A brief greeting and less brief GRE prep book review

Happy 4th to y’all Americans! (Hmm, I think half my viewers are from the Commonwealth. So, um, happy day to you too. 🙂 )

Since I did almost as well as I wanted to on the Quantitative section of the GRE, I decided to write a nice review of the math prep book I used. Yeah, yeah, the test is changing in four weeks, but the basic concepts will remain the same, so I figure some folks may still find this book useful. Anyway, here’s the review.

I can’t comment on the quality of other books for math prep, as I used this one almost exclusively. As another reviewer recommended, I worked through the entire book, skipping or skimming nothing. I took my time; I learn math best when I work through it carefully and practice until it’s almost second nature. I found the huge number of geometry practice problems especially helpful, as I took geometry in my first year of high school and am now a couple years out of college already. I only took two math classes in college, of which only one (Discrete Maths) was useful at all in my prep, for combinations/permutations and probability questions.

There were a few errors in the latter half of the book (in one, for example, the question quoted in the answers section was nearly opposite to the question that had been asked, so the answer given was incorrect). However, considering the number of problems in the book, the accuracy is excellent; and if you can catch the book out on its errors, that’s probably a good sign of how well prepared you are for the real test. 😉

When I first took a diagnostic test, from the Barron’s general prep book, I scored 560Q and 760V; I ran out of time on the quantitative section, in addition to getting several wrong. On ETS’s PowerPrep software the day before the test, I scored 800Q and 760V–the best prediction for me. A second Barron’s diagnostic predicted 700Q, 760V. And on the real thing, I earned a 780Q and 760V. (Yes, I’m rather consistent on the Verbal section, it seems. I chock it up to four years’ prep as a philosophy major.)

I’ve always been pretty good at math, but I freeze up if I’m out of practice on a particular subject. This book covered everything I needed it to, with enough practice of enough variety to bring me to a 780 on the Quantitative section, in spite of my shaky nerves. I know the GRE will switch to the new format within a month, but I would highly recommend this book, even so–it’s a tried-and-true guide that will continue to be useful while publishers are working out the kinks in their material for the new test. Even beyond that, it will remain a good source of extra practice problems.

Oh…I should have noted that the sections were written by different people, some done better than others. Toward the end, where I found errors, was often also where I found poorly written sections (by which I mean unclear or having really minimal review–or overly voluminous review). Maybe I should check which those were and update the review soon.

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Seriously?

A 5.0 on the writing section? Really?

Well, that sucks. 😦 And after getting 780Q and 760V for the CAT sections…maybe I should’ve kept up with the practice posts.

What I dislike about the GRE is that your writing score depends on how well you can deliver two apparently polished essays within an hour and 15 minutes. If any writing student does that with even the least regularity, he should be shot. Like I said a few posts ago, 10 hours of research to 1 hour of writing to 4 hours of editing. The numbers are still made up, and they’re still a lot closer to the reality of writing than the GRE’s 2 minutes of brainstorming (no research at all, evidemment) to 23 minutes of writing to 5 minutes of editing. That’s a recipe for bullshit, there.

Perhaps it’s needless to say that I do a lot of planning, editing and self-questioning when I write a paper, if you know I earned a 4.0 in all of my writing-intensive classes (both major–philosophy–and non-major). I suspect the GRE can’t distinguish between the students who do this and those who don’t; and I’m not the first to say so.

But there’s no way I’m retaking the test over a disappointing writing score when my areas of interest lie outside the humanities. So there it is.

Impatience and so forth

So it’s been two weeks (as of tomorrow) since I took the GRE. My scores have not arrived yet. I know they say they’ll mail them 10-15 days after your test date–so they might not even send them until Tuesday!–but I am so restless! I want my scores in hand, I want it to be official, I want to know what I got on the writing section!

In other news, I kind of like Jamie Oliver’s show (Food Revolution). He’s got a rather aggressive personality, which makes it understandable that authorities don’t take to him unless they already agree with him, but I guess it’s necessary, too, if you want to actually come in as an outsider and make some change in a system that’s trying its hardest to stay the same. (That and it’s more entertaining that way…)

Also, Emmanuel Pahud is a wonderful flautist. Look him up. I got his Bach flute sonatas album recently because I saw it on sale and found positive reviews of his playing. Love it. 🙂

Hello World!

So…I am still alive. I have been rather remiss in my attention (or complete lack thereof) to this blog. I’ll try to post more now that I’m done with the GRE.

Yep, I took it! Today was the day, and while I would’ve liked my score to be just a little higher (just a hair! –read: 20 points on Quant), I did well. Well enough I’m about to go buy a bottle of Bailey’s so I can make a celebratory Irish cream latté. A tout a l’heure. 🙂

Is originality merely the rehashing of old ideas?

This is my second practice attempt at the Analytical Writing Issue task. I finished this one in 45 minutes even (or is that “odd”? 😉 ), but I had to stop halfway through proofreading. Hope all my subjects agree with their verbs, and everything. The first two topics were ones I had decent examples for off the top of my head; I worry I won’t be so lucky on the real thing.

Originality does not mean thinking something that was never thought before; it means putting old ideas together in new ways.

An old dictum states that everything a person thinks has been thought before, that “there is nothing new under the sun.” And in many cases, this is true.

Witness the countless love poems that have been written: we express the same concept with myriad images and metaphors, always seeking new ways to depict a feeling that is common to all people in all times. Surely, in the context of love poems, originality must mean putting an old idea in a new light.

Even the modern personal computer was not a new idea when it was developed as a practical product; the idea of a programmable computing machine goes back at least to Charles Babbage in the nineteenth century. And his idea was arguably a ‘mere’ modification of adding machines that have been used for thousands of years. A long history of computing machines has led up to our current Macbook Pros, iPods, and touchscreen tablet PCs; the originality and innovation in the computer industry involves a great deal of modification to existing technology. We create new technologies by borrowing and improving upon existing ones.

But is all originality merely modification or recombination?

Einstein famously said that imagination is more important than knowledge. And he was a fit judge: a genius physicist, his Theory of Relativity caused a paradigm shift in the physical sciences, rewriting our model of the universe. He showed that Newtonian physics was deeply flawed (albeit useful on the scale of the everyday world), a feat that required no small amount of knowledge. But it required no less of him in originality: at the heart of Einstein’s theory is a redefinition of time itself. No one before him had imagined that time and space might be related, that they might be anything but constant.

It requires originality to express old ideas in novel ways, or to transform the idea of an adding machine into that of a Macbook Pro. But sometimes, someone does think a new thought; that kind of originality can change our world radically, well deserving the name we give it: “genius.”