Sunday, December 13, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Playing Games

I woke up this morning to rainy skies and a little knot in my stomach. This is the week that I begin my verbal review for the GRE, and I'm having some anxiety over it. My friend, Allan, made me stop beating myself up over my seemingly large deficiency in vocabulary. Honestly, I don't recognize half of the words on the GRE as English. Allan clued me in to the fact that no one recognizes these words as English because no one actually ever uses them. I felt mildly better. No matter - they're showing up on the test, and I have to learn them.

When I was little, I used to play the dictionary game with my mom. I'd open the dictionary to any word, and she would give the definition of the word. I never, ever stumped her. She knew every word, no matter how archaic it was. I couldn't understand it. How did she know all of these words? And how come I didn't know any of them? Why do I still feel like I don't know any of them now?

Begrudgingly, I went to my 3 inch thick GRE prep book, and started making my flashcards with a heavy heart. And then I decided I had better get with it. I had better make a game out of this or I am doomed to not do well. And I can't afford a low score. I just can't - PhD programs are competitive and every piece of an application counts.

The GRE book is full of helpful hints, and as I learned each hint I saw puzzle pieces falling into place. Now I know how my mom could figure out all of those words. She took many years of Latin, requiring her to learn a variety of roots, suffixes, and prefixes. Our language is largely made of little pieces that are recombined again and again in different ways. For example, "mal-" means bad, so words beginning with "mal-" likely have a negative meaning. It also means bad in Spanish, so knowing a foreign language helps enormously when deciphering new vocabulary words because English is largely a language of other languages. My mother speaks French and Latin, so it's no wonder the size of her English vocabulary is through the roof!

As my GRE studying progressed, I found myself getting more and more excited about it. I found myself finally, finally understanding pieces of our language I never knew before. Studying for the GRE isn't just to gain entrance to a program; it's actually beneficial for my life and for my writing. Now when I read, I have an eye on roots and suffixes and prefixes. I see arguments being pieced together with new insights that I never saw before. I see polygons and parallel lines and acute and obtuse angles everywhere I turn. The basis of the GRE is all around us. And while I've seen all of these things before, I'm now noticing them with new eyes and a new found curiosity.

My learning took a great leap forward today. It's so easy, and more than a little tempting, to get lost in our books and studies. The real power of our studies is when we can pick our eyes up from our books, look out into the world, and see that opportunities for learning, and application of our learning, is all around us. Or better yet, our learning helps us to see what could be out in the world, and gives us the tools and the resolve to go make it happen. Whoever said games were only for kids?

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