If you’re beginning the process of applying to graduate schools, then you are likely preparing to take a standardized test. For me, it’s the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. When I began studying for the test, the section I feared was “Quantitative Reasoning.” But after taking some practice exams, I found that the math on the GRE is as basic as many of my friends had said. So, I thought, the verbal section will be a breeze — after all, I’ve always possessed a fairly robust and diverse vocabulary.
Two words: fat chance.
I knew I was in trouble when my parents, who lived in Italy for 35 years, were performing better on the practice verbal tests than I was. To be clear, my dad still doesn’t know the difference between “live” as in “to live one’s life” and “live” as in “Saturday Night Live,” and my mom isn’t much better. But they know Italian and their Latin roots, resulting in several awkward moments when I would be faced with a seemingly indecipherable word only to have my parents quickly provide the Italian translation as if to say, “Seriously, you didn’t know that?” Perhaps I should brush up on my Italian to improve my GRE score — but that seems like a ridiculous strategy to improve my performance on the English section of a standardized test.
In case you’re wondering what type of vocabulary is tested on the GRE, the following is a GRE-esque paragraph explaining how I feel about the verbal section:
I don’t wish to sound cantankerous, much less jejune, and I know that garrulous decrials of the GRE are no ersatz for pedantic studying. Therefore, I shall be laconic in my a posteriori diatribe. Prima facie, I had a visceral premonition that I would perform feebly in the quantitative reasoning section while feeling like a puissant on the verbal section, which I hoped would bolster my score. Inter alia, there has been a hypertrophy in my increasingly heterogeneous vocabulary. Ex post facto, I was mistaken. The verbal section has enervated my confidence with its ostentatious, if not archaic, repertoire of vocabulary. I can only hope that my resilience prevails, my fervid efforts are vindicated and my frustrations prove ephemeral.
In other words, the GRE verbal section and I have hit a rough patch in our three-week old relationship. But let me be clear about why I’m ranting in the first place: the GRE doesn’t adequately test your verbal analysis skills, and it’s a poor example of a “standardized” test.
Regarding my first critique, if the verbal section is primarily a vocabulary test (which it is), then it’s testing a person’s memorization skills or knowledge of an increasingly obsolete vocabulary that’s often unrelated to one’s field of study. In an ideal world, a standardized test should assess a person’s natural abilities and require no studying (if this seems unrealistic then you know why I dislike the concept of standardized tests in the first place). But on the GRE, those with the time and resources to buy and study GRE prep books, attend GRE prep classes and make hundreds of note cards are at a significant advantage over their peers.
Like many undergraduates, I’m biting the bullet and studying daily for the GRE. But we should question why graduate programs (who are aware that GRE performance is not very indicative of success in graduate school) are making admissions and financial aid decisions based, at least in part, on a standardized test score. Sure, it makes their life easier by providing a cutoff point for the consideration of applications, but the focus shouldn’t be on what’s easy, it should be on what’s right. And what’s right just might be scrapping the GRE altogether.
The GRE is outdated. It’s a test based on the philosophy that a standardized score can assess the intelligence and merits of an infinitely complex individual. Thankfully, graduate schools are beginning to place less weight on GRE results. But darn it, after fifteen years of school, I feel I’ve earned the right not to preoccupy myself with one more standardized test.
Tommaso Pavone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.