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2xM

Should I retake the GRE?

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Hey guys, I've been lurking here a bit, but never really had anything to contribute or ask. Now that I've finished the GRE I finally have something to ask, so please bear with me.

(this is pretty long, just read my scores and then skip to the last paragraph if you want)

Anyways, I took the GRE last Thursday, and I basically blew it:

630V

760Q

don't have my writing score yet, but I don't predict it to be very pretty -- bad time management means I couldn't even write a conclusion for my Issue essay! I'll be happy with a 4...

I'll be honest: I didn't prepare much for it at all. In fact my study time probably came around to a grand total of 5 days. I didn't take it too seriously, and I got burned.

That said, I don't believe the quant score is representative of what I'm capable of. I did both Powerprep tests the day before my test, and I managed 800 on both of them. During the test however, I was too careful on the first 1/3 of questions, and went way too slow. I lagged behind so bad by the time I got to question 20 I had only 5 minutes left! I had to guess the last 3 questions, so I guess in a way it's almost a blessing I somehow managed 760.

I'll be going into my 5th and final year as a chem major this upcoming September (biochem--->chem switch held me back a year) at the University of Toronto. GRE aside, all my other credentials are pretty good:

-3.9+ GPA (3.99 in major)

-UROP for a summer, NSERC (Canadian equivalent of REU) for 2 summers, although one summer was doing biochem stuff, and 1 semester of volunteer work. I'll also be doing a senior project for my last year in undergrad

-Should be able to get good references, as long as I don't screw up my senior project

I'm mainly looking at the top 10-30 schools and a few top 10 schools for a PhD in synthesis/catalysis. Right now the list looks something like this:

-Ann Arbor

-Chicago

-Columbia

-Cornell (actually might cross this one off since Paul Chirik is moving to Princeton)

-Duke

-Princeton

-Purdue

-UIUC

-UW-Madison

-UPenn

My plan is to get some relevant industrial experience for a year or two before I head off to grad school. I still need to take the chem GRE, but that can wait considering I have at least 2 years ahead of me. But I guarantee I'll bust my ass for this one and try to get >95 percentile.

Being an international applicant (Asian-Canadian), my GRE scores really worry me, especially when you have statements like "Note: Successful international applicants in the past typically have had a total score of at least 1400 for the quantitative and verbal tests, at least 4.0 in the analytical writing test, and a score of at least 850 for the advanced test in chemistry" on Cornell's website. I've been told "it doesn't really matter as long as you have good reference letters and research", but the last thing I want is for my app to be filtered out because of my GRE score.

Considering how much more competitive it is for international applicants (especially when it comes to funding), I dunno if I should trust that statement. Then again it seems almost childish to toss out someone's app just because it didn't meet an arbitrary cutoff. Some of those schools say they'll take the best score from each section if I retake the GRE, and I'm hoping as long as I show significant improvement (eg 700V 800Q 6AW) they wouldn't hold it against me.

I'm also slightly worried they might see my GRE score and think my GPA is inflated, but I can assure you where I'm studying, grade DEflation is the norm -- most of my 3rd year chem courses still had C/C+ averages, with only one or two in the B/B+ range. It'd be a terrible insult if they just wrote off my GPA as being inflated.

Anyway, assuming I manage >95 percentile on the chem GRE, maintain a 3.9+ GPA and get good reference letters, would it still be worth my time and money to retake the GRE? I mean, I've taken 2 classes in logic and managed A/A+ in both of them, so clearly I'm capable of "thinking critically and analytically" if the adcoms care to read my transcript. Oh but one thing's for sure, if I get below 4 on writing, I'm retaking it for sure.

Thanks so much for your patience.

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Your GRE score is fine, don't worry about it.

Most schools want to see, most importantly: Research experience and good letters of rec.

Good grades are also beneficial.

My score was only a bit higher than yours (660V/760Q) and I had no trouble with any of the schools I applied to (got full fellowship offers from Tulane, Vanderbilt, Penn State, the three schools I applied to). As with you, I applied more to the 10-30 schools, with Tulane as in in-state fall back.... Interestingly enough, their research program impressed me the most, hence why I'm here.

Make sure you research the prof's you want to work with well, and tailor at least a paragraph of your statement of purpose towards discussing their research and how you see yourself fitting into it.

Personally, I didn't take the Chem GRE... If you do well on it, it will help your application, I'm sure.

Bottom line, I would say your scores are fine. Focus on the other stuff.

And as for the writing scores? No one takes them seriously. The way they're scored is really hit or miss. The writing samples themselves are sent to the school, however, and they matter a little bit.

If you have previous publications they can look at, that will help significantly.

If you want to talk more, feel free to send me a PM and we can talk.

Edited by Eigen

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All scores are finally in:

Verbal: 630, 91 percentile

Quant: 760, 84 percentile

AW: 5.0, 84 percentile

I'm leaning towards not retaking this now, I just think it'll give the impression I'm obsessed with the GRE and rub adcoms the wrong way. That said I would like to improve my quant score especially since 760 is not representative of my true ability at all.

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I felt the same way about my 760. I know the question that screwed me up, and I feel I should have done better.

I talked it over with the head of my department when I applied, and he told me that he didn't think it would make much, if any, difference when it came down to it. While an 800 is what you shoot for, a 760 is still respectable, and is only 1 or two questions off of an 800. Both show you know your basic math skills.

Honestly, at the level you need your math to be for a Chem PhD, the stuff that the quant section shows is relatively meaningless.

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Hey Eigen thanks again. At this point pretty much the only motivations left for me to retake is that

a) some fellowships take GRE scores into consideration

b ) don't my app to be filtered out simply because of a dumb score

For a), I'm not sure how much weight is given to these scores and whether they might serve as some kind of "tie-breaker" or whatever, but I'd have to strangle someone if my GRE scores prevented me from getting certain fellowships. For b ) I've heard rumors that MIT engineering doesn't even bother looking at those who don't have 800Q. Then again it's MIT, and it's just hearsay. And I guess I really dislike the idea of my app not making it into the first round simply because of the GRE. I mean I think the rest of my app is pretty strong, is pains me to think they'll toss mine into the B pile simply because ETS said I didn't deserve the A pile. Yeah I guess I'm being narcissistic...

Edited by 2xM

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