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photo by Sean MacEntee

The shock has finally worn off, the tingling sensation has left my fingers, and my ears have stopped ringing.  I “survived” the GRE!

I have to be very careful as to what I tell you. I’m not kidding. I had to leave a handwriting sample, about a paragraph long, in cursive, saying I will tell NO ONE about the GRE test/experience/rigorous initiation right. I’m not sure what will happen if I risk it. Will blaring alarms go off and guards in black tactical combat uniforms come to haul me away? Will Harry Potter’s Dementors find me and suck out my soul? Is it worth the risk?

photo by OregonDOT

photo by OregonDOT

Ahhh! What the heck! Here goes…

I received a phone call from a lovely sounding girl, we’ll call her “B” because I don’t think I can give out her real name, saying that they had computers available and that I could come in early.

“Welcome to my web,” said the spider to the fly.

I arrived at the testing station and was directed to the “lower level.” Really? The test really is given in a “dungeon?” Good grief! Talk about self-prophetic!

I walked into an unassuming looking office where I was greeted by the friendly Ms. “B” and handed a clipboard with a form attached where I was to sign my life away…in cursive. Next I was told to place EVERYTHING I brought with me into a locker. No water bottle, no mints to chomp on, no snacks {SOB!}, just the plastic key from my locker. I’ll bet plastic and metal taste really good after four hours.

photo by derekskey

photo by derekskey

Next, I was ushered into a room (holding tank) where I met “A,” a serious African-American young man with absolutely NO sense of humor. He’d make the perfect gatekeeper into Dante’s Inferno.

“Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”

photo by lightgraphs

photo by lightgraphs

I was photographed and “wanded” to make sure I hadn’t snuck in my iPhone or any other cheating device. I waited for the fingerprinting, blood sample, and cavity search, but “A” must have been off his game that day, and I escaped further violation. He handed me two pencils and OFFICIAL scratch paper, and we entered the room of doom.

I was told to wait by the door as “A” walked briskly over to a computer station and searched it for contraband. DAMN! And I had it set up where the person before me was to leave me a secret stash of vocabulary words, math equations, and granola bars! Curses, foiled again! He beckoned me over, turned on the computer, and told me that if I needed to get up during the test, I had to raise my hand, and that I would lose that test time (each section was 30-35 minutes long) and that the timer would not be stopped. My bladder would have to wait for the promised land, i.e. the 10 minute break in the middle of sections 3 and 4. Good thing I DIDN’T have that water bottle!

There I was…in the middle of a convoluted collection of rabbit warrens surrounded by three fabric covered walls, intrusive cameras aimed at me like double-barreled shotguns. Who would actually dare to cheat this thing? Certainly, not me!

photo by ST3VVO

photo by ST3VVO

The computer came up, and a picture of me appeared on the screen. One more chance to admit that I had sent in a ringer.

And that’s when the fun started.

I am not allowed to tell you any particular questions; I wouldn’t remember anyway.

The first two sections are analytical writing, and people there is no grammar or spell check! In the first they give you a scenario and you are to defend or refute it. Easy. In the second you are to read an argument and write on if the author defended it well or not and why. Harder, but still doable. You get 30 minutes for each, and it takes me almost all of that time. Fortunately, I self edit as I write, because there isn’t much time left to go back over it.

I’m now in the zone. Next comes a vocabulary section. Fill in the blanks and multiple choice questions on writing samples flash before me, and I lose all sense of time.

The math sucked. There’s no nicer way to say that.  I am not a math major; there’s a really good reason I study English Lit, and I’m pretty sure it’s because in my world, 2 + 2 = 5. Or 6. I have to work it out long hand. In fact there’s a cute joke in the English Department:

Guy gets into a line at the grocery store with a loaded cart. He’s in the 15 items or less lane. He’s either an English major who can’t count or a math major who can’t read. Guess which one I am?

photo by Polycart

photo by Polycart

Anyway, I tried my best in the two math sections, but many times I was forced to guess. I can tell you how much to tip waitstaff based on the restaurant bill, but I don’t really care what “X” equals on the bottom line of an isosceles triangle. I’m NEVER going to need to know that again in my life. By reading Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen, I’ve made sure of it!

The damned computer must be intuitive, because the second half of the test got increasingly harder. I could feel my mind turn to goo and start to leak out of my ears. I blew off the ten minute break; this was an endurance contest now, and I was determined to win. With cameras everywhere silently watching me, I took on the GRE as if it was every parents’ mortal enemy, Barney the Dinosaur.

photo by ElectronicFrontierFoundation

photo by ElectronicFrontierFoundation

Finally, finally I was done and my scores flashed onto the screen. 157 in verbal and 148 in math. I had no idea what this meant, I just knew I was finished and had earned my way out of the dungeon of doom. But wait! I could send these scores to four schools for free! Dragging the very last thread of energy out of utter exhaustion, I plugged in the four grad schools I hope will accept me into their fold.

I grabbed my meager possessions and left the Inferno. I know in my heart of hearts that the seventh circle of hell contains math problems. I’m turning over a new leaf, and I’m going to be a good girl from here on out. Call me Beatrice. I’m bound for Paradiso.

photo by Angelo Gonzalez

photo by Angelo Gonzalez

“B” was waiting in the holding tank when I left. Still chipper (sure, SHE didn’t have to take the damn thing, just lead others in!) she had me sign out. I asked her what time it was, and she told me 8:40.  I had been in hell for four hours, but it hadn’t seemed like it. I asked her what a good score was, and she told me most people score between 140 and 150. Hmmmm. I got a 157 in what counts to me, the verbal. I would have to wait for the analytical writing scores; they let a “human” grade those. Imagine!

Two of my professors have since told me that my score is pretty good. I’m clinging to that, guys, because I NEVER want to take that test again! Thank God Halloween only comes once a year and the GRE hopefully only once in a lifetime.

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