Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Answer is B...Usually...Sometimes: Why I Hate Standardized Tests

I've reached another step in the getting-in-to-school process. I finally scheduled the GRE (which is, for those who don't know, like the SAT but for grad school). About half the schools I was looking at expect me to take it for an MFA, but nearly all require it if I want an assitantship.

The dreaded standardized test. It matters, but it doesn't. It's important, but it's not. I need to leaf through study aids and do practice problems over the next month, but not too much or I won't work on my writing sample, which is about 1,000x more important. Most schools' FAQs say the same thing: We will read your writing sample first, and if it's good, we'll look at the rest. (Unlike undergraduate schools, which check the SATs and transcripts first to make sure you have at least a scrap of competence and THEN consider the rest.)

In other words, we want you to write well, but if you do that and only get a 129 on your GRE, you will make our program the laughing stock of the university graduate school.

My sample is the most important, and my verbal scores are pretty important. Math is the least important. However, I would need the most practice on the math, some on the verbal, and my writing sample needs work every day until the application is submitted. So, how does one find a balance? How can I possibly quantify exactly the time and concentration that should go into each one?

The seemingly best answer is to spend lots of time on my sample, and split the rest evenly between math and verbal practice. But then there's the little problem of my fear of standardized tests.

It's not that I freak out or have anxiety attacks (that would be an easy fix - just get some anxiety meds and I'm good to go). I am calm in testing situations. But I don't necessarily test that well, either. I took the SAT twice, convinced that the first attempt was an off-day. When I re-took it, my score only increased by 10 points. I don't want to make that mistake again.

Maybe I would have done better if I had barricaded myself in my room and crammed with study aids. But I've heard enough stories from people who did all that and still took a completely different test than the one the books said they would take. I was applying to music programs (this was before I officially added the double major in English), and it seemed more sensible to work on my audition pieces than try to increase my vocabulary by 400% in five weeks (sound familiar?).

Perhaps I'll never figure it out, but studying or writing fiction would both be better than blogging at this moment.

Or will working through my anxiety fix it?

Nice try.

I do know for sure that actually having full weekends now can't hurt.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Disclaimer: Comments which have not been proofread and/or thoroughly researched may be mocked.