Column: Test preparation, the hard rock wayNearly everyone feels anxious when facing a test, and for some, crippling anxiety accompanies every test throughout school. Test anxiety haunted me for the past six months, as my Graduate Record Examination loomed on the horizon.
By: Mary Lebens, The Farmington Independent
Nearly everyone feels anxious when facing a test, and for some, crippling anxiety accompanies every test throughout school. Test anxiety haunted me for the past six months, as my Graduate Record Examination loomed on the horizon. The GRE, is a 4 1/2-hour marathon of identifying synonyms and calculating the area of triangles off the top of your head. The GRE is used by schools to predict if you are ready for graduate school. Of course, I’ve already taken the test and made it through graduate school twice. But GRE scores mysteriously expire every five years, forcing me to re-take the test to apply to doctoral programs.
Since August I have hacked my way through two test prep courses and a slew of math and vocabulary workbooks. I even bought a box of 500 official-looking flashcards so I could practice my vocab at the breakfast table, much to my husband’s annoyance.
One of my test prep classes provided a video with extensive advice on how to structure your test day for optimal performance. The talking head in the video advised me not to study math the day of the test, to get plenty of rest, to swear off caffeine, watch a relaxing movie the night before the exam, and listen to soothing music on the way to the test center.
I completely ignored this advice and developed my own approach for facing the massive test anxiety of the GRE. Taking inspiration from the TV show “The Office,” I dubbed it the “Dwight Schrute” approach. On “The Office,” character Dwight pumps himself up for important sales calls by punching the air with his fists and playing air guitar to ’80s heavy metal. His aggressive approach to conquering sales anxiety inspired me.
I figured Metallica helped me get through college the first time around, so it would be the optimal choice to get me through the GRE exam. When I met Metallica back in 2004, I told drummer Lars Ulrich about how their song “The Unforgiven” motivated me to graduate from college a year early. He said it was the coolest thing anyone had said to him all night. Seriously, I’m not making this up. The music critic from the Star Tribune, Chris Riemenschneider, was standing behind me and heard the whole exchange. He interviewed me for an article afterwards, but I got cut in favor of a lady who had “Metallica” tattooed on her chest. That sounds almost as painful as cramming a four-year degree into three years.
The morning of the GRE exam, I put my Dwight Schrute plan into action. I breakfasted on two cups of cheap coffee, scrambled eggs, jalapeño refried beans and spinach. The test prep video cautioned against “eating anything weird or spicy” before the GRE. However, I eat something weird and spicy for breakfast nearly every morning. Plus, everyone knows spinach gives you energy. Just ask Popeye.
Then I did a few yoga poses, showered and dressed in my favorite black t-shirt and jeans. I fastened my lucky sea turtle necklace around my neck and headed out to my car. The test prep center was almost 30 miles away (apparently, you can’t take this test anywhere near Farmington.) This gave me plenty of time to put the finishing touch on my Dwight Schrute approach. I cranked the subwoofer in my tiny hatchback, and put on a carefully selected playlist of classic heavy metal.
As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I played a little air guitar to Metallica. I pulled out my “GRE for Dummies” book and did a few easy linear equations to warm up. Fully pumped up, I headed into the test center. I signed in, picked up a fistful of No. 2 pencils, and settled into my test cubicle.
A stack of math workbooks towers over me still as I write this. Today is my second day of freedom from the GRE. This is the first weekend since August I haven’t done any math problems. And I scored really high on the test. I don’t know if I scored high enough to get into my first pick doctoral program, but I know I did my best. There are a lot of smart people applying to the same program as me, but I have my fingers crossed that I still have a chance. None of them have Metallica on their side.