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Think the GRE is useless? Think again.

TheFez

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blog-0887305001360562318.gifMost people who think that the GRE is stupid and useless also have low GRE scores.

Like it or not you need good GRE (or GMAT)scores to get into a good program, because like it or not, people with good GRE scores tend (I say tend) to have natural academic abilities far beyond those of mortal men. The GRE is designed to be hard to do really well on (read 85%-90%+) without intuition, insight and reasoning skills - not just grade school math and vocabulary skills.

For the not-so-lucky end of the gene pool, there's another reason the GRE is useful to ad comms. Because you can do well on the GRE by working hard to prepare for it. So, low GRE scores mean either 1) you are not naturally gifted or 2) you didn't work hard enough at passing it and might not work hard enough in grad school. (What,you think comps don't require the same level of dedication?)

So you say "I worked really, really hard and I still got a 130Q". You might want to lower your sights(and your sites), head for the chat room, and complain about how useless the GRE is.




16 Comments


I call BS. Major BS. Do you have citations for any of these claims, such as how the GREs show that individuals are "naturally gifted" or willing to "work hard enough"? Or that "most people who think that the GRE is stupid and useless also have low GRE scores"? Have you ever heard of test anxiety? How about subject-specific intelligence? Or perhaps just thinking outside the box?

 

This is the truth: the GREs are great at measuring one thing - how well you do on the GREs. The end.

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I disagree with the "natural ability" comment. However, I agree that a hard-working person who takes a practice test and discovers their score is low will naturally work hard at improving their score.

 

If I was an administrator for a top-tier, highly competitive program, and it came down to hiring two applicants whose applications were identical aside from GRE scores, choosing the one whose GRE scores were higher would be a no-brainer.

 

While having high scores may not help an applicant, low scores would surely hurt them.

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I could say this is idiotic, but only because it is so brash and narrow-sighted. 

 

I actually agree with your point when it comes to mathematically-oriented degrees such as engineering, math, and hard sciences. The quantitative portion should NOT be difficult (nor require much study) for the majority of people looking for graduate degrees in the more "empirical" disciplines. To risk using anecdotal evidence here, I have been out of my MA for three years, haven't taken a math class since 2006, and didn't study for the quantitative portion (because I am applying to English PhD programs). I scored in the 87th percentile.

 

That being said, your apologetics for the GRE do not extend into the social sciences and especially the humanities. The verbal section requires a lot of study in order to do well by almost anyone, even those with above average reading and writing abilities. While this could say that the verbal section acts as an accurate measure for work ethic, it could also be said that it serves as an inaccurate measure of intellect. What do prospective students do in order to succeed on this portion of the test? They cram for a few months, memorize a bunch of words from predetermined word lists, and then move on with their lives. A high score on the verbal is only sometimes a product of intellect, and I'm willing to bet that it is just as often a product of frenzied pre-test, caffeine-fueled memorization sessions. So it goes with standardized tests. 

 

The analytical writing section, on the other hand, measures the ability to conform through the use of monotonous, bland five-paragraph essays that allow little room for creativity, innovation, or intelligent rhetoric. This is, in my opinion, only a useful measuring stick for disciplines in which writing ability is an afterthought: the hard sciences, engineering, and math. I have taken the GRE twice. The first time, as an undergraduate, I scored a 5.5. After my M.A., I scored a 4.5. Yes, I know - I ventured into Anecdote Land. But still, it's hard for me to believe that my writing ability degenerated as an MA student.

 

And finally, I ask the same as roseisarose: citations? Basis of claims? How about a survey of the opinions of adcoms and parsed by discipline? 

 

If most of the people who say GREs are useless are those who have done badly on them, then are most GRE apologists those who have aced them and therefore can't see why anyone else could be so stupid? 

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I studied for 2 weeks and scored over 90th percentile on verbal, I still think the GRE is stupid. I know plenty of people that are probably more intelligent than I, have better academic pedigrees and did not do as well. Doing well on a standardized test is only a measure of one thing, how good one is at taking standardized tests. The only good measure of academic ability in graduate school is to take graduate level classes and see how you do. In many universities this can be done while still in undergrad. 

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The GRE does have its uses, but not as an indicator of "naturally gifted" intelligence.

 

imo, like any standardized test, the GRE is only a good indicator of how well one will do... in conditions similar to taking the GRE. 

 

The GRE measures how well one can figure out the answers to a narrow range of mathematical and verbal problem sets, and how effectively one can type a long, formulaic essay within the allotted time. That's all. 

 

btw, my GRE scores were 99% and 95%. 

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I believe that the GRE, as well as the majority of standardized tests, are designed  more as psychological profiling exams than as tests whose metrics indicate intelligence or natural giftedness, and thus, to a certain degree, the horse has been beaten beyond death not in vain: "The GRE measures how well you take the GRE."

 

However, let us owe one peculiarity: while it is possible than an intelligent person will score poorly on the GRE, I don't see the inverse holding true. I tutor students for this test, students of a wide range of intelligences, and I have found that those with low-average intelligence have much lower CEILINGS (maximum potential score on a section) than those with higher intelligence. Now, one may point a dirty finger at me, demanding that I furnish a certificate ensuring that I am capable of judging intelligence; or insisting that there exist different sorts of intelligence, none of which is privileged over another; or arguing that no student has anything resembling a CEILING on a standardized test, that little Bradley who has never read a book in his life, or been able to plug the numbers into the quadratic formula, or even had the temporary inconvenience of a moment of intellectual curiosity can, through hard work and a little elbow grease, break into the 90th percentiles; but I nip at that dirty finger, despite the risk of infection (and to hell with propriety!), and maintain that not everyone is a potential genius, that the gene pool is not saturated with perfect-GRE test-taking gametes (after all, only 1% of people score in the 99th).

 

While it is my opinion that GRE scores require a generous sprinkle of fleur de sel to be made palatable, that does not mean that they ought to be dismissed as inedible.

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I think that the GRE can be useful in a narrow sense: to provide one standardized metric with which adcoms can compare applicants. The rest of the application package is wholly subjective. GPAs can reflect grade inflation or deflation; recommendation letters can become hagiographies; accomplishments on one's resume can be exaggerated.

 

We get into trouble, however, when we assume that the GRE is some kind of proxy for IQ. Clearly if you score a 162Q on one test day and then a 159Q six months later, that does not reflect a corresponding drop in intelligence. But that doesn't mean that the test reflects nothing. I think the GRE is best used when applicants' scores are considered in ranges. For example, those who score above the 80th percentile are probably smart and/or hardworking. Those who score below the 20th percentile are probably not. But I highly doubt that an adcom thinks someone in the 73rd percentile would make a worse graduate student than someone in the 77th.

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What do you mean by "gifted"???? 

 

I know plenty of very intelligent people who have dyslexia or attention disorders. They would make EXCELLENT graduate students, because of their extra hard work they put into things. WHy? because the world, including GRE is not prepared for them. And yet, they would crack your arguments. 

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The verbal section requires a lot of study in order to do well by almost anyone, even those with above average reading and writing abilities.

 

I completely disagree with this, but the rest of your points are good.

 

Anyways, I think the GRE has some value, especially with the rampant grade inflation in academia these days.

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I dislike the GRE. I am a McNair Scholar, have a stellar academic record, and poor GRE scores.


ETS actually released a document advising adcoms to use multiple criteria in evaluating candidates. Quoting directly from that document, "A cut-off score (i.e., a minimum score) should never be used as the only criterion for denial of admission or awarding of a fellowship." However, it happens all the time. In fact, I was denied from one of the PhD programs I applied to for not meeting that minimum score. 

 

Read the above referenced document here: http://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_guide.pdf

 

This document also states "GRE scores, like those on similar standardized tests, cannot completely represent the potential of any person, nor can they alone reflect an individual’s chances of long-term success in an academic environment. It should be remembered that the GRE tests provide measures of certain types of developed abilities and achievement, 

reflecting educational and cultural experience over a long period. Special care is required in interpreting the GRE scores of students who may have had educational and cultural 
experiences somewhat different from those of the traditional majority."

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I got a 168 on my verbal GRE (read: 98th percentile). Do I think the GRE is actually that valuable? No. I think it means my vocabulary is really good. My 3.95 GPA is what I'm really proud of and shows my acumen as a student. 

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