I graduate from CSUS after next semester. I’m aiming straight for grad school, and to get into grad school, I needed to take the computer-based GRE (Graduate Record Examination). Here’s how it went…
I signed up for the test a few months ago. The registration system is daunting and very picky about names. (I’ll let you read up the horror stories on Google.) One blog post I found argues that the GRE’s naming policy is discriminatory against non-standard-English names and also against anyone who has had their name changed, especially women who have divorced and transgendered people. This is made worse by the tiny fact that GRE doesn’t allow you to change your name once you register for an account, because for some transcendentally brilliant reason, your name (sans non-standard-English characters, which aren’t permitted!) is your account identifier. If your name changes, you end up having to register a new account instead, but that doesn’t change your old appointment if you have one…I’ll let you read that blog post and ponder why this is a horrible system.*
Also, as soon as you sign up for the test, you’re out $195. Gone forever. Kaput. My mother also signed up for the GRE but, a few days later, decided not to pursue a graduate degree after she graduated. So she canceled her test a few days after signing up.
The folks at ETS, the people who put on the GRE, gave us back $100 and kept the rest.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a surprise–it’s in the fine print, and my family is a family of fine-print readers, which makes watching advertisements on television a more amusing experience. But it’s still irksome. It’s a computer based test. We’re paying for a few megabytes of space in a database. The test was months away, and I highly doubt that the wheels of any bureaucracy (such as ETS) turn fast enough for that $195 to have paid for anything of consequence. So, yes. Irksome, to say the least. (If I was designing this system, I’d make the revocation fee small at first and grow exponentially as the test day neared and more time/space/effort was being dedicated for my appointment, but that’s just me.)
Anyway, back to the test. I took the test in November. The test itself wasn’t bad at all and test day went smoothly. My test took place at a Prometric testing center in Fair Oaks, CA, in a funky office building that screamed 1950s. My mother dropped me off there, since we carpool. The test-center lobby had several lockers to store your personal belongings while you take the test and plenty of chairs, but my (disabled) mother was forbidden from waiting in the room, even for a few minutes. (Maybe that $195 pays for the privilege of sitting in lumpy couches?)
I brought a sandwich, some chips, an apple, and a water bottle to store in the locker. If you’re going to take the GRE, I recommend you don’t skip this step–your brain doesn’t like you being hungry! I ended up having to put my wallet and watch in there as well, but the locker door locks and you get to take the key with you into the testing room.
My California State ID was sufficient (since my name is relatively standard English and it hasn’t changed since I registered for the test) to get me in the door. I had to sign a form and, in cursive, copy a paragraph that stated that I was an outstanding human being (I am!) and would not cheat on the test (I want to earn my score, darnit) and wouldn’t reproduce any of the test questions from memory. My cursive is rusty, and by rusty, I mean it looks like I scribbled lots of loops everywhere. But I read and reproduced the paragraph as accurately as possible.
Then I went through a security checkpoint that would’ve made the TSA proud, although the test administrators had much more humor than your typical overworked TSA agent, even to the point of us joking that a webcam on the desk looked like an alien’s antenna. While being scanned with a handheld metal detector, I discovered something about my pants that I had never noticed before: I have a pocket for coins. It’s on my right hip on the inside of my main pocket and it’s just big enough to stuff a few dollars worth of coins into it. All this time, I’ve been carrying my coins wrong. My life is enriched!
After ensuring that I had put everything except my locker key and ID into the locker, I was led back into a testing room with lots of computers separated into cubicals. I’d read that the temperature can be on the cold side, but I didn’t notice. The administrator logged me in, bade me luck, and I started the test.
The test is in six sections and you’re offered a 10-minute break after the third. I get really grumpy if I don’t eat for awhile so I elected to take my break. I went back through the security checkpoint and stuffed my face with swiss cheese on wheat bread, and then I went back through the security checkpoint to finish the test.
Now, for people with test anxiety, there’s one thing that will likely make you nervous: some of the test administrators walk around the testing room, light as a fairy, and some of them stomp around the testing room like a giant mecha from a particularly oddball late 1990s computer game that got overshadowed by the release of Half-Life, only without the cool hydraulic sounds. The room is typical office space, but the floor feels like it’s made of raised tiles (like the kind you’d find in a data center or computer lab). The tiles tend to bounce and conduct sound. Every once in awhile, a test administrator will walk/stomp all around the room, and sometimes, he or she will stop behind you just to make your heartrate go up a little. Try not to take it personally. GRE suspects all students equally of cheating, not just you. (And, I imagine, they also want to make sure you didn’t faint or have a stroke–test anxiety is nasty, y’all. Take a deep breath, don’t forget to eat, and do your best!)
All in all, the process went very smoothly. At the end of the test, GRE shows you your unofficial scores** and gives you the chance to send your scores electronically to up to 4 organizations. This is part of your test fee so use it! There is a built-in search function to look up the colleges you’re interested in. I sent mine off to CSUS, WSU, UC Berkeley, and Stanford, because if you’re gonna aim, you should aim high.
After this, all I had to do was sign out, collect my personal belongings, and leave. The sign-up process might’ve been daunting, but the actual test was easy to take, as far as standardized tests go. Now I’m one step further along the path to grad school.
*Speaking of horrible systems…standardized testing in general. I’m not going to get started here on my feelings towards standardized tests and the way they marginalize certain populations. No, I’m not one of those populations, but rest assured, as a future professor, I have the feels.
**Note that part of the GRE score is written and it has to be graded by an essay reader, so this won’t show up on your unofficial scores. It’ll show up on your online GRE account about two to three weeks after the test.