GRE prep, two months in & three months away

Back in January, I bought some books so that I could start studying for the GRE. I wanted to take it mid-June; that gives me as much time as possible to prepare while still allowing a month in which I could retake the test (the current version) if I don’t like my first scores. I’m thinking June 13.

I’ve worked through the 80 sets of words (10 per set) in Barron’s Essential Words for the GRE. I knew some, vaguely recognized others, and had never even seen a few of them (like “contumacious”–rebellious or disobedient). Now I’ve begun the section on word roots. I feel more confident about those, but there are still some that I never quite knew (which now make embarrassingly perfect sense, like “ev,” as in “medieval”–“medi” = middle, “ev” = age/era, “al” = a suffix meaning “of,” “pertaining to,” etc.). Medieval. Belonging to, pertaining to, or characteristic of the Middle Ages. What a duh.

I recently noticed the word “vicious” as well. (Think “vice.”) Of course, now the phrase “vicious circle” sounds pretty strange. Somebody anthropomorphized the abstract concept of circularity?

On a diagnostic test in the Barron’s general GRE prep book, I scored 760 on the Verbal section, which is hopeful. (Should I have shown off there by saying “sanguine” instead? …Nah, would’ve just put my mind on Firefly.) I didn’t do so well at the Quantitative portion, but that was before working on any math. I haven’t done the stuff they’re testing in the math section for about ten years; instead I’ve finally begun to get a grasp on sines, cosines, and tangents (thank you, physics), found the tangents of some curves ( 😉 ), and briefly surveyed the terrain of discrete maths (sets, graphs, combinations and permutations, etc.). Those, and puzzles. I like puzzles. Give me a problem with a checkerboard and I’ll be worse than a dog worrying its favorite bone.

I’ve now worked through 200 pages of the Nova GRE Math Prep book. So far, so good. I’ve really got to stop making stupid mistakes, though–I made 2 or 3 in the set of 100 geometry problems–and I should probably start plowing through a couple dozen pages a day just for the practice. That’s the most important thing for me in math; I just have to use it so much that I can’t get it out of my head if I want to, so that it doesn’t take me so long to get to the answers. I can’t try to memorize math (it doesn’t work that way for me), but if I use it, I’ll remember it like remembering how to swim. It takes a little bit to readjust after a long break, but the memory’s there, in the muscle. And if I use math enough, I can begin to see how it works, how the numbers and shapes and equations relate to one another. I love that, and that’s what I need to do. Unfortunately, I’ve only worked on the math in fits now and then, so far.

So, I should go work on some of those roots and maths instead of rambling on about them. Cheers.

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Science books ahoy!

A few weeks ago, one of the people I follow on Twitter posted a link to a blog post about reading challenges. I wasn’t aware of these before; someone posts a challenge, like “read 12 books this year and blog about them,” and people sign up to participate. Some offer prizes; some are just for fun. This one caught my eye: “Science Book Challenge 2011.”

Science Book Challenge 2011 from Scienticity

A program called Scienticity hosts this science reading challenge yearly (since 2008), and they collect and post the notes that bloggers submit on the books they read. The challenge is to read three science books (loosely defined) this year and blog about them. There’s a decent collection of notes on books ranging from minimally scientistic novels like Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons (not sure how that one got in there) to popular science or social science books like Muller’s Physics for Future Presidents and Levitt’s Freakonomics. Someone even reviewed the first real work I read for a philosophy class, Dan Dennett’s Freedom Evolves.

They provide a nice rubric to help bloggers organize their notes and to help readers get a quick picture of how the bloggers rate each book. Each book gets a rating from one (least) to five (most) for how well it meets each of these five criteria:

  • Scienticity (how “science-y” the book is)
  • Readability (how easy it is to read – low isn’t necessarily bad; it could just be challenging material)
  • Hermeneutics (how well the author understands and conveys the material)
  • Charisma (how fun or engaging the book is to read)
  • Recommendation (how strongly the reviewer recommends the book)

Of course, different people will be more or less generous in their ratings, but that’s what notes are for. 🙂

I love that they keep the reviews available for visitors to read (in fact, that’s a significant part of the challenge’s purpose); I’ve already added a book to my reading list because of the reviews it had there. I heard of Natalie Angier’s The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science through a podcast I listen to sometimes, but didn’t plan to read it until I saw an enthusiastic review in the science challenge book notes. (Oddly, the second review, which is negative, added to my desire to read it – I guess reviews that spend a full paragraph complaining that a book is too hard because it has a few 30-35 page chapters have that effect on me.)

I like the premise of the challenge enough that I think I’ll jump in, myself. I don’t know for sure which ones I’ll read, but here are my current ideas:

Wish me luck, and go check out the Science Book Challenge 2011!