2007.05.16 GREat

Written by David Green.

By JEFF PICKELL

You’ll never know how many words you don’t know until you begin to study for the GRE. The GRE is the Graduate Record Exam and it must be completed before one applies to most graduate schools. It is basically the stupidest test ever and it has been proven not to accurately predict that which it seeks to measure, i.e. the probability of success for a given student in grad school.

Nevertheless, I have paid the $130 registration fee, $40 for the study manual, $5 for the flash cards, and plan to pay a high school student, who has agreed to tutor me for the math portion, a generous sum of pizza and a bowling ball. I also plan to pay many hundreds of dollars for the privilege to apply to several top level creative writing schools.

College is stupid like that. Colleges are supposed to have the smartest people in the world under their employ, but to get into them, you have to pay for and do reasonably well on the stupidest tests ever devised. I’m currently in the process of writing out about 500 vocabulary flash cards to use to study for the verbal portion of the exam, which is comprised of 30 questions and administered over the course of 30 minutes.

Part of the verbal portion consists of analogy questions, which take this form: “Blank is to Blank as Blank is to Blank.” So, for example, you’ll get a question like “Cascade is to Cataclysm as: a) Defeat is to Debacle, b) Chagrin is to Desultory, c) Saccharine is to Turgid, or d) Unctuous is to Ersatz.”

Now, a sensible grad school candidate would know that a cascade is a small stream of water and that a cataclysm is classically defined as a huge %#&@ flood, so it would logically follow that the best analogy in this situation would be to compare a defeat, or a sensible loss, to a debacle, or a huge %#$& blowout.

Sadly, a sensible grad school candidate is a thing of myth, like a unicorn or a Superbowl victory for the Lions. Here was what I thought were the definitions of “Cascade” and “Cataclysm” before I began studying for the GRE:

Cascade: A word pretentious writers use to describe what sun rays do.

Cataclysm:  The Bush Administration.

And here is what I thought “Defeat” and “Debacle” meant:

Defeat: Canadian parlance for “the feet.”

Debacle: The Bush Administration.

Given that, how could I have possibly known exactly what the best analogy was unless I had consulted a dictionary beforehand? I’ve never heard anybody use “cataclysm” to describe a flood. I mean, I had a pretty good idea of what the words meant, but was damned by a lack of specific dictionaryological knowledge. Same thing with words like “sordid,” “torpor,” “perfunctory,” “garrulous,” and “cat.” I know pretty much what they mean, but I couldn’t sit down and write out a word-by-word definition for you.

How the designers of this test think that happening to know the definitions to obscure words indicates how well I’ll do in grad school is beyond me.

Anyway, after taking a few practice quizzes and panicking, I called Melissa Stewart—a professor up at Adrian College—for advice. Melissa is a very smart, caring, and friendly person, or in GRE talk “Melissa is to friends as flypaper is to flies.” When she was studying for the GRE, she threw a giant pizza party and all of her friends got together and helped her write out a thousand flash cards. After a month or so of studying, her verbal scores improved dramatically.

Well, Jeff is to friends as Jeff’s friends are to being slackers who are already eating pizza, so I’m pretty much left to myself as far as the flash card writing is concerned. Which is a good thing for me, because the study strategy I find most effective is to write things down over and over again.

But to memorize all 500 of those cards—man, is that ever daunting. And don’t even get me started on the math section, which to the layman could almost be mistaken for an extended verbal section, what with all the Xs and Ys to the power of Ns they throw around over there. I hate what math has become. It is worse than French.

Luckily, my professors say that to get into a good creative writing grad school, I can pretty much bag math. The challenge is to score high enough on the GRE to demonstrate to admissions officers that I’m not a complete pinhead.

Which, distressingly, is not something I’ve done with this column. Back to the library.

    – May 16, 2007
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    DRAMA—Fayette schools, in conjunction with the Opera House Theater program, will present two plays Friday night at the Fayette Opera House. From the left is Autumn Black, Wyatt Mitchell, Elizabeth Myers, Jonah Perdue, Sam Myers (in the back) and Lauren Dale. Other cast members are Brynn Balmer, Mason Maginn, Ashtyn Dominique, Stephanie Munguia and Sierra Munguia. Jason Stuckey serves as the technician and Trinity Leady is the backstage manager. The plays will be performed during the day Friday for students and for the public at 7 p.m. Friday.
  • Front.F.school
    PROGRESS continues on the agriculture classroom addition at Fayette High School. The project will add 2,900 square feet of space and include an overhead door that would allow equipment to be driven inside. The building should be ready for the start of school in August. Work on ball fields and a running track is also underway.
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    CLEARING THE WAY—Road crossings in the area on the construction route of the Rover natural gas pipeline are marked with poles and flags as preliminary work nears. Ditches and field entry points are covered with thick planks in many areas to support equipment for tree clearing operations. Actual pipeline construction is progressing across Ohio toward a collecting station near Defiance. That segment of the project is expected to wrap up in July. The 42-inch line through Michigan and into Ontario is scheduled for completion in November. The line is projected to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day.
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  • Front.teacher Leading
    PRESCHOOL MUSIC—Fayette band director Jeffrey Dunford spends the last half hour of the day leading the full-day preschool class in musical activities. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Face Paint
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