From business schools to STEM courses, the GRE has been a staple and a non-negotiable requirement for many graduate schools. However, standardized testing has come under fire recently, and both issues and controversies regarding the GRE have come to light in the past few years. With the global pandemic and the anti-racism movements across the country, these issues have been further highlighted. In response, California has dropped the ACT/SAT from UC college requirements, and other similar actions are being considered by other states (so far, California has not dropped the GRE requirement from UC grad schools). So why would you still take the GRE? To answer that question, we first need to address these controversies and concerns.
In light of the recent COVID pandemic, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) made changes that made taking the GRE easier and safer through an online version. However, this raised concerns for people who come from low-income households that can’t afford computers, webcams, or even internet service. Meanwhile, those who do have access to a computer and other essentials aren’t safe from technical difficulties from software bugs, connection issues, as well as reports of unnerving proctors who would not use their webcams but could see the testers during their exams. There were also a few more uncomfortable requirements aimed at reproducing the in-person test experience, such as needing a whiteboard to take notes, sitting on a standard chair for four hours, and making sure the applicant is alone in the room for the entire duration of the exam. These were tougher to execute for lower income households, and were controversial in that way even though ETS explained that they were “necessary to ensure the testing experience is similar to that in a test center, as well as to maintain the security and integrity of the test.”
Standardized testing in general has come under fire for the issues of racial and sexist biases. Studies have shown that, more often than not, standardized testing reflects demographic characteristics and socio-economic status than intellectual acuity. This study found that women score lower by 80 points than men in physical sciences sections of the GRE, and African Americans score 200 points lower than white men. The misuse of GRE scores for selecting applicants is a part of the continued under-representation of women and minorities in graduate schools, says the study and many advocates. In addition, the application for the GRE itself can be financially challenging for applicants coming from low-income households, as it costs upwards to $230 to take.
For almost a decade now, there have been studies that show that there is no correlation between GRE scores and academic performance in graduate schools. In 2017, a study by Joshua Hall showed that of the “280 graduate students in his program, GRE scores weren’t correlated with the number of first-author papers the students published or how long it took them to complete their degree.” Furthermore, another study from 2017 showed that while students who scored higher in the GRE did tend to get better grades throughout their first semester, it also showed that “GRE scores didn’t predict which students passed their qualifying exams or graduated, how long they spent in the program, how many publications they accrued, or whether they received an individual grant or fellowship.”
In light of these issues, many have begun a call for a “GRExit” where graduate programs drop the GRE requirement in its entirety. Many programs have been relaxing on the GRE requirement: in 2016 to 2018 alone, roughly one-third of programs in neurosciences and ecology have dropped their GRE requirements. However, a full-on “GRExit” has not yet occurred, with the vast majority of schools and programs still requiring a GRE test score to apply.
Let’s say you have the option to take it or not. Why would you still take the exam?
For those who can afford to take or want to take the GRE, doing so might prove beneficial in the long run. While the GRE isn’t a metric for how well a student can perform in graduate school, it does hone problem solving skills, analytical writing, and verbal reasoning. The GRE also provides schools with a “quantifiable way of comparing you to other applicants”. This not only helps schools determine an applicant’s ability, but it also helps the student compare their own scores with other students and work on their weaknesses. And while the GRE can’t fully determine a student’s abilities, it does demonstrate where their strengths lie.
If a program does not have a GRE requirement, presenting one anyway might make up for any weaknesses in a student’s overall application. For example, having a GRE score above their target school’s median might improve one’s chances of getting accepted into a graduate program if their application contains a low undergraduate GPA.
Another long term benefit of the GRE is that the test scores remain official for five years. That means they’ll still be valid five years from now if the applicant wants to delay their application, apply again if they were rejected in their first attempt, or apply for another degree.
Surprisingly, the GRE can help students with their networking. Having a good GRE score can help you connect with people or gain access to several opportunities, such as merit-based funding, fellowships, and faculty recommendations. It can also help someone land a job not only through their network but by having that score noted down as an achievement for their job applications. “Although credentials are not required for professional success, they can help you get your foot in the door, both for admissions committees and while forming creative or entrepreneurial teams.”
Due to the nature of the GRE being extremely general, it helps determine a student’s abilities from different academic disciplines. A good GRE quant score can show your math proficiency when you have an English degree, for instance. Having a decent or high GRE score can help one leverage their overall grades, scores, and professional experiences into a compelling portfolio, especially if you are switching careers or disciplines.
Finally, like it or not, the GRE has been around for decades and many schools still use it as a way to sift through waves and waves of student applications as well as gauge a student’s ability. Taking the GRE now can offer security in regards to future applications if a student ever runs into a program that does require a GRE score.