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Terrible GRE Quant - worth it to still apply for English PhD?


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Hi everyone,

I posted this on the admissions forum but someone suggested I ask over here, since there will be more specialized advice. I scored a 143 on my GRE diagnostic test, and despite 3 months of studying from Khan Academy and the ETS site, I don't think my score would be much improved. My verbal score was 161, and I've studied vocab since, so I feel okay about that. Is my terrible quant score too low for more competitive programs? I know some people claim it doesn't matter for English, but other people have told me it does...

Thank you!

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I have heard a range of perspectives on the GRE. Some told me that the Q score doesn't matter but that a 163+ V was an implicit requirement for admission. Some said it was the percentile that mattered and not the number. Others said "just don't raise eyebrows," and others suggested getting both scores as high as possible. This past application season, I saw some programs that had a minimum Q requirement in the low 140s, and at least one program that I applied to had a requirement for a combined Q/V score (i.e. 311 or something like that). Other programs didn't post any GRE information at all (occasionally explaining why, although not always) and some posted the average Q & V scores of past successful applicant pools. 

The GRE, no matter how good, cannot compensate for a weak SOP & WS and mediocre letters. But as @trueblueDetroiter rightfully points out, how your score is evaluated depends on your total application package and how both the graduate school and the department view the GRE. Sometimes, the graduate school will have score requirements that are more rigid than the English program itself. Sometimes that info is easy to find and sometimes it isn't clear. I'd guess (although I have no insider knowledge) that there are also some programs that have score thresholds for whatever reason, which (again) may or may not be clearly explained. 

If it helps you to know, I had a 165V and a 144Q and got 5 offers from good places, one that is an absolute perfect fit in terms of resources/support/faculty/etc. So, a low 140s won't necessarily hinder someone from getting into a great program. But there are many successful applicants on these threads who have (much) higher scores and do equally well with applications. In short, I'm not sure anyone on the applicant-side of the process can fully know how the GRE plays into the larger (and VERY nuanced) application process. 

 

Edited by a_sort_of_fractious_angel
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17 hours ago, a_sort_of_fractious_angel said:

I have heard a range of perspectives on the GRE. Some told me that the Q score doesn't matter but that a 163+ V was an implicit requirement for admission. Some said it was the percentile that mattered and not the number. Others said "just don't raise eyebrows," and others suggested getting both scores as high as possible. This past application season, I saw some programs that had a minimum Q requirement in the low 140s, and at least one program that I applied to had a requirement for a combined Q/V score (i.e. 311 or something like that). Other programs didn't post any GRE information at all (occasionally explaining why, although not always) and some posted the average Q & V scores of past successful applicant pools. 

The GRE, no matter how good, cannot compensate for a weak SOP & WS and mediocre letters. But as @trueblueDetroiter rightfully points out, how your score is evaluated depends on your total application package and how both the graduate school and the department view the GRE. Sometimes, the graduate school will have score requirements that are more rigid than the English program itself. Sometimes that info is easy to find and sometimes it isn't clear. I'd guess (although I have no insider knowledge) that there are also some programs that have score thresholds for whatever reason, which (again) may or may not be clearly explained. 

If it helps you to know, I had a 165V and a 144Q and got 5 offers from good places, one that is an absolute perfect fit in terms of resources/support/faculty/etc. So, a low 140s won't necessarily hinder someone from getting into a great program. But there are many successful applicants on these threads who have (much) higher scores and do equally well with applications. In short, I'm not sure anyone on the applicant-side of the process can fully know how the GRE plays into the larger (and VERY nuanced) application process. 

 

Thanks so much for your insight! I have noticed that people who are accepted at some schools seem to be all over the map when it comes to GRE scores. I guess I'll just do the best I can and hope the other parts of my application are strong enough. I've tried to identify and apply only to schools that really support my specific research interest, which will hopefully make me a more marketable candidate at those programs. Thank you again for your insight!!

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GRE scores are among the least important elements of your application, though they do have a purpose. I had similar scores to you and was accepted to many of the top programs in my field. Focus on perfecting your SOP and WS; those have a much larger impact on your chances of getting in.

GRE scores matter, and frankly the only reason programs still might require them, because of Graduate Schools. There is a threshold, as @kgras13 mentions, that applicants must meet in order to be competitive for college- and university-level fellowships, which are limited and can be fiercely competitive among all departments at the university. Departments want students on university fellowship because then they do not have to pay their stipend for as long as the college/uni does. If you don’t meet that threshold, advisors who want you may have to make a special case as to why you should still be admitted, which can be perceived as a drain on limited department resources. So, unfortunately, this does mean that the quantitative score can also be important, since at some unis it could mean you are competing with math and science students for the same pot of college funding.

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  • 5 months later...
On 7/24/2018 at 11:54 AM, placeinspace said:

Hi everyone,

I posted this on the admissions forum but someone suggested I ask over here, since there will be more specialized advice. I scored a 143 on my GRE diagnostic test, and despite 3 months of studying from Khan Academy and the ETS site, I don't think my score would be much improved. My verbal score was 161, and I've studied vocab since, so I feel okay about that. Is my terrible quant score too low for more competitive programs? I know some people claim it doesn't matter for English, but other people have told me it does...

Thank you!

I know a few grads in various humanities departments that didn't do too well on the GRE Q and were accepted. V and AW scores probably are looked at much more for English. Some departments are transparent and will report average GRE scores (Duke does this, for instance, and I think average Q scores are in the 150s). 

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When I spoke to my advisor about retaking the GRE because of my mediocre scores, she told me to buy a new pair of boots instead. I told her I knew there’d be a gatekeeping minimum at many universities, and she asked me if I really wanted to attend a school that would disqualify me solely based on that, considering schools like UC Riverside, Harvard (beginning this year) and Purdue (beginning next year) no longer require the GRE at all. So I bought the boots.

I scored V 158 Q 145 AW 5.0. 

So far this cycle, I have received two interviews and three PhD acceptances. So buy the boots y’all!

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4 hours ago, arbie said:

When I spoke to my advisor about retaking the GRE because of my mediocre scores, she told me to buy a new pair of boots instead. I told her I knew there’d be a gatekeeping minimum at many universities, and she asked me if I really wanted to attend a school that would disqualify me solely based on that, considering schools like UC Riverside, Harvard (beginning this year) and Purdue (beginning next year) no longer require the GRE at all. So I bought the boots.

I scored V 158 Q 145 AW 5.0. 

So far this cycle, I have received two interviews and three PhD acceptances. So buy the boots y’all!

This post gave me life.

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  • 2 weeks later...
1 hour ago, aporeticpoetic said:

I didn't answer a single question on the quant section, and I was just accepted to an English PhD with full fellowship. I hope this helps someone out there feel a little bit better. Haha.

I, too, skipped through the Q section!

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3 hours ago, aporeticpoetic said:

I didn't answer a single question on the quant section, and I was just accepted to an English PhD with full fellowship. I hope this helps someone out there feel a little bit better. Haha.

Congrats! Full fellowship = no teaching? Is it a university thing? 

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Director of grad admissions in English at R1 University here: we couldn't give a flying eff about your GRE Q score. Major studies have shown that GRE scores are a poor predictor of who will succeed in graduate school. They have a weak predictive power about performance in the first year, and no predictive power beyond that. So we look at the verbal score with healthy skepticism, and nothing beyond that. I strongly suspect that leading programs will stop requiring the GRE at all for humanities Ph.D. programs.

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