GRE, NFL, and Life: It’s All Relative
I hear some variant on these words from at least one of you in every GRE class that I teach, and I know that for every one who asks, there are many more who are silently feeling the same way. Putting aside the negative effects that such a mindset will surely have on your motivation and GRE study habits, the idea that the skills tested on the GRE are not relevant to what you’ll do in grad school is simply not true. To prove my point, take a look at the following question:
In printing an article of 48,000 words, a printer decides to use two sizes of type. Using the larger type, a printed page contains 1,800 words. Using smaller type, a page contains 2,400 words. The article is allotted 21 full pages in a magazine. How many pages must be in smaller type?
This problem looks as though it was taken from the GRE question pool, right? In fact, it is representative of the questions on the Wonderlic Personnel Test, which is administered to prospective new NFL players every year. That’s right – people who aspire to play professional football have to take an exam that tests their ability to do arithmetic, work with ratios (is any of this sounding familiar?), and identify the relationships between different pieces of data. The Wonderlic is much shorter than the GRE – it’s only 12 minutes and 50 questions long – but its purpose is identical to that of the GRE. Both tests are designed to measure not your calculation skills (though those are certainly necessary to solve problems), but your analytical abilities.
If the Wonderlic and the GRE were merely gauges of your ability to do computations and define vocabulary words, then they would be administered with unlimited amounts of time, a math textbook, and a dictionary. What’s actually being measured on these tests is your real-time capacity to read a situation, identify the proper approach, and execute it. That is certainly relevant to a football player’s success on the field: Can you remember the play that you learned in practice, even when an offensive lineman is running at you at full-speed? How well can you adapt when the other team’s defense does something that you didn’t expect? And similar questions can be asked about you, no matter what your chosen grad school program and career path is: Can you take what you’ve learned and apply it in a variety of situations? How quickly can you identify what information is necessary to tackle a problem? That is what the GRE helps grad schools determine about you.
So now that you’ve realized you have more in common with a 350-pound blitzing machine than you ever thought you would, let’s take a lesson from the tough training regimens of NFL teams: To succeed on GRE Test Day, you need to practice, practice, and then practice some more. Study the exponent rules, study the divisibility rules, learn the definition of perspicacious (and don’t forget about its synonyms!), and then review them ad nauseum until you can look at any GRE problem and identify which rule is being tested and how to apply it. You won’t get a Super Bowl ring at the end of your season, but you’ll be that much closer to getting into the grad school program of your choice and setting yourself up for even more success in the future.