Earlier this week I took the GRE. I'm middle aged, not going to grad school (well, not any time soon), this is an extraordinarily busy time for me, it's several hours in the middle of the work day, so how did this make any sense? Three reasons (which may still not add up to much sense):
- As is well known, we get dumber every year (data in support of that at the end of this post). Keeping your brain "exercised" is one way to slow down the pace of dumbness creep. Yes, you can play with that iPhone puzzle/brainteaser app, but that's nowhere near the full monty of a full blown administered test. Answer: this was hard.
- In the networked episteme, our attention spans are narrowing, and indeed our brains are getting rewired to deal with the fragmentation. I wanted to see what it would be like to be completely off the grid for several hours, focused entirely on an intellectual task. Answer: this was very hard.
- I have a theory that we may be testing the wrong things, for the age that we now live in, in our standardized tests. Answer: I think I have this right. Example: the quantitative test has a ton of geometry and basic number theory in it. I think it would be far more relevant to test the mathematical foundations of software programming -- to present questions that require, for example, thinking through if-then statements or even recursive loops.
As for the test itself: I scheduled it months ago, not expecting that the last week of March would be as difficult a week as it was, and I couldn't bring myself to reschedule it. I found the quantitative part harder than expected, given I am mathematically inclined. The reason: you don't need more than high school algebra, true, except that at my age you've forgotten most of your high school algebra! I found myself deriving many fundamental concepts from scratch (for example the formula for the area of a triangle -- simple stuff, but not something I've needed to think about for decades).
After the test I searched for GRE results by age. As you can see on page 11 of this report, verbal scores go up from the age of 18 to the age of 45, and quantitative scores go down. The table is reproduced below. Summary: we get dumber on the quant front but apparently make up a bit on the verbal front.