COLUMN: The GREs: your life determined in four hours

ichael McLaughlin

In approximately three weeks I’ll experience perhaps the most important day of my life. Will I be getting married to the (much-cliched) woman of my dreams? Hah, I still have a hard time finding a member of the opposite gender who is willing to put up with me for more than a few hours at a time. Instead of walking down the aisle, or anywhere else for that matter, I’ll be taking the GRE. This test will, for God knows what reason, probably determine much of the rest of my life.

Therefore, I’ve spent many of the past few weeks attempting to learn all sorts of random vocabulary which I’ll promptly forget right after I take the test, presuming that I even learn them in the first place. Of course being both fairly perpetually nervous and rather anal-retentive I’m attempting to actually learn every single word on the vocabulary lists.

Combine this manic studying with the usual class load for a senior plus a fairly obscure senior thesis, and mix being an active officer in two student organizations and at the end of the day you’ve got one frantic guy trying to balance the proverbial spinning plates.

And I’ve actually got it fairly easy. I don’t actually have to work to pay for school (I do have a job, but it’s more an academic resume-burnishing one), as I was lucky enough to receive a Founder’s Scholarship from the university. Trying to balance all the aforementioned schoolwork with actual work seems practically impossible from my perspective, and yet many students at the campus manage to balance the two with much more aplomb than I would ever manage.

Surprisingly, there is actually a point to all this kvetching. Standardized testing may actually be the best way to determine who actually deserves a choice spot at a selective university. The idea that in one four-hour time period one can more or less screw up his or her life, or at least throw themselves upon a more difficult path, is horrid albeit unavoidable and probably actually the best way.

Admittedly, graduate schools do look at more than the GRE when deciding whom to admit. But when only 10 percent of applicants are admitted, any error can disqualify one from the running. It’s nerve-wracking, if a bit of an understatement, to say that whether I know what a numismatist is will determine if I get into the University of North Carolina’s history program. To think that one’s life can be summed up as a three-digit number (as the verbal section is the only one that I’m worrying about) is daunting. Then again, isn’t that always the case with everything in life – one’s credit score for another example.

Finally, if you see someone wandering around muttering various incomprehensible verbs and nouns to himself, he probably isn’t nuts (at least the scary violent type of nuts). There is a good chance that he or she is just trying to prepare for the most important test of his or her life. Well, until the graduate comp exams at any rate.

Although you might want to grab a can of mace just in case.

Michael McLaughlin is a senior history major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].