Sunday, July 13, 2008

Taking the GRE

I took the GRE yesterday and man did it suck.

It's on a computer now, which is great for the analytical writing - I was so glad I got to type. I think I wrote a really kick-ass essay for the first analytical writing task (where you respond to a position), and a decent take-down for the second (where you analyze someone's argument about something unrelated).

But in addition to being on a computer, it also uses adaptive testing for the multiple choice parts. This means they give you a question of medium difficulty to start with, and then based on whether you get it right or wrong, they go up or down in difficulty. Your score is roughly based on the level at which you start to miss about half of the questions (or so I've read).

What this means is that, unlike in normal standardized testing, being above average doesn't mean you can mostly answer all of the questions. It means you get consistently really hard ones, and it sucks so bad.

The first section I got was the quantitative, and I only finished 22 out of 28 questions in the time allotted. It was terrible. I really hoped it was maybe not the one that counted, because they sometimes put in an extra section that they are testing for difficulty. And I felt like I had really blown it.

Then I got a verbal section, which was fine and relaxing. I finished it in plenty of time. I think verbal questions are relaxing because you don't really have to work at them and try to puzzle them out - you pretty much know what MENDACIOUS means or you don't. (I don't. Just for the record.)

And then I got another quantitative section, which did indeed mean that one of the two (the one I'd already taken or this one) was going to not count as part of my score. I tried to be smarter on the second one, and on some questions I gave up and just guessed early rather than wasting a lot of time. I still only completed 26 of 28 questions, and it was still murderously hard.

At the end, you get a choice to either keep or discard your scores. If you discard them they are gone forever. If you decide to let them stand, you then get the chance to see them, if you want. Naturally you can't see them and then decide. (Thanks, ETS!)

I was slightly tempted to just throw my scores out, but, you know, fuck it. Hopefully my future grad plans aren't going to require me to have super high scores, and I didn't really want to throw away the afternoon. So I kept 'em.

720 Verbal / 780 Quantitative

Wow! I was aiming for a 750 on Quant, and didn't care too much about the Verbal, so that was just an awesome result for me. I'm thinking it means that the second quantitative section counted, because I can't imagine how I could have gotten a 780 on the first one. I guess I got lucky there.

My advice to anyone taking the GRE:
  1. Practice the math a lot. Get a workbook or something. Especially, if you can, try to practice the timing, and figuring out when to give up on a question instead of wasting time on it.
  2. Expect taking the test, at least the quant part, to suck.
  3. Don't take the horrible feeling of failure and misery as a sign that you did poorly.


Sally said...

Super fantastic job, Tam. You are golden.

It sounds like getting that first Q section to practice on made a nice difference in your performance on the "real" one. I wish there was a way to better prepare for the murderous toughness and time pressure of the adaptive test at home, but I have yet to find a good way.

Tam said...

When you sign up at ETS, you can download their practice software, which does have sample tests. I don't know if they are adaptive or not, though, unfortunately. The murderous toughness did suck. I think on my first Q section I spent like 5 minutes on a single geometry question which I ultimately did not get. Argh!

Jason Galbraith said...

Congratulations, Tam! Those results exceed mine the last time I took the GRE. You graduate next spring, right?