Posted by: thediygeochemist | January 16, 2009

GRE subject test

As I said in a previous post, one thing I worried about was being able to prove to schools that I still knew the material even though I’d been out of school for 15 years. I thought a decent showing on the GRE subject test would suffice.

At first, as I mentioned, I did some serious review of material. But as my test date drew nearer and nearer, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to cover even half of the material I needed to cover. I needed to speed up my rate of studying. Unfortunately, at this point I was in the middle of the semester, with tests and quizzes galore, so studying more was not really an option. Instead, I realized I’d have to do something I hate doing: cram for the test.

I spent my bus rides to/from school memorizing organic reactions, thermodynamic formulae, etc. Any time I had an uninterrupted 3-hour block of time, I did a practice test. Instead of reading mysteries for fun, I read ahead in my textbooks. The practice tests were very helpful at identifying where my weaknesses were and what I should focus on.

By the beginning of November, I was ready to die. I didn’t care who won the election: I just wanted to get the stupid test over with.

Runners carbo-load before an event; I protein-load before a big test. I always feel guilty doing this, because I generally don’t eat a lot of meat–a splurge for our family of six is eating 2 lbs of meat in one night instead of spread over a whole week–but for some reason, this helps me think more clearly. The night before the test, my husband took me to a buffet restaurant, where I ate salad and 1,001 (okay, maybe 101) kinds of meat while frantically going through my notes one last time. The next morning I had yogurt, sausages, and a couple of bananas. I felt good.

It’s hard for me to describe how I felt that day, but I will try. Some of you may have read Tamora Pierce’s series about Keladry, a girl who wants to become a knight. In the first book, after enduring much frustration and embarrassment over her jousting skills, she reaches a point where, suddenly, everything clicks into place. She no longer notices the people around her; she feels like she and her horse float down the stretch, and then, WHAM! She hits the target dead center.

That’s very close to the feeling I had on test day. I floated into the room in a sort of fog, feeling no fear or hope or anything, and when I walked out of the room I felt like I’d slammed the target right in the center.

Earlier I’d told my husband, “If I can just score 50th percentile, I’ll be happy.” (My practice test results ranged from 35th to 60th percentile, with 45th being the median.) I went home that day and told him, “I think I did better than 50th percentile.”

And so I had. After six weeks of chewing my fingernails and watching the mailbox obsessively, I got my score: 750, 67th percentile. Not bad for an old lady who’s out of practice, eh?



  1. Good job! I wish I’d studied more for my subject test. 38th percentile! I’ve got good grades at a good institution, and my school hiatus was before my undergrad, but I feel the pressure to prove my potential that is ramped up by my age. It was nice to read a good blog by someone in the same position.

  2. Hi,

    I saw some of your posts on TheGradCafe forum. I was wondering whether you still have practice/actual GRE General/Chemistry exams. I’m planning to take them some time this year. I know that I’m just a stranger to you, but I’d really, really appreciate if you could help me out. Either way, I thank you! šŸ™‚

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