Monday, August 18, 2008


I've been considering going back to school (again) to get a Ph.D. To further pursue this thought I've been looking at the requirements for getting into grad schools. One of the biggies is the GRE. Three years ago I took the GRE, and I decided to find out what my scores were, and if they were still valid, and if they would be an asset or liability in getting into grad school.

The problem was, I didn't have any information from when I took the test. The scores have disappeared, there are no confirmation numbers or registration items, and I didn't even remember exactly when I took it (sometime during my second year of law school, but that's all I knew). So I called the folks at the GRE to find out how I would go about finding out my scores.

They started by checking to see if I was in the system. I had to give them my name and confirm my address. I didn't remember my address. I took the test more than three years ago, and the address they had was someplace I lived for 9 months. I remembered the street and zip, and the guy helping me out said that was plenty. He then told me that I took the test in February of '05, and that if I wanted to get my scores I could call a different section of the GRE corporate offices and pay $12 to get them over the phone or $20 to have them mailed.

Or I could take three guesses, and if I got the scores right, he was able to confirm them. This is apparently corporate policy for the GRE. It wasn't particularly helpful, however, because I didn't even remember what sections were on the exam, how many different sections you were scored on, or what the relevant range was for each score. I asked.

"There are three sections," he said, "Verbal, quantitative, and writing. Verbal and quantitative are scored between 200 and 800, and writing is scored from 1 to 6."

Those were some helpful ground rules. Instead of having an infinite range of possibilities, I now had 3 chances to guess my exact number out of 600. This was going to be much easier.

When I took the test initially, I signed up something like 8 days before the test was administered. I just took it quickly because it was a formal requirement to a program I was all but guaranteed to be accepted to (joint degree during law school)(Naturally, I was not accepted.). I didn't really study for the GRE, since I didn't have time, and I didn't give it much thought. I remembered that I had done ok; better on one section then the other, but both were scores high enough to be accepted to the program I had applied to at the time (that I didn't get. Hmph.).

And so I started guessing. I started with verbal, figuring I had done pretty well (or better than I would have on quantitative. I was wrong about that too.), and guessed in the mid-700's.


"Ok...", I hesitated. "Um, higher or lower?"

"I'm not really supposlower," he answered.

I guessed lower. I was still too high. I had one guess left, and I had only narrowed the range by about 100 points. A one in 500 shot. No way I could guess this, right? Right. My third guess also missed. I was out of guesses, and no better off. Until the guy on the other line threw out a helpful, "But you're really close. You're right above that one."

Nice. I had a good feel for my verbal score. I repeated the process with my quantitative, this time starting my guesses lower, around 650.

"Nope, higher."
"No, but right below it".

Once again, a good feel for my range. And now I was to the easy part: I had a 3 in 6 shot (well, 3 in 12, since they give half scores too). Way better odds. I started with a 4.5.

"That's four guesses. But yeah, you scored a perfect on your writing. Good job man."

So there I had it. I knew (roughly) my GRE scores. I also learned that all scores are cumulative for the GRE, so even if I took it again and scored perfects, my scores wouldn't improve a tremendous amount; certainly not enough to make it worth taking again. I think. I might say differently if I don't get accepted into any programs. Either way, I'm keeping my $12. No paying for my scores here!

And I guess that's the moral of this story. The GRE is an aptitude test. And it has revealed that I have a tremendous aptitude for bilking the GRE out of money.

I don't think I can handle this
A cloudy day in Metropolis


Jeff said...

Don't do it, man! Don't go back to grad school! You'd have to be a fool to do so! Take it from someone who knows...

Matthew B. Novak said...

But I want to teach!
And write!
And have periodic sabaticals!