Tests and tribulations, trials and travails

Boy, there are sure a lot of synonyms for “tribulations” that start with “t.” Thank you, English language, for offering so many opportunities for alliteration (and assonance).

I had to take a break from filling out applications to fill you in, dear reader. Life has been proceeding routinely since I last wrote, with a few exceptions:

1) Both my dad and Sergey had birthdays this month; Sergey is embarking on the first year of the third decade of his life. That is a complicated way of saying he turned 29. I wanted to get him flowers, but the shopkeeper sympathetically informed me that those are only sold on holidays, so I got him chocolate praline hearts and a Kinder egg instead. Out of the Kinder egg hatched a plastic bracelet ornamented with lion face stickers, which I believe has been re-gifted to me. It fits perfectly!

2) I was made co-emergency manager for the staff in my neighborhood zone because I am an excellent runner and would surely do well pulling people out of rubble. In my acceptance speech, I quoth, “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather ask Sergey?” So, more than ever before, I am really hoping Israel and Palestine cool down their tensions. At least I now boast the qualification of knowing the difference between vacuum cleaner noise and missile sirens.

3) The GRE. This forms my central subject (and the reason for the title of the post), so bear with me–I promise to make standardized testing entertaining!

Once upon a Tuesday, Sergey and I set out for our relaxing day-trip early. From crowded bus to crowded train to crowded bus we went until we reached the testing center in the Ramat Gan district of Tel Aviv. The Prometric site is located in a college that looks like it hasn’t undergone much change since the 1960s. Can I note that college students are starting to look pretty young to me? Goodness, how I’ve aged. Just preparing to eventually be an out-of-touch silver-haired professor…by the time I’m 30.

We poked our heads into the small facility, and the test proctor came to get my information. She was a lady in her early 60s, perhaps, who gave me an affectionate squeeze and told me that my scores would be good. I have to give this woman kudos. I don’t imagine that proctoring tests and interacting with nervous test-takers full time is an especially stimulating job, but she showed a good deal of human kindness. On my break, she handed me half of a clementine she had just peeled, for example. Also, now that I think of it, the bus driver en route to the college also went out of his way to help us. Sergey had asked about our destination when we boarded, and as he was about to pull away from one stop, the driver remembered this and communicated that we should get off.

Anyway, at the test center, I underwent an interesting bevy of checks. First I had to write out an affirmation of ethics–in cursive. It took me five minutes to write two sentences, clutching the pen like a tot just learning how to form letters. Thankfully, ETS is not scoring me based on the quality of my cursive. Then I was of course scanned with a metal detector, which is standard procedure in Israel. But the crowning ritual in this strange ceremony involved the Stripping of Worldly Attachments and the Turning of the Pockets. I was informed that my analog wristwatch and my packets of facial tissues, indispensable due to my constant allergies, had to remain in my locked cubby. After removal, I showed off my bare, ethical wrists to the video camera, in accordance with instructions. (I got a Prometric-approved tissue to replace my packets, don’t worry. And at the end of the test I disposed of this tissue in front of the watchful eye of the camera to prove I hadn’t transcribed test questions on it.) Then, in front of the video camera, I had to demonstrate that my pockets were totally empty. This raised profound questions I had never before confronted: how does one turn the butt pockets on jeans inside out? Or decorative breast pockets on flannel shirts? And is someone on the other end of the video feed laughing at my performance? For what it’s worth, the proctor let me know she personally hated this particular requirement.

I can’t say much about the test, both because it’s all a blur of 35-minute periods passing too quickly yet four hours dragging on and on, and because I swore to full confidentiality in that cursive statement. Sorry. I know you were really looking forward to hearing some sample math problems.

What I can advise is this. Make cookies part of your test prep. I had a ten-minute break in the middle of the test, during which I stuffed my face with as many homemade oatmeal raisin cookies as possible. These cookies offer the tester two benefits: a lot of calories and a bit of protein, and fond memories of Mommy’s cookies. During a time like the GRE, any fond memory is useful!

So, with the test over, Sergey and I spent the rest of our day in Jaffa, the charming old city of Tel Aviv, where we had what was probably our most delicious restaurant meal post-US trip and contemplated the dark waters of the Mediterranean. And then, as must happen to every vacation, our relaxing time off drew to a close, and we made our way back north.

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