Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Who is buried in Derrida's tomb?

Michael Bérubé has given me realistic flashbacks along with chills and attendant paranoia. How, you ask? By writing an excellent article for The Chronicle of Higher Education about re-taking the GRE in English Literature. We both went to graduate school at the University of Virginia (different years -- I didn't know him), and we both struggled through what I personally thought was a ridiculous exam. I never knew that others felt the same, except for one good hint... after I was in I met one of the committee members who had accepted my application. I asked her what she thought of the subject test (where I struggled), and she said "Oh, we've known for years that it's flawed... I personally didn't count it although I can't speak for my colleagues."

Here's the funniest quote, although it's rather insider-y unless you have taken this particular test: The three questions that asked you to identify which city was being described in which poem — those were bad questions too, suitable more for Jeopardy! than for an exam in English literature. Alas, I got many bad questions right, sometimes through sheer dumb luck. Among the ones I missed, I couldn't remember what the "euphuistic" style is, and I couldn't remember which war novelist — Stephen Crane, Faulkner, Joseph Heller, Ernest Hemingway, or Norman Mailer — had not seen combat.

It was precisely the latter sort of questions that infuriated me. They had nothing to do with the study of anything, and I'm thankful that the admissions committee at Virginia agreed. My criticism of standardized testing is well-documented -- I wrote about it in my second book -- so this piece was most welcome.

Scary, though.

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