Monday, December 10, 2012

Emptying my pockets and standing on the red X: Taking the GRE

[Note: If you haven't yet, there are only four days left to enter my current contest: Individual cleanliness!]

I did end up taking the earlier bus today, which was good because although it was scheduled to come at 10:35, it did not get there until closer to 11:00.  Had this been the later bus, I probably would have been tweaking out that I wasn't going to get there early enough.  The bus ride was fine, except for the part when I was sure my right ear was going to break out into full ear infection mode.  Luckily it didn't, but there was a span of 15 seconds where I was sure it was on the edge of doing so.  (I think there may still be some unresolved ear issues from my infections at the Calafell tournament in May.)

When I got to the testing site (Around 11:30), the woman who greeted me at the door was super nice.  She said, "What test are you here for?"

And I said, "12:30".

"But which exam?"

"Ooooh, the GRE." hahah

She had me sign in and then sign this form that said I wouldn't share anything I see on the test with anyone else, or something like that.  I had to copy a statement that was four lines of printed text, then sign at the bottom.  Like actually rewrite the whole thing below, then sign.  I stared at it for a good thirty seconds before I wrote anything, wondering, "Am I really supposed to rewrite this whole thing?" Indeed, that was the case.  There were a bunch of blank lines below for the copying.  I ran out of space and had to squeeze the ending in the side margin.

Then she told me that there were open computers, so I could start whenever I wanted to; I didn't have to wait until 12:30.  Score!  Another reason why it pays to show up early!

So I ran to the bathroom, then went into the office in order to start the exam.  You had to have an ID on you at all times.  She checked my ID, and then I signed into this booklet with the current time.  Then they took my picture.  Then they gave me a locker key and told me to put everything into the locker, and to empty my pockets.  They even said if you're wearing a watch to take if off.  I was wearing a watch today, but only because my study book had said to wear one!  So I put my bag and watch inside a locker, then went back inside the room.

They watched me check all my pockets to make sure they were empty.  I had purposefully left a kleenex in one, thinking it would be okay, but they had me throw it out.  A perfectly good kleenex!!  There were kleenex inside the "testing room" that I could use if needed, I was told.  Then the woman said she was going to scan me with some sort of metal detector I think, but first asked if I had a pacemaker, something else, or if there was any chance I was preggers.  Nope.  So she told me to stand on the red X, then she scanned me front and back.  Then I was given my locker key, license, scratch paper, and two pencils; then led inside to my computer.

I'm wary about things like x-rays and the metal detectors and full-body scans in airports.  If they don't want pregnant people to be scanned, why would the scan harm a fetus and not the adult?  I think when I go back to take the PRAXIS in the spring, I'll ask if I can not be scanned.  Or just lie and say I think I'm preggers.  But we all know I can't lie, so I'll probably just ask if I can skip the scanning and they'll say no, and I'll let them do it.  What would you do? Should I just suck it up, or does anyone else think there might be health risks involved?

Anyways, the testing room was basically a bunch of computers with different people at various stages of different exams.  There were headphones to use; well, not to hear anything, just to block out the sound.  I'm not sure if those have a special name.  Ear protectors? Head ____?

The first section was the writing section, which I had been most nervous about.  That's because two days before the exam, I realized that all of the possible writing prompts - for both the issue essay and argument essay - were on the GRE website.  Yup, that's right.  If you're taking the GRE in the future, I highly recommend reading them and practicing with them.  Here's the pool of issue questions, and here's the pool of argument questions.

When I discovered these lists, I first kicked myself for not having found them earlier, and then I read through as many issue questions as I could.  There were many issue questions that I really thought I'd need to do some research on to be able to answer; I couldn't just write a response in 30 minutes using the knowledge I currently had - as you're supposed to do.  The statements are really vague, which is the purpose, but I have trouble with the abstract.  I prefer clear, organized things.  So on Friday after work JJ helped me bounce around ideas for some of the prompts, then again on Saturday morning.

Although I didn't go through every prompt (there are tons, which is probably why they don't mind making them all available online), there were lots of repeats, so I at least had a better idea of what to expect.  I did one on Friday night and timed myself, then made myself do one more on Sunday night.  I picked a prompt that I absolutely didn't want for the exam.

So the first essay today was the issue question.  I immediately recognized the prompt from the pool, and was glad it wasn't one of the "hard" ones for me.  (It's #81 in the pool, if anyone wants to count.)  Though I had never planned what my points would have been for this one because I deemed it "easy" on first glance, I came up with something and had enough time to finish.

Then came the argument questions.  I chuckled out loud when I saw my prompt.  I had seen it at the top of the pool page every time I went there during the last few days, but never picked it apart or used it to practice.  I actually read the whole thing on Friday or Saturday, but thought I don't want to try to think about this one; I won't get it, so that's okay.  Hah hah hah.

Then the writing was over.  I won't know my scores for that section for another 10-15 days.  I'm curious as to what they'll be.  I know they won't be a 1, 2, or 3; but I don't know where they'll put me on the 4 - 6 range.  I was shooting for a 4 so that if it's higher I'll be pleased, but here's a secret: a 6 is what most people want to get!

My second section was quantitative reasoning, aka math.  I enjoy math exams, and thinking through these types of problems; which worked towards my disadvantage today I think.  When I'd get to a trickier problem, I'd really want to figure it out.  I'd keep trying different things, because I love it. The not knowing. And then finally, after struggle and struggle - aha! It becomes clear and the answer has been found.  Except on the GRE, you don't have time to struggle and struggle and try one thing after another.  If it's going to take you some time to figure out, you should really skip it.  But I wouldn't realize how much time I'd spent on some problems until after I'd burned up several minutes.  Then I'd have a mini debate - well, since I made it this far, should I keep working until I get the answer, or move on to the next question.  It was hard to just stop in the middle of that thinking.  You can "mark" questions on the GRE if you want to go back to them later.  I marked a bunch in this first section, but completely ran out of time and never got to go back to a single one.

The third section was a verbal.  It was alright.  I did pretty bad (about 50%) on my verbal practice exercises, so I wasn't expecting much.

After the third section was an optional ten-minute break.  Mind you, over two hours had passed since I'd started, and I was hungry!  I had to sign out on that piece of paper when I left, then got an energy bar (cookie dough flavor !) out of my locker.  Quickly ate it, ran to the bathroom, drank a swallow of water from the break room, then went back into the office.  The lady had me stand back on the red X to rescan me with that (metal?) detector, then I had to resign in.  The guy at the desk asked me if I was doing ok on scrap paper.  Yeah, I'd said.

When I got back to my computer, the screen said that my test was about to continue.  I'm pretty sure my fourth section was quantitative reasoning.  Before section five I checked my scrap paper: only two faces left.  If I had two more quantitatives left, I was in trouble.  So I was happy to see "verbal reasoning" as section five, even though I don't like those sections.  Then my final one was another quantitative reasoning.  Again, I would use up all my time, and during the last minute checked some answers for questions I had left blank, since you don't get penalized for wrong answers.

The fact that I didn't balance my time well for the quantitative reasoning was proved when my verbal score was two points higher than my quantitative.  Whoops.  I scored about average though, which, *shrug* whatever.  Then when you're done, you can select up to four schools to receive your scores.  Since I don't actually have any finite grad school plans, I just selected four random schools for kicks.

I'm glad that's done with at least.

Today I took the GRE in freezing cold Wisconsin.  A year ago today I was in Oliva, Spain; eating homemade paella at Gregorio's parents' house.  Oh how the times do change.
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