He describes the episode in his essay entitled “Testing the Test,” which was published in the Chron, and it’s a very funny and interesting read. Below is a short excerpt:
Very little of the test, as far as I could see, had anything to do with gauging someone’s aptitude for graduate study in literature; it was, instead, as if I’d played an arduous two-and-a-half-hour parlor game. And that’s apparently how some departments of English treat the English GRE. Although many programs require it, my own does not, and back at my old haunt, Columbia, the graduate-admissions Web page declares, “Our department does not require the GRE Subject Test in English literature, which we regard as unsubstantive and not predictive of the quality of graduate work.” Over all, according to the most recent “MLA Guide to Doctoral Programs in English and Other Modern Languages,” 41.5 percent of English departments require the subject GRE test, whereas 96.2 percent require a writing sample. When I asked my department head whether I’d wasted my time with a test that would have no significance if I were an applicant to my own program, she said, “Pretty much, yeah. But it does sound like fun.” A supposedly fun thing, in the words of the late David Foster Wallace, that I’ll never do again.