What did I learn from the GRE? I learned how to be an ass. How so? Bulking up on your vocabulary is fundamental to doing well on the GRE. We all know this. And, like many I set up a system to memorize as many GRE-words as possible. I used note cards and other tricks of the trade. Yet, I learn best by doing. So, I decided to use my GRE-words during as many social interactions as possible. At the dog park,  someone would complain “my dog will not wear out!” and I would reply with “Yeah, my dog is indefatigable as well.” At dinner parties, someone would spill wine and our host would scrub the table cloth and exclaim “This stain is stubborn!” and I would sympathize with “Indeed, that stain is recalcitrant.”  At football games, someone would call the offensive coordinator “useless” and I would concur by saying “Yeah, he is a feckless son of a bitch!”

Yep, I was that guy. It got so bad that I stopped referring to old people as “old people.” Instead, I started referring to them as octogenarians. And, it got so bad that my wife and I started having arguments (in multisyllabic words, of course). And, before heading out on a Friday night, she would implore me “Please, do not use your GRE-words tonight.” I would promise. But, I would break that promise many times. I could not help myself. I do not like passing up an opportunity to learn.

I have an unspectacular history with standardized tests. As a sophomore in high school, I did so poorly on the PSAT that I got called into the counselor’s office. I did not do particularly well on the ACT. And, I took the GRE twice. Both times my performance was mediocre.

So, beyond being an ass, what else did I learn from the GRE and other standardized tests?

I learned how to sharpen a no. 2 pencil. I learned how to crack open the seal on an exam with that pencil. I learned how to follow instructions. I learned how to shade in an oval. I learned how to erase stray pencil marks. I learned how to sit quietly. I learned how to whisper. I learned how to surrender my sovereignty to an exam administrator. I learned how to give the answer I thought those in power wanted me to give. I learned how to fear making a mistake. And, I learned how to get ahead by responding to the system’s set of incentives.

The GRE and its ilk are hoops, hurdles and screens. The investment in time, money, energy, anxiety, and stress yielded few if any beneficial results. Yeah, I learned about the importance of setting goals and mapping out a strategy to reach those goals. And, I learned about the importance of patience and discipline. But, I had already learned those things in other areas of my life. The GRE and its ilk are social stamps of approval, nothing more. And, after years of preparing, taking and doing poorly to mediocre on these tests, I learned that I did not quite meet the standards.

I learned that my not meeting the standards was not a good thing.

Do we really want our kids and young people to be standardized by the Princeton Review? Do we want Kaplan to turn them into drones? Do we want The Educational Testing Service to prepare them for a life as a cog in someone else’s machine?


We want them to strive and struggle to meet their own standards.

They do not need a standardized test to tell them which standards to meet. From the moment that they drew their first breath, they breathed in their own set of standards. The entered into this world with a unique tune, a unique set of moves, and a unique rhythm, walk and way.  They do not need any assistance in turning their backs on their individuality. And, they definitely do not need a standardized test to tell them that they don’t meet the standards.

I think it’s time we put an end to this tyranny. Its time to give up on some pleasantries. Its time for some explicit language.

*%&^ the PSAT, SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and all the other acronym-loving tests!

*%&^ memorization, the mind dump, multiple choice, shade in the cell, no. 2 pencils and the mouse that clicks the oval.

*%&^ the Princeton Review, The Educational Testing Service, Kaplan, The College Board and all the other organizations that make up the standardized-testing-industrial complex.

A revolution is coming. We are rising. Well, at least I am anyway. So, Princeton Review go rally your lobbyists, harness your vested interest and utilize the politicians in your pocket to protect you and your rigged system. It will not matter. We are indefatigable. We are recalcitrant. In the end, your efforts will be feckless!


If you liked this post, you may also like the other posts in Rewilding Pedagogy.

Thanks. – shawn