Here in the US, most graduate programs require a standardized test called the GRE (officially Graduate Record Exam) as part of the admission process. It’s really just a hoop you have to jump through – it doesn’t correlate to success in graduate school. Gives the admission folks a number, which they seem to like. I hired a tutor to help me prepare and his take on the test is that all it tests is your ability to take the GRE on the day you take it.
The GRE has 3 parts – a verbal section, a math section and an analytical writing section. I didn’t have much trouble with the verbal part. I like words. The math section, on the other hand, is designed to confuse and obfuscate. It’s not that the math is that difficult, it’s the way they write the problems. Well, that, and the fact that I hadn’t had geometry or algebra in about 35 years. In some cases, I might just as well have never learned it in the first place!
I had 5 sessions with the tutor, mostly to help me relearn the math. I never felt so dumb in all my life! I can’t count the number of times I’d just sit there with a blank look on my face in response to a question. I studied and practiced and practiced and studied. Ask me any 10th grade geometry question. Although, come to think of it, I’ve done a pretty good job of purging my brain of all that crap in the 3 weeks since the test, so never mind on the “ask me anything” thing.
The actual test is computer-based, but you have to go to a testing center to take it. I suspect people are able to visit prisoners with less security. I even had to turn my pockets inside out to show that I wasn’t smuggling in any answers. So conducive to a relaxed test taking environment! My adrenaline was pumping and wasn’t helped one tiny little bit by the computer freezing in the middle of one of my essays. Even the proctor wasn’t sure that what I had already written could be recovered. Luckily, it was. You would have heard about me on the news if it hadn’t (“Middle-aged prospective grad student goes postal at testing center”).
In the end, while I didn’t do spectacularly well on it, I didn’t embarrass myself too much. But I don’t recommend taking the GRE as a form of entertainment. Really. It’s not that much fun.