For the past several months, my life has been nothing but these three things. Last weekend I took the revised GRE and this weekend is a half-marathon race. Needless to say, checking one item off has led to a massive increase in, or an illusion thereof, “free time”.
Despite the scores not being issued until November, I’ve already begun to reflect on my preparation methods and perceived performance. Ranking the sections by relative difficulty, I was actually least concerned about “Analytical Writing” and think blogging is to thank for that!
For background information…
In August 2011, the GRE Revised General Test replaced the GRE General Test*. The major overhaul of the exam incorporated a shift in focus along with structural modifications. The new exam format is broken down as follows:
# OF QUESTIONS
1 essay / task
35 min / essay
~ 20 / section
30 min / section
~ 20 / section
35 min / section
Within the Analytical Writing section, two separate tasks are responded to through prose. As described on the ETS website, these tasks are summarized as:
Analyze An Issue Task
The Analyze an Issue task assesses your ability to think critically about a topic of general interest and to clearly express your thoughts about it in writing.
Each issue statement makes a claim that you can discuss from various perspectives and apply to many different situations or conditions.
Analyze An Argument Task
The Analyze an Argument task assesses your ability to understand, analyze and evaluate arguments and to clearly convey your evaluation in writing.
You are presented with a brief passage in which the author makes a case for some course of action or interpretation of events by presenting claims backed by reasons and evidence.
Your task is to discuss the logical soundness of the author’s case according to the specific instructions by critically examining the line of reasoning and the use of evidence.
The essays will be read by two readers, and in the chance of large differences, a third reader. Each grader will assign a numerical value from 1.0 to 6.0 in 0.5 point increments and the two scores will be averaged. In order to receive the highest score (6.0 out of 6.0), each response must present a “cogent, well-articulated analysis” and “convey meaning skillfully”. A typical response meeting these criteria*:
- articulates a clear and insightful position
- develops the position fully with compelling reasons and/or persuasive examples
- sustains a well-focused, well-organized analysis, connecting ideas logically
- conveys ideas fluently and precisely, using effective vocabulary and sentence variety
- demonstrates facility with the conventions of standard written English (i.e., grammar, usage and mechanics), but may have minor errors
So how did blogging factor into all this?
First, it provided an outlet to practice writing. More specifically, it gave me the chance to analyze a personal finance “issue” or “argument” in a timed environment. Beforehand, draft article would sit in WordPress for days. Now, I needed to formulate and write the same articles in 30 minutes or less. I also turned off spell-checker as to force some self-reliance. The ability to recognize and correct grammatical or spelling errors was the surest way to increase my overall writing score.
On a smaller scale, commenting on other blogs provided yet another opportunity to hone my skills. Since I would have to address an author’s position on the test, why not practice by addressing the hundreds of positions published by bloggers on a daily basis! Beyond traditional means, the best part was the instant feedback. When you comment on a blogger’s article, they will respond highlighting what is either wrong or right about your analysis.
During the actual exam, I was nervous at the beginning of the first essay, but hit my stride eventually. Mind-mapping the structure and logic of the essay before actually writing it took the bulk of the time, and while being confident in my typing skills, the countdown timer in the right-hand corner was quite distracting. It could have been that the energy drink didn’t kick in until the 2nd question, but whatever it was, at that point, I was golden.
It’s hard to say definitively whether the blogging helped, but there is a distinct feeling it did. Even once I know the scores, it will be hard to say for sure what contributed to them, but at least using the excuse of blogging as “study prep” was a fun distraction from hitting those monotonous books.