Monday, May 24, 2010
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
E-MAIL SIMONATSIMKAL UMICII.EDU.
f you're beginning the pro-
cess of applying to graduate
schools, then you are likely
preparing to take
test. For me, it's
nation, or GRE.
When I began
studying for the
test, the section TOMMASO
I feared was PAVONE
after taking some practice exams,
I found that the math on the GRE
is as basic as many of my friends
had said. So, I thought, the verbal
section will be a breeze - after
all, I've always possessed a fairly
robust and diverse vocabulary.
Two words: fat chance.
I knew I was in trouble when
my parents, who lived in Italy for
35 years, were performing bet-
ter on the practice verbal tests
than I was. To be clear, my dad
still doesn't know the difference
between "live" as in "to live one's
life" and "live" as in "Saturday
Night Live," and my mom isn't
much better. But they know Italian
and their Latin roots, resulting in
several awkward moments when
I would be faced with a seem-
ingly indecipherable word only to
have my parents quickly provide
the Italian translation as if to say,
"Seriously, you didn't know that?"
Perhaps I should brush up on my
Italian to improve my GRE score
- but that seems like a ridiculous
strategy to improve my perfor-
mance on the English section of a
In case you're wondering what
type of vocabulary is tested on
the GRE, the following is a GRE-
esque paragraph explaining how I
feel about the verbal section.
I don't wish to sound cantanker-
ous, much less jejune, and I know
that garrulous decrials of the GRE
are no ersatz for pedantic studying.
Therefore, I shall be laconic in my
a posteriori diatribe. Prima facie,
I had a visceral premonition that I
would perform feebly in the quan-
titative reasoning section while
feeling like a puissant on the verbal
section, which I hoped would bol-
ster my score. Inter alia, there has
been a hypertrophy in my increas-
ingly heterogeneous vocabulary.
Ex post facto, I was mistaken. The
verbal section has enervated my
confidence with its ostentatious, if
not archaic, repertoire of vocabu-
lary. I can only hope that my resil-
ience prevails, my fervid efforts
are vindicated and my frustrations
In other words, the GRE ver-
bal section and I have hit a rough
patch in our three-week old rela-
tionship. But let me be clear about
why I'm ranting in the first place:
the GRE doesn't adequately test
your verbal analysis skills, and
it's a poor example of a "standard-
It's time for
grad schools to
scrap the GRE.
Regarding my first critique, if the
verbal section is primarily a vocab-
ulary test (which it is), then it's test-
ing a person's memorization skills
or knowledge of an increasingly
obsolete vocabulary that's often
unrelated to one's field of study. In
an ideal world, a standardized test
should assess a person's natural
abilities and require no studying
(if this seems unrealistic then you
know why I dislike the concept
of standardized tests in the first
place). But on the GRE, those with
the time and resources to buy and
study GRE prep books, attend GRE
prep classes and make hundreds
of note cards are at a significant
advantage over their peers.
Like many undergraduates, I'm
bitingthe bullet and studying daily
for the GRE. But we should ques-
tion why graduate programs (who
are aware that GRE performance
is not very indicative of success
in graduate school) are making
admissions and financial aid deci-
sions based, at least in part, on a
standardized test score. Sure, it
makes their life easier by provid-
ing a cutoff point for the consid-
eration of applications, but the
focus shouldn't be on what's easy,
it should be on what's right. And
what's right just might be scrap-
ping the GRE altogether.
The GRE is outdated. It's a test
based on the philosophythat a stan-
dardized score can assess the intel-
ligence and merits of an infinitely
complex individual. Thankfully,
graduate schools are beginning to
place less weight on GRE results.
But darn it, after fifteen years of
school, I feel I've earned the right
not to preoccupy myself with one
more standardized test.
- Tom Pavone can be reached
Learning to live in the UK
My mom always told me
that first impressions are
really important: "Wrin-
kles and a poor
not make a good
London - one of
the most amazing
cities in the world
- has extended
its arm and given ERIKA
me a really bad MAYER
My family and
I lived in Indonesia for three years
during my preteen years, so I'm no
stranger to extended stays outside
the United States. So after living in
the largest Muslim country in the
world, I expected that adjusting to
London would be a walk in the park.
What I didn't realize is that it's a
lot harder for my family to support
me from across the ocean, and that
makes this English-speaking coun-
try seem very foreign.
Now, don't get me wrong; I'm
not going to give up on London just
yet. I had rocky starts with people
who turned out to be some of my
best friends. But for a city with such
awesome reviews, I've been disap-
pointed with my first encounter.
The first British accent was excit-
ing, even though it was far from the
first one I've heard in my life. I had to
stop myself from being mesmerized
by the grandmotherly woman sit-
ting across the aisle on the plane. But
from there, the enchantment ended.
Heathrow Airport is very confus-
ing, and it has little to offer. Grant-
ed, if I hadn't spent six hours there
waiting for the rest of my group to
land, I might've enjoyed my visit a
bit more. If my first lesson of study
abroad was to avoid total assimila-
tion, the second was to be patient.
But a grumbling stomach - there's
no food in the arrivals terminal -
makes that a little difficult.
Once out of the airport, I was
struck with the startling realization
that London is dirty. Really dirty. In
all my pre-travel excitement, I pic-
tured the city as both a gleaming
metropolis and beacon of culture and
cleanliness to the wide-eyed tourist.
Reality: 1, Erika: 0.
Yes, it was naive of me to create
this mental image. But I can't say
anyone ever prepared me for what it
would actually be like. While the city
is filled with charm and old build-
ings, I'm covered in black smudges
by the end of the day.
After a shower and some food,
however, I started to see the city dif-
ferently. With my clothes put away, a
working blow dryer and a fresh out-
look, things didn't seem so bad any-
more. Pubs spilling over with locals,
music playing: The city had the buzz
I initially expected from London. A
regular party town where you can
drink on the street - what more can
you ask for?
But now, as I write this column
in the middle of the night, I real-
ize how utterly in over my head I
am. Nothing around me is familiar,
and that is made even worse by how
similar things are to home. It's the
little things - like no flat sheet on
the bed - that trip me up. Not to
mention the fact my body clock is
so out of whack that I'm up at 3 a.m.
trying to stave off a panic attack.
The mercurial changes of acclima-
tion are the worst part of adjusting
to my new location.
Lesson three of studying abroad is
that no matter how much I thought
I prepared myself, nothing could
get me ready for the homesickness.
Right now, I just want to go home to
my family and friends. Eight weeks
seems like a ridiculously long time.
We were told all kinds of unimport-
ant information at orientations and
talks before we left, but no one told
me what I'm supposed to do when I
can't even make it through the first
Everything here is so similar to
home, but at the same time frustrat-
ingly different. Everyone speaks Eng-
lish, drives the same cars and pretty
much eats the same food. The bath-
rooms are almost the same, but then
figuring out how to work the shower
is harder than taking the LSAT. I can
talk to my family pretty much like I
would at home, but I'm living com-
pletely alone. It's very unsettling.
In all my travels, I have never felt
this way when entering a country.
It's like I skipped the excitementpart
and went straightto the freaking out.
Though things are rough now, it's
only the first day and I'm sure that
things will get better. The program
suggests I immerse myself in the
local culture, but I think a little taste
of home - perhapssome Starbucks -
and a good night's sleep will get me
back on track.
- Erika Mayer can be reached