Say Whaa?

This blog is my attempt to share with you how I have learned to conquer most of the standardized test question types used on the GMAT, LSAT, GRE, and SAT.

I became a TestSmasher over ten years ago, back when I was a professional musician who was trying to pay the bills by working for one of the big test prep companies.  I started working for them because they paid better than the receptionist jobs I had been working before that, but over the two years or so that I taught the graduate and professional school tests, I fell in love with them.

WHAT!  You LOVE the tests?  Are you crazy, girlfriend?

Yeah, okay, I know.  I’m weird.  I’m not the only one, though.  There are others.  These tests have a magnetic lure: frustrating, surprisingly sophisticated, a source of universal anxiety.  If you spend enough time on them, though, it becomes pretty clear that they are completely breakable.  And if you break them, well, that is pretty intoxicating, and has the side benefit of making it possible to pursue any institution of higher learning that suits your fancy.

That is what I did: in 2001, I had a sudden realization that if I continued to pursue making my way in the world on the basis of my music, I was going to turn into a miserable, bored, rotten shell of my former self.  So I decided to get a degree in something useful.  I wasn’t sure what.  But at least I was prepared for my standardized tests!  I took the LSAT and the GRE.  The LSAT score got me into several of the top law schools, but the GRE turned up the magic 800/800/800 (this was back when there was an analytic section).  It gave me the courage to apply to a PhD program I was sure would never look at a musician who hadn’t taken math since high school.  Well, I applied, and between the GRE scores and the serendipitous fact that I was going to be the second professional musician to go through their program — the first had blown everyone away — I was accepted.

When I got to my new grad school classes, a funny thing happened.  I did incredibly well.  Better than the engineers and economists who had relevant training for my program.  It turns out that teaching these damned tests was a profoundly useful experience to succeed in grad school!  Not really the teaching, but the TestSmashing.  Taking a slew of similar problems, analyzing their structure, and finding the key to the correct answer, every time, is what “research” of any kind requires.  That, and a cussed refusal to stop until the back of a problem has been broken.

So, my goal for this blog, and the private tutoring I offer, is to teach test-takers how to TestSmash.  Not just, and even not really, so that they can get into grad school or college, though that is important.  But also to have fun, learn an incredibly useful skill — one that is at least as valuable as the substantive skills these tests purport to test — and send a big F.U. to the folks at ETS who devise these questions.  It’s hard work — it isn’t just the bag of tips and tricks that will increase your score by some small margin offered by the big companies.  It is the profound, meaningful work of transforming how you think about authority, intelligence, your own abilities, and what you are looking for out of life.  It involves some math and some verbal skills, of course, but the focus of these tests are on other skills.  They just pretend to be about math and verbal.  By recognizing all of this, I hope to share with you how to transform your test prep days/weeks/months into something that isn’t just a vast waste of time and money or a soul crushing exercise in EgoSmashing.

So get out your sledge hammers, and let’s smash some tests!


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