Sunday, August 28, 2011

while we wait for the storm, a few GRE-related remarks

The new GRE is, it turns out, even more of an endurance trial than the old one was. On the test I took yesterday, the two Analytical Writing sections-- 30 minutes each-- were considered Section 1, after which I had two Verbal sections and three-- count 'em, three-- Quantitative sections, alternating Quant, Verbal, Quant, Verbal, Quant. At a guess, one of the Quants was an experimental section and won't be counted in my final score.

The test began at 7:30AM. I got to the center at 7:15AM, which was a bit late, since I was supposed to arrive at 7AM. This didn't turn out to be a problem, though; the 30-minute margin is there to make sure you've gone through registration before testing begins, and I was able to register quickly enough. In fact, I had time to spare, as I had to wait for my turn to be called up to the desk.

Unfortunately, the early start time had other ramifications: it meant that I wasn't fully pooped out. Every morning, especially on work days, I normally try to have a nice, long, thorough dump before I start the day, so as not to have to poop while I'm in the office or out somewhere. This is how I get through the day at YB: by purging myself of my shit-demons, by avoiding eating anything during class, and then by going home and pooping out what little is left in the intestines. (There's always an unpooped remainder, you see.) Yesterday morning, though, I was in a rush and managed to poop out only a fraction of what I needed to void before I left for Falls Church.

Around the time I finished my first Analytical Writing essay, my insides started burbling. This was a sinister sign: another brown subway train was nearing the terminus. I had sound-dampening headphones on, but I could hear the wet bubbling right through them. Many of my fellow test-takers hadn't opted to wear headphones; I could only wonder at how this auditory onslaught sounded to them. By the time I was allowed a ten-minute break-- about two hours into the test-- my insides were bubbling about once every three minutes. I signed out of the testing room, rushed into the bathroom, and got rid of most of the gas and gunk buildup with a shuddering sigh of relief. The second half of the test went much better, and was noise-free.

The other hitch occurred at the very end of testing. I had finished the final Quant section and found myself on the Report Scores screen. Score-reporting is for people who are hoping to send their scores to such-and-such graduate school; since I was taking the GRE for job-related reasons, I didn't need to report my scores, but at the same time, I did want to see them and to receive an official paper copy of them. When I had asked the guy who handled my registration about what to do-- "Would I still see my scores if I opted not to report them?"-- he said yes. It turned out, however, that he should have qualified his "yes."

The Report Scores screen begins with a simple option: you click on either "report scores" or "cancel scores." Since I didn't want to report my scores, I clicked on "cancel."

And that abruptly ended my session.

I stared at the monitor in disbelief, then went back out to talk to the registration clerk about what had happened. He clarified: "You have to click 'report' first, then you can opt not to send your scores to any universities." I wish I had known this before I clicked "cancel," goddammit.

"So what do I do now, if I want to see my scores?" I asked. Before the test, and contrary to what I had read online about the revised GRE, the clerk told me that the GRE test-taker does get to see his scores at the end of the test. Up to that point, I had thought that no scores would be available at all.

So there we were, post-test, and me without any notion of how well I had done, despite a promise that I would know. I wasn't happy. The clerk wrote down a number at ETS for me to call; I could sense that I was entering the bureaucratic vortex, and this man was washing his hands of the problem. I thanked him and left. Once I was back in my car, I called the number and was pleased to reach a human being right away: I had thought that I was going to be subjected to one of those 40-minute waits where you hear that horrible combination of nauseating elevator music, looped self-promos, and the always-unhelpful "Your call is important to us; please stay on the line for the next available representative."

The gentleman who took my call sounded somewhat older. Rather haltingly, he told me that I would have to go through a "reinstate scores" procedure, and that this would cost a dick-punching, scrotum-slashing thirty bucks. He also told me that, had I clicked the "report scores" button and seen my scores, I would have seen only a score range as opposed to exact scores: the revised GRE is so new that the old 200- to 800-point system no longer accurately reflects how the new GRE is scored. Stats are in flux, and we, the first wave of test-takers for the revised GRE, are contributing to a data pool that will help refine statistics for future score-scaling purposes. As I mentioned a while ago, the new scale is 130 to 170. The scores I would have seen yesterday would have looked like "700-750" or "750-800" or (God forbid) "650-700." Not precise at all.

Upshot: I've got to cough up thirty dingle-damn dollars to reinstate my scores. The score estimate will be available two weeks after my faxed or mailed request has been processed. The official scores, though, won't be available until November, and even then I'll have a hard time interpreting them. I'm going to have to rely on percentile rankings to judge how well I did.

All in all, yesterday's test-taking experience was interesting and frustrating, not to mention an adventure, thanks to the gastrointestinal factor. Since I'm likely to sign up to take the test again in October (new rule: you can take the GRE General test only once per 60 days, so September is out), I hope to sign up for a later hour than 7:30AM. Taking a test in the early morning truly bites.


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