Like many students applying to graduate schools this fall, I took the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE). The most common thought I had, besides “What on Earth does tyro mean,” was “Why am I doing this?”
The answer is because it is required for basically all graduate applications. Leaving aside the fact that schools require the results, is there much value in the scores as indicators of success in graduate school? I don’t think so.
Whether or not admission committees take GRE scores into much account depends greatly on your field, the level of study, the schools you apply to and whether or not the person you are asking had a good breakfast that morning.
Generally though, most programs do at least consider the scores, if only to weed out candidates who do badly.
The problem is that the GRE does a poor job of measuring what schools usually care about. For Ph.D. candidates it is whether or not you are able to do research and be an asset to your lab. This is why schools ask for a resume and recommendations from professors.
Graduate schools do care at least somewhat on your skills in math and English, but even as a coarse measure of these, the GRE is not terribly effective. The quantitative section of the GRE still asks questions on math material most people learned in sophomore year of high school.
If the GRE was geared for testing the math skills of 16-year-olds, it would be perfect, but it seems a little bit silly that a test for graduate school students doesn’t care about anything you have learned in the past four to six years.
For measuring academic performance, undergraduate GPA and coursework is a far superior metric. It is not perfect by any means, but it gives graduate schools a much better picture of what you know and of how prepared you are for graduate coursework.
This not only gives a much fuller picture of your potential academic achievement, it tells them what areas of math, engineering, language, et cetera you excelled at or struggled in.
Unlike in undergraduate admissions, where admissions is unlikely to be familiar with the academic rigor of your school, graduate admissions committees usually have heard of your school and have a notion of what a 3.5 means at your institution.
The biggest problem for students, besides the hours spent studying high school math and esoteric vocabulary, is the cost.
Currently, the test has a $160 fee and, after the four free schools you are permitted to send scores to, you must pay $27 to send scores to additional schools.
Colleges care about GRE, so it must be valuable for measuring students—so the circular argument goes. Just because schools ask for it does not mean they should, however.
Because schools have many applicants to choose from, they can ask for it and students will take it. They say jump, and we ask how high.
So while it might be convenient for admissions committees to ask GRE scores to help cull the hundreds or thousands of applications they receive, they should consider whether that outweighs the tremendous cost and time students spend on the exam.
Please, let us put at least one of these alphabet soup standardized tests in the ground.