Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Call Me David, Lord of Mathematics

I took the GREs today. As you may know, I did not really study for them that seriously. I did a few practice sections, and one full test, in which I got a better score on the quantitative section than I did on the verbal. Which is weird, because while I'm a rather verbose person on the one hand, I fear and loathe math on the other.

The GRE is a computer-based test, and has some weird quirks. The most notable is that the questions are path-dependent. If you do well on early questions, they start giving you harder ones. If you start missing questions, they become easier. I'm told they still throw in an assortment of difficulty levels regardless, for standardization purposes. But overall, the test adjusts to your ability level.

There are two main upshots to this. The first is that you can't go back to check your work. Once you input an answer, that's it, you're moving on. This is somewhat annoying, especially for someone like me who works fast (and thus sometimes makes sloppy mistakes) but generally catches them on the read-over. But that's not a huge deal. What is a big problem is that the difficulty-adjustment plays tricks on your mind. Now, I'm a pretty good test-taker. So let's say I get a few answers right early. Now I start seeing some harder questions. Oh my God, these words don't even look remotely familiar! This is so difficult! But wait, that should mean I'm doing well! Then, of course, a few questions pop up that seem easier. Good news? Nope--because now I'm convinced I got each of the last five wrong and the test as readjusted itself to "third-grader" mode. And so it goes, up and down, harder and easier. The entire ordeal is a recipe for paranoia.

But anyway, back to me. As I said, I did slightly better on the practice math than I did on the practice verbal (750 math, 740 verbal was my last practice test score). This translated very weird percentile-wise--the 740 was 99th percentile, but the 750 was 84th percentile. Nonetheless, even with a last-second review of trig with my engineering school-bound brother, I had a lot of trouble imaging I'd do better on math than verbal on the real test.

Because its computer-based, they can give you all your scores (except the writing section) right in front of you. My final score? 720 verbal....790 quantitative. For some perspective, not only is that higher than I got on my SAT (1510 versus 1500), my quantitative score on the GRE was higher than my verbal score on the SAT (780 in the latter case), after having taken a grand total of one true math class in the past three years.

Now I just have to figure out what that score means for grad school applications....

1 comment:

PG said...

My inner Andy Rooney comes out whenever I contemplate these individual-adjusting computer based tests. Thankfully none of them were around when I took the SAT and LSAT, and while I'm hoping to take the bar exam on a laptop, everyone gets the same questions on that.