Last Friday, I took my GRE for the second time in my life. I needed them for the graduate programs I am applying to, and they expire after five years. The first time I took them was nearly ten years ago now, for the Master’s program where I was ultimately certified to teach.
Full disclosure: I was a terrible student. Especially in the undergrad years. I transferred three times in three years, and while my grades were high at my first two landing spots, upon transferring to the University of Michigan, I came within a hair’s breadth of flunking out. I went from winning scholarships and being on the Dean’s list to begging for one more chance, one more semester on academic probation before they kicked me out. I did manage to turn things around, and earned University Honors as some sort of redemption in my final semesters. But without those first two years of GPA to offset the “bad patch,” I look pretty bad on paper.
While attending college, I worked. The job I held was as a test-prep tutor–so when I sat down to take my GRE I did not need any extra preparation. I also earned nearly a perfect score.
Ten years later, rusty when it comes to test prep, I once again sat down to take my GREs and once again I scored very high. So what do these achievement scores say about me? For two semesters, I was not fit to take classes and was flunking out. For the next few semesters, I was an honors student. My test scores reflect my ability and my previous job–we used to take LSATs, MCATs, GMATs, whatever while proctoring the exams of our students. My test scores reflect the fact that I was groomed to be a test-taking machine. Heck, I finished each section of the GRE early both times I took it and still scored high.
When I talk to students and teachers about the SATs and ACTs, I wonder about what stories lie behind those scores. Did a student not eat breakfast? Did they have a fight with their mom before the test? What do the numbers really mean? It seems so imprecise, to tie such scores so tightly to the way we judge schools, teachers, and students. I plan to explore these questions in a series of posts here in this space. So stay tuned.