Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The last standardized test I'll ever take?

Last Saturday I woke up at 7:00 am, fixed some oatmeal, kissed my family good-bye, and road off to McCracken Hall for what may well have been the last standardized test of my life.

The GRE subject test in literature consists of 230 questions covering all of English literature from Beowulf to contemporary world literature in English, divided into four categories: critical theory, literary history, identification, and literary analysis--at least that's what the "literature" provided by Educational Testing Services (ETS) says about it (How did the word "literature" come to mean corporate fine print anyway? People probably read more "literature" from Pfizer, Allstate, the IRS, and the Jehovah's Witnesses (and hopefully the Mormons) then they do from Norton, Houghton Mifflin, or Random House). What the test actually consists of is 230 multiple choice identification questions designed to measure your theoretical grasp on potentially thousands of works and authors that you may or may not have learned about during your undergraduate study of English. In other words, they don't expect you to get all the questions right.

Oh, and did I mention--you get 170 minutes to answer all 230 questions. That's 44.3 seconds per question. And the scoring formula, which gives you 1 point for each correct answer, -1/4 point for incorrect answers, and no points for unanswered questions, sets up a dilemma--do I guess and answer all of the questions? Do I only answer the ones I know and leave the rest blank? Or do I play the percentages and gamble using what one study guide called "aggressive guessing," which involves a combination of the process of elimination and going with your gut?

That same study guide included an irritating chart that showed how three different people, using the three different methods, could arrive at the same score. This was supposed to be helpful, even encouraging, but to me it made the entire process seem silly.

Still, hedging my bets, I chose the latter method, and while there were several questions about works and authors I'd never even heard of, most of what was on the test sounded familiar, like I'd either read it, or at least read about it at some point during the past several years, which means that I probably managed an average score--something akin to gentleman Cs. We'll see. The score report comes out in six weeks, just in time to include it with PhD applications.


Sarah said...

Ah yes, the GRE. I remember how fun that was. Luckily for me I took the science one instead of Literature. And, oddly enough, I was actually VERY glad to be taking the GRE instead of the MCAT. :) At the time I hoped it would be my last standardized test but, alas, I am stuck taking them every 5 years to recertify. Guess I should have read the fine print on being a PA.... :) Congrats for being done, you'll have to let us know how the PhD applications go!

adam said...

Applying for fall 2009? I'm in the same boat with psychology... just took the psych GRE and it sounds pretty similar in regards to the timing and scoring.

Where are you applying to?

Zach said...

I didn't know you took this. You might consider it as the source of your recent eye irritation.

Jana said...

Ugh, the GRE subject test. What a nightmare. I still remember how freezing cold it was in my testing room, and that was five years ago. Hope it went well...but no matter what, at least you don't have to do it again!