Last night I took the GRE... a requirement for most American Graduate Programmes. On arriving at the testing centre I copied out a statement that I would not disclose the contents of the test to any other person by any means. So this post will, of course, only touch on the things that took place outside of the testing room. But that is where the real drama takes place.
There are plenty of wonderfully helpful aids to prepare you for the test itself, but very little to inform you about the accompanying rituals, so here, based on my experience is a guide on what to expect on test day.
Once non-disclosure forms are signed, your mobile phone turned off and your belongings stowed securely in a locker, you will be taken into an anti-room. Here you will be given a once-over with a metal detection wand, asked to roll up your sleeves to the elbows, turn out all your pockets, and show your ankles.
That done you sit in a chair to get your mugshot taken, and sign into the sacred testing room. If your signature isn't legible enough for their taste you will be asked to redo it. Protestations that it is good enough for your bank and your credit card company are of no use. So you print it more painstakingly than you probably have since third grade.
You are now ready to enter the facility and be guided to your computer station where you will take the test.
But wait!!! Make sure you are a comfortable temperature... because here's the corker which pushes the whole thing over the edge of ridiculousness:
Once inside the facility you may not put on or remove any items of clothing. Should you decide that you are too warm you must exit the testing room, sign out (make your signature match the one from when you signed in!) get permission to open your locker to put away the sweater, and go through the whole process of metal detecting, ankle displays and turning out your pockets again. All while the test clock is still running.
You get one scheduled pee break in the 5 hour test, during which you go through the same security checks. You may take additional breaks with the clock running, but you are warned that if you take a suspicious number of breaks this will be reported by the centre staff to the powers that be.
As you leave you get your only consolation of retaliation is to sign your name with the minimal possible amount of legibility, and take a handful of the free mints on the receptionists desk.
And that is the GRE.
The great irony is that GRE scores are of secondary importance to most schools. They are far more interested in the person you are and the things that you will bring to the programme which can't be measured by your ability to ace a generic test.
Really, if a student is innovative enough to develop a test support tool that can be smuggled past the guards and activated by the simple removal of a sweater any grad school ought to welcome them with open arms!
As I final confession, I did actually, in a weird way, quite enjoy taking the test. There's something satisfying about having completed it, and now I'm one step closer to graduate school, with an over priced piece of paper to prove in some quantifiable way that I am smart. Sure, on the way home I may have got on completely the wrong freeway exit and then spent 5 minutes waiting for the tea kettle to boil before I realised I hadn't turned the burner on. But hey! At least I know how to -REDACTED BECAUSE I CAN'T DISCUSS TEST QUESTIONS.