On the first day of test prep, after we had tackled a mini-G.R.E., the instructor assured our class that though she was 30 years old, she was still up on the latest test-taking trends. Finally, I thought, a problem I could easily solve. Answer: the last math class I had taken was three years before she was born.

The next nine months would be a test of how much I was willing to sacrifice to get into the academic game, a doctoral program in communications. My test prep instructor called G.R.E. prep a second job, and she was right. It meant doodling math problems during office meetings, taking antonym drills at home after work and compiling geometry flash cards.

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