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« ...and counting (some musings) | Main | Rules for Writing Neo-Victorian Novels »

March 14, 2006



My undergrad regional comprehensive was quite traditionalist, and I did well on the subject test; but so would anyone with a good memory and time enough to cram the Norton's. I'm not sure that traditionalist requires quotes here.

La Lecturess

I'm inclined to agree with you, LP, that the GRE tests how well one tests. I went to a major research university with certain traditionalist requirements for the English major, and my interests were in a relatively early period--but by no means did my education actually cover all the expected canonical works or authors.

In taking a practice test before the exam itself and looking over the suggested reading list I remember thinking to myself, "What exactly IS this _Volpone_? And who's _The Jew of Malta_? But I got an extremely high score nevertheless. Maybe I lucked out with the particular questions I got, or maybe the curve was steep enough in my favor; who knows?

Ancrene Wiseass

I absolutely agree with your description of the test and its "know of" rather than "really know" qualities.

The year I took it, weirdly enough, the exam incorporated an awful lot of modern *French* literature.


It took me several attempts to parse your second parenthetical as not having something to do with an Intelligent Design question being on the English GRE test...


My favorite memory of my GRE test was an identification question about the Irish revival phrased "Which red-haired Irish playwright..."

I was working on a B.A. thesis on Yeats at the time so the anecdotes about who at the Abbey was a redhead was fresh in my mind.

But the real lesson I learned was that yes, it was a test on how well I'd learned the gossip, cocktail conversations, and Norton headnotes of my traditionalist education.

What Now?

Yes, I think it's largely about knowing the Norton headnotes. In fact, that was how I studied, on the advice of a professor: Read through the historical and author introductions in the two World, two British, and two American Norton volumes...but don't waste time reading the literature itself, since one doesn't need to know that. The advice worked beautifully, and I've passed it on to students since then. And certainly there's good info there in the headnotes, exactly the kind of stuff that's helpful to know, but obviously the test doesn't really get at any knowledge besides the "knowing of," as you put it so well.

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