Saturday, July 02, 2011

en deuil

As I suspected, Attempt #1 at scoring in the 99th percentile on the GRE didn't result in success. I got exactly the same Verbal-plus-Quantitative score as I got back in 1999: 1420. The points were shuffled around a bit this time, but the experience felt almost like an IQ test in which we confirmed that my intelligence hasn't risen even a single notch over the past twelve years.

A 1420 will help get you into most of the upper-tier schools, but such a score isn't Ivy League caliber. My Quantitative score-- both this time and over a decade ago-- would also prevent me from going to a higher-echelon tech-oriented school like Virginia Tech. If I remember correctly from last time, a low-700s Quantitative score puts one in the 80-somethingth percentile. With Verbal, it's easier for a bloke to attain the 90-somethingth percentile.

I have no excuse for my modest scores; while I did study, I didn't really pressure myself, and that's what killed me today-- poor time management as opposed to a lack of skill. I found myself rushing through the final parts of both the Verbal and the Quant sections... though I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the new (well, new to me) Analytical Writing section, which has taken the place of the old Analytical section. Grizzled GRE veterans may remember how the 1990s-era test went: in the Analytical section, you were faced with a series of logical posers, something along the lines of

You have nine employees to assign to a row of office cubicles. Employee A refuses to sit next to a smoker; B prefers an end-cubicle; C wants to sit at least two cubicles away from D; etc. What arrangement best caters to all the employees' preferences?

I despised those problems. I was never good at them, despite practicing, and took way too long to get through them when I took the actual test. On the current GRE, those problems are all gone, and in their place we now have two essays: an opinion essay and an analyze-the-argument essay. The first essay, as with TOEFL and SAT I and any number of other standardized tests, evaluates your ability to organize your own thoughts-- to tackle a generic topic by offering a well-structured argument laden with clear, concrete supporting examples. The second essay, by contrast, has nothing to do with your opinion: instead, you're presented with an argument (a letter to the editor, say) and are told to find and isolate the argument's various flaws, while also providing suggestions as to how to fix those flaws. As the ETS test prep guide says, this often means clearly stating what faulty assumptions the arguer makes, then offering your take on how those parts of the argument could be rewritten. This was-- or so it seemed to me-- much, much easier to handle than the old "happy cubicle proles" problems were. While I'd love to talk about the topics I wrote on today, ETS has forbidden it, which is why I'm avoiding any mention of specific details from today's test.

Where does this leave us? Well, I've now had my only crack at the current form of the GRE. I'm scheduled to take another test in late August, so I have about a month to study up on the new format. While I'm disappointed not to have achieved my goal on the first try, I did anticipate that this is what was going to happen, so there's no surprise in today's failure. I'm very, very curious to see whether I did better on the Analytical Writing section then I did on the Analytical section of yesteryear. My suspicion is that I did a much better job: my opinion essay may have been a bit top-heavy, but my time-budgeting for it was pretty good, and I think I nailed the analyze-the-argument task. Now that I know how ETS works thanks to my stint rating TOEFL essays, I know that the raters of the Analytical Writing section will be looking for very specific elements in the analyze-the-argument task. I hope I hit them all.

So there we are. I'm not as sulky as I thought I'd be; in fact, right after I left the testing center, I went downstairs and got myself two slices of pizza plus a soda, and just ruminated like a bovine. I chalk today up as a learning experience more than anything; it's been twelve years since I last sat for this test, and I'm the kind of person who needs to get into a rhythm as opposed to just "switching on" and plunging right in. Hats off to those who saunter in and saunter out with their 1600s, but that's not me. I need a warm-up.

August 26, here we come.


1 comment:

Charles said...

Sorry to hear you didn't do as hoped. Time to start prepping for August, I guess.