How to Prep for the Ridiculous LIT GRE

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A little more than a year ago, I was a girl with a dream: I wanted to get into a Ph.D program for English Literature. I was going to make my living standing in front of a classroom, wearing elbow patches and earnestly debating whether Homi Bhabha’s theories on post-colonialism could be applied to the works of Mark Twain (or whatever). This dream has since gone a bit awry, but not before I took a crucial step towards achieving this goal: I took the GRE LIT Subject Test.

Ask your professors about this test. From what I’ve found, the typical response is a look of horror as they try to repress the terrible, terrible memories of having taken it. I even had one professor tell me that she got sick immediately after it was over.

It can’t be that bad, you say. Oh little lamb, how innocent you are. Imagine having to identify an author by just the opening line of a novel. Or being asked to translate Old English and figure out who the speaker of the passage is. Or, my personal favorite, name the author who is the contemporary of the author of a passage (without knowing who the author of the original passage is).

This test is no joke, and only those who have taken it (or are preparing to take it) can understand the struggle. So, if the LIT GRE is in your future, here’s a helpful step-by-step guide for preparing and taking the exam.

So you’ve decided to apply to grad school. You probably did pretty well in undergrad and are feeling confident

Dean's List all four years? NBD.

You took the regular GREs and rocked the verbal section, natch

Ask me what "meretricious" means. I totally know it.

Then you realize that some of your schools want the GRE Lit Subject Test. You aren’t worried

It's just a test about books. If there's one thing I know, it's books.

You sign up, and soon you receive your practice exam in the mail. You look it over


The panic slowly starts to creep in. You realize that you can answer *MAYBE* a quarter of the questions

You slowly start to hyperventilate as you reach the end of the booklet.

You begin to suspect that you might be an idiot. You start questioning all of the life choices that led you to this moment

Everything you thought you knew about yourself is a lie.

You decide there’s only one thing to do: READ ALL THE BOOKS

You can totally read all of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Paradise Lost, and Moby-Dick in a few months. No sweat.

Maybe you decide to teach yourself Old English. Because, yes, it's on there

I don’t even know what these letters are — how can I tell you who this is a conversation between?

You give up on trying to read. In desperation, you just start reading SparkNotes summaries of everything you can think of

Is this a good idea? Probably not. Are you going to do it anyway? Absolutely.

You finally realize that there's nothing more that you can do. You resign yourself to your fate

You may or may not begin to form a backup plan for when you don't get into grad school. Maybe professional dog-walker?

The night before the test finally arrives

Get ready for a bunch of dreams in which your alarm doesn't go off and you forget your No. 2 pencil.

Your family and friends may ask you if you're ready for the test. You'll try to play it cool

Helpful tip: If you tell them you're fine and then immediately start crying, you will totally blow your cover.

The day of the test arrives. You feel a strange and unmerited burst of confidence

This is a delusion. It will end very soon.

The test begins. It's pretty much as bad as you expected it to be

Is it hot in here? That clock can't be right, can it? SERIOUSLY IS ANYONE ELSE SWEATING?

At some point, a devil-may-care attitude takes over


Congrats! You just took the LIT GRE! Now you just have to wait for the results. You can go throw up now

Personally, I stumbled back to my car like a survivor of a zombie apocalypse. Then I just stared blankly at my steering wheel for like 10 minutes.

You should get your results in a couple of weeks. May God have mercy on your soul

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