Me vs. the Stinkin’ GREs: Test Day Arrives

In which the author, a 54 year old with 30 years in the field of mathematics education, takes the GREs, his first attempt at taking a standardized test in almost 30 years. Here is a list of the other posts in this series:

Part I: It’s Me vs. The Stinkin’ GREs, part I

Part III: High Security & Writing My Time

Part IV: In Which I Experience a Freak-Out

Part V: GRE’s, The Final Score, Reflections on BS….

The day of the test arrived: it was a sunny Friday and after a decent night’s sleep and a cup of hot joe to get me going, I jumped on the subway at waht was for me an unreasonably early hour, and arrived at the test center which was housed in a nondescript office building in downtown Brooklyn. I rode the elevator up to the floor, arriving promptly at 8:30 am, was buzzed into the test center.

The ETS, which administers the GRE, sends a very stern warning to all  test takers on its website, which includes the following:

Do not bring cell phones, smartphones (e.g., BlackBerry® or iPhone® devices), PDAs, digital watches, and other electronic, recording, listening or photographic devices into the test center. If you do, you will be dismissed from the test, your test fees will be forfeited and your scores will be canceled even if dismissal is not enforced on the day of the test. 

(red lettering is mine)

Yeah, this would come in real handy....

Yeah, this would come in real handy….

What was I to do, hide my phone in the park under a tree and hope it would be there when I got back? I know that there are corner stores in NYC where high school students can pay a couple of bucks to “park” their phones for the day, but I had no idea where to find one. C’mon, we’re all adults here, and really, do you think I would be so audacious as to take a cell phone out during an exam to look up an answer? Even if I did have one in my pocket, were they going to do a “pat down” on me? What about my shoulder bag, in which I carry things like medication and subway reading? All of this seemed unwarranted and downright insulting.

Lucky for me, I had the “wisdom” to look up the actual test administration company, which goes by the name of Prometric. Prometric, as it turns out, has been subcontracted by ETS to administer the computerized form of the GRE and their online video answered my questions and calmed my nerves somewhat. On the upside, I would be given a locker and key to store my personal goods; on the downside, I would have to be humiliated into the equivalent of a full body scan to enter the “testing area.” This would include making a video turning out my pockets, lifting up my pant cuffs, being scanned by a “wand” and standing on one leg and whistling “Sweet Georgia Brown.” I’m exaggerating the last part, but it wouldn’t have surprised me.

More fun than you can shake a stick at: Prometric will be your tester…

But what did surprise me was this: after stowing my stuff, I was presented with a “non-disclosure” form in which I had to acknowledge that I was not previously informed of the content on the test, and that I would not disclose it to anyone. Furthermore, I had to attest to the fact that I have not accepted aid during the test (this is before the test, mind you.) If that wasn’t bad enough, I had to copy a statement of about 75 words in my own handwriting (mandatory “cursive,” by the way; printing was not allowed.) Now I haven’t written anything in cursive beyond my signature for years, and I’m sure that for many people this was going to be the most challenging part of their time at Prometric.  Just to make things more interesting, there were no desks available to practice good handwriting posture: you either had to balance the clipboard on your lap or attempt this feat standing up.

With all this paperwork out of the way, I took my seat in the “pre-testing” area and observed other people as they strode up to the administrators’ desks, submitted their official ID cards and made their videos. The population definitely skewed to the younger set, and since Prometric administers every kind of test imaginable (including the National Certification Program for Construction Code Inspectors and Nursing Home Nurse Aide Certification exams) it was fun practicing my stereotyping skills to imagine who was taking what test.  That cute Asian girl sitting next to me? Maybe the “American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery” licensing exam? That dude with the bleached blond hair was definitely doing the SWIFTNet Security Officer test, right? In the battles between humans and the Testing-Industrial Complex, it appears that testing definitely has the edge.

Next part: in which I summon the ghost of Dodo Marmarosa…


About rmberkman

This blog is the sole musings of one Robert M. Berkman, an educator who has taught math, science and technology for the past 30 years in New York. You can react to all his posts by emailing him at
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