Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Post Traumatic Standardized Testing Stress

I knew it was a bad sign that, as I sat in the waiting room for my impending test, I could not remember what GRE stands for.

I suppose the rain this morning set the tone for doom. Of course I wore my flip flops to the event, accompanied by my yoga pants that I never have used for yoga, and my hoodie sweatshirt proclaiming my love of beer—casual, everyday comfort. When one embarks on a journey into standardized testing one must first feel comfortable from head to toe, and I, having lost my mind in many ways, decided I needed to take the GRE (again) because an MFA wasn’t quite enough. Perhaps a PhD? Why not? Now I know better.

The first thing you must know is that this test occurred at 8am. I left my house at 7am. I awoke at 5am to make sure that my coffee intake was sufficient. It wasn’t. The waiting room was lit by thousands of watts of fluorescent buzzing. They make you sign away your life so that you won’t repeat questions you read during the test. You copy in your best handwriting an entire paragraph, almost like the ancient punishment of copying sentences on the blackboard, “I will not repeat these test questions. . .” And then you sit and wait with your photo I.D. in your hand. Since you are not allowed to take anything into the test, especially your electronic devices, there is no quick game of Angry Birds to play, no bookmarked page to read, just the ID and the paper, which you should have already read and copied.

I sat and studied the intricacies of my driver’s license as if it were a foreign thing, a foreign person staring out from the tiny box on the front. Who is that woman? Face puffed out with seven months of pregnancy, never ending straight, flat hair, fancy earbobs peeking out from the strands. It says that she weighs 145lbs, is 5’7”, and has hazel eyes. I have certainly never met that girl, for I haven’t weighed as much since before both of my children were born, nor have I ever quite measured that extra inch. As for my eyes, well, they are mostly brown and a little bit green. What compels us to lie so blatantly on our driver’s license, and how important is the accuracy? In the top right corner I have a tiny heart next to the word donor, and for those few silent buzzing moments I considered which organs would be useful to someone if I were to die in a car accident on the way home.

They pat you down before you go in. “Empty your pockets,” they say. “Roll up your sleeves,” they say. “Show me your ankles.” And this last one was particularly embarrassing because underneath my recreational yoga pants was the stubble of all the weeks since I last cared about what my legs looked like out in public (which is a considerable amount). And after all the pulling out of pockets and pant legs, then the wand—which I always makes me nervous it will go off and I won’t know why. I felt like I was walking into a court room rather than a tiny blank space filled with computer cubicles.

And then, the test. Did you prepare? you ask. Did you spend $35 on one of those study books with the attached computer program so you could practice at regular intervals for at least six weeks prior to your test? you ask. Of course I bought the book and the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but not the road to a doctorate. I did use the program for the vocabulary matching game, which was fun because I almost always got 100%. But, as it turns out, they don’t have the cute vocabulary matching game on the actual GRE. And, as it turns out, the language is so incredibly dry and grandiloquent that it takes twice as long to comprehend. I am convinced they find the most superfluous and poorly written sentences to fill in the blank. I know that I gagged a couple times.

After all this madness I have learned a couple of valuable lessons. The first is that I am an adult now, and by definition I should never, ever, have to solve for x, y, or any other random alphabetical variable. I should never have to find the sine, cosine, or curve equation for x, and y on a plane. Calculating percentages is right out, unless I am figuring out a tip average. These are things that define me as an adult: the right to never do algebra again.
The second priceless nugget of truth I gleaned was that I don’t think I want to get my PhD. It is possible that I don’t have quite enough stamina for the rigorous academic schedule. I would like to teach, I will never stop learning, but it is not worth losing my hair and gaining twenty pounds for, which would certainly happen if I had to devote all my free time into finding childcare. Now is not the time. I will stay here and continue to peddle my complaints via this blog.

I did remember what GRE stands for, later that afternoon as I explained to my little Thing One on her way home from kindergarten. She asked, “What does requisite mean?” and then I had an aneurysm.