So I’ve been studying for the GRE the past few weeks, and a big chunk of preparing for this test requires learning a plethora of words. Of course, that is not true for everyone’s plan of action. Some people are very familiar with these “GRE words” and may choose to focus more on brushing up on math. Presumably, this test incorporates words that we, as college students, should have seen in our daily lives, through reading, interactions with colleagues, etc. This got me a little discouraged because I have been running into words everything that I have never before seen in my life! I’ve been doing my best to try and learn/memorize as many words as I can each day: I downloaded vocabulary apps on my phone (which are actually quite helpful), I make flashcards every time I run into a word I do not know the definition of, I’ve been reading more news articles from noteworthy journals (not just Yahoo!), I’ve encouraged my friends to find random words and test me on them any time of the day, and I set a goal of finishing A Game of Thrones and another book before my test arrives. Through all these different exposures, I have to say I’ve learned a good number of new words these past few weeks.
However, I keep thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be so much easier if I had already known these words in the first place? If I just sprinkled these into my daily conversations with friends. In fact, why couldn’t I? As I thought more about this, I became slightly envious of those who grew up with English as their main language in their household, who were able to talk to their parents in English and probably knew words I’m learning now when they were very young (not to say that this is my parents’ fault at all). I even thought, well, if I was an English major, or something similar, this test would be so easy for me! How lucky for them! Is this test unfair? I also blamed myself for not reading more books in college. Why didn’t I? What was I doing these four years? Definitely not preparing for the GRE!
Then it dawned on me. I actually have been reading a lot. Not the conventional book though (there have probably only been 7 books that I’ve been assigned). As a Biology major, I’ve been reading textbooks, research papers, other articles that are either assigned or contained in readers, lab manuals, etc. This also made me realize, I DO know a good amount of vocabulary. After all, biology crams so much information into your brain. I’ve memorized all these concepts and new terms that many people may not be familiar with. During my studies, I remember reaching the point where Wikipedia no longer helped me. If I typed in some topic into Google, the only results that would show up were research publications in journals like Science, Pubmed, etc.
I mean, I can list a few concepts/words that I have learned in college that other people may not. Histone acetylation, heterochromatin, epigenetics, actin and myosin, microtubules, chondrocyte, osteon, sarcoplasmic reticulum, enchephalitis, edema, proteobacteria, acromion, epigastric furrow, chilopods, echinoderms, hemocyanin, aminoacyl tRNA synthetase, topoisomerase, hemizygous, epistasis, allosteric regulation, cholecystokinin, gastrin, glucagon, tricuspid valve, protonephridia, aldosterone, angiotensin, carbocation, sterocenter, nucleophile. These are all words that most biology majors have encountered and mastered. THESE are the words that you may hear in our daily conversations.
Biology HAS taught me many words and concepts indeed! It is almost like a new language. This is also likely true for many other majors as well. So, this short self-reflection has taught me to not envy the differences I have with others, but rather appreciate them. It has reminded me that no, I’m not dumber than somebody else because I was not exposed to the same words as they were. There are still other things I’ve learned that they may not have. We all have our own background stories. Unfortunately, the GRE does not test on any of the words I listed. I’ve been telling friends I fear this test because my vocabulary is limited. Now I know that’s not the whole truth. I do have an extensive vocabulary, in a sense. I just don’t know all the words for a different setting, for this test. As much as I wish they would, that would require non-science majors to learn some science vocabulary. Is that fair? Probably not. True, I need to learn words that might come second nature to an English major, I know that putting common biology terms would be too specific. It would be similar to putting architecture, math, or physics terms in which most people may not know. I know ETS is trying to be as fair as possible, but there is a little extra work for us science majors preparing for the verbal section.
At the same time, I am grateful for what this test is teaching me. By reading more articles and books outside of my usual subject, I’ve learned more about the world around me and some new vocab. I feel a tiny bit more rounded, which I guess a college graduate should be. So, bravo to the GRE. For now. I’ll see if I feel the same after I take the test. lol