Monday, November 2, 2009

GRE in Cameroon

October came and went, and as I indicated in the previous posts, I've spent most of the month cramming esoteric vocabulary words into that tiny brain of mine, and also remembering how to do 7th grade math.

This GRE is a re-take for me. Last time I took this painful exam was in the U.S., at Saint Louis University in a testing room with my own computer. The test was computer-adaptive, which means it was half the length, but the question gets harder as you answer them correctly. Also, the computer version of this test gives you the pleasure/horror of finding out the test score right away.

Since I am living in a developing country, I was able to take the paper-version of the test. The experience was so amusing that it deserves its own blog entry.

Rewind to the night before the test - about a dozen other volunteers were also suffering through this experience. We all found ourselves cramming last minute words and math concepts at the Peace Corps transit house in Yaoundé. People had flash cards, and a general sense of exam stress linger the air. At one point of the night, I sat down with Trevor to go over problems from a practice exam. To be very honest, I was glad to face with that healthy level of academic stress again. It felt good, and I felt my brain churning; though it would be better if I was cramming information that actually matters. I suppose if nothing else, this indicates that I am ready, at least mentally, for graduate school studies.

Test day rolled around, we left in groups for the testing center. The rain came in a downpour so most of us were half wet by the time we reached the American Language Center in Bastos. Then, there were all the Cameroonians who were also taking the test. Cameroonians were all dressed nicely in dresses, slacks, some even suits, for this grand event. Where as the dozen of us Americans all came in jeans and other form of comfortable clothing.

I was brought back to high school era of taking the ACT/SAT. We filed into the rooms with number two pencils and ID. The process of getting everyone situated took a while. Although people who had taken it at this testing center had warned us about the horror of people taking 2 hours to complete the bubble scantron with personal information.

The proctor came in and was following direction on the book rigidly - really quite funny because I don't think she really knows what is suppose to go on. Anyhow, the process didn't take as long as the horror stories, but it was still amusing to see people struggling to figure out how to fill in their names/address and the corresponding scantron bubbles. We've all been taking scantron tests since probably second grade, can you imagine if that was the first or second time you've ever done that? I am pretty sure the guy next to me did not complete his scantron the right way...

Finally, the exam began. For the next 3 and a half hour, my brain cells were on overdrive. The first hour or so was the essay section where I had to write them by hand in a booklet. It brought me back to the days of college exams and blue books. It's been over a year since I had written anything by hand; my ability to spell or even construct sentences without spell/grammar-check had declined significantly since being in the Peace Corps. By the end of the essay section, my hands were so tired. We had a break and while I was lining up for the bathroom, some guy said to me, "you wrote a lot!" I thought, "um yeah... that's what you are suppose to do."

I can't imagine taking this test as a Cameroonian. It's tough for us Americans, imagine what it's like for them. When the proctor calls the 5-minute warning on each section, there was always a general gasp/groan coming from test takers. Anyhow, two hours and two math and verbal sections later, the test was over. Now, we wait patiently for the results...

I am just glad 3 of the schools I am applying to are in Europe and do not require the GRE.

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