been sleeping well lately, which is no help. Been studying for a few weeks, picking up math formulas and geometry rules I'd had no reason to think about for (gasp) seventeen years. I'd checked "Conquering the GRE in 24 hours" from the library.

A word about test prep books. I read much of "GRE IN 24 Hours". It sucked. It had spelling errors and grammar errors; it gave unnecessarily complicated solutions to problems; it said C was the right answer before going into a detailed explanation of why E was the right answer. I tell ya, I'm a lenient person, but if you can't even put down the right answers when you're the one writing the questions, should you be writing test-prep books?

Example: Here's a hexagon. The sides are all length 1. Determine the area inside.

Easy, right? Divide it into triangles, determine the area of one and multiply by six.

Since the angles inside total 360 degrees (says so in the book) they're each 60 degrees; and since the angles in each triangle total 180 and the others are equal to one another, it's an equilateral triangle, with three 60 degree angles and sides of length 1. A few more tricks determines the area of that triangle, but it's all stuff we had in the previous chapter.

But does the book take this approach? No. It says to do it like this:

...which produces the same answer, but requires just as much geometry and more math. Huh? Is the rectangle supposed to make it easier to work with? Well, whatever.

So, I went to the test center; forgot my snacks. Finally wound up in front of a PC running the computer version of the test. The selection of questions is based on the accuracy of answers - the questions get harder with each correct answer - so you can't go back to rework questions once you've answered them. This sucks.

First section was math. I did pretty well. Better than I thought I would.

Next section was analytical reasoning. Example: "Five children, Alan, Bobby, Charlene, Donna and Eddie, climb onto two life rafts. Alan refuses to go with Eddie. Donna won't go with Bobby unless Charlene is in the same boat. Charlene has an equalibrium problem whereby - "

I do pretty well on that, until I reach the part where it says "Each worker works only one shift and only two workers can work the same shift at any one time. Peter must work the same shift as Robert. Question: If Peter works the same shift as Fred..." I stared at that for a good ten minutes. Soon I've got one minute to finish all the Analytical Reasoning questions. I click through the answers randomly, cursing Peter and his fickle ways.

Next section: English and Reading Comprehension. It starts with the easy stuff: Antonyms. "Choose the word that is closest in meaning to the opposite of the word in italics." Up pops a word I've heard all my life. All my life, of course, in sentences where understanding the exact meaning of that word is not absolutely necessary to gathering the meaning of the sentence. An unnecessary word, really. A fru-fru word. A wankerrific word. I see if "wankerrific" is one of the available responses. I wonder what the antonym of "wankerrific" is. Time ticks away.

I choose an answer. I get another antonym question.

I choose an answer. I get a syllogism question: ("_____ is to _____ as:") I choose an answer. I get a five-paragraph essay to read and answer questions about. I read the first question. I choose an answer. The essay disappears.

I get another antonym question.

Several times I climb up Mount Reading Comprehension and fall back into Antonym Gulch. Soon I realize I've been staring at one of the questions for maybe five of my 45 test-taking minutes. I'd run out of brain-steam. Sure, I could read these paragraphs and correctly answer analytical questions about them. I could also walk to San Jose carrying two bowling balls. I'd need a break, some exercise and lunch before doing either.

My Point

And this is my point: This kind of test doesn't test one's ability with math or English or whatever. They test blood sugar. (Mine's been weird lately - always tired.) They test how much sleep you've gotten. (I've had trouble sleeping lately, just like everybody else.) They might as well take a urine sample and compare and contrast the findings with the test results: "He got thirty percent right with only one banana and three hours of sleep? Give this kid a scholarship!!"

Is there a solution to this, other than bringing nourishing snacks along and making sure no sleep-interrupting events take place in the weeks before the test? I dunno.

But I do know this: I'm taking the test again (cancelled my scores) and next time I'll take the paper-based version. If one question rouses my self-righteous need to demand the correct answer at any expense, I'll get the other questions done first. I'll expect there to be a few questions where the right answer just ain't there. Gotta ignore those.

Like so many other things in life, I just gotta find the ones that are worth my time.

Columns by Betsy Shebang