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Low GRE Angst

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Another newbie here with no were else to turn! I did not want to add another voice to the chorus of "Oh no! I'm worried about grad school!" but after actually taking the GRE test, I'm starting to panic. I'm an aspiring history student (UC-Riverside undergrad), and I felt like I had a really good resume until the test just shattered my confidence. I practiced and studied for months (intermittently, it must be admitted, but still) and I absolutely bombed the verbal. 640Q (higher than I expected actually), but an inexplicably piss-poor 580V score.

I don't know how this happened, considering I scored usually around 670-690 on the practice tests. Hell, at one point I took a practice test on a couch, with no scratch paper, and yelling roommates hovering about me and I still managed a 650V. That I somehow got 580 on the actual test simply baffles me. I have no idea what went wrong. Because of this, I'm worried about taking the test again (which I know I must). I know I have a very good vocabulary (not to sound arrogant or anything...), but I cannot see myself being able to prepare anymore for the test than I already have. And if not, I don't know how I'll get a higher score. If I take it again and still somehow get high 500's, low 600's, I'm afraid I'll compromise my application even further.

Before this, I was hoping to apply to some top of the line history programs--like Notre Dame (school of choice) or other UC's (like LA or Berkeley), and maybe even an Ivy League school just for the hell of it (along with the requisite back-ups, of course). But this Verbal score is much (much) lower than they would expect. I have to admit I'm looking for some guidance and reassurance here. How much damage would a 580V do to my application? Here's the rest of my resume, just for reference, I guess:

-3.9 GPA

-In the Upper Division Honors Program (working on senior thesis)

-Was in Honors Program at the Community College I transferred from (presented a paper at an Honors Conference at UCI)

-Am on the administrative board of the Accounting Society at UCR (don't ask how I got there as a history major, it's a long story. :P)

-Work experience as an intern and later employee at an academic organization (I've been with them to a conference for the founding of their ambitious new college, and I should be able to join them for a huge conference in Oxford next summer).

-Won a scholarship for a short study abroad stint this summer in Greece.

-I have several stellar letters of rec lined up from professors and employers (one is a very well respected philosophy prof and has some serious publications to his name)

What frustrates me is that in spite of this I feel like this low GRE score is going to sabotage four years of hard work. Would a 580V really hold me back that much? I realize that a 1220 cumulative is an above average score, but I look around and see all these Ivy League hopefuls or its equivalents worrying about having Verbal scores in the high 600s/low 700s, and then I really start to wonder if it's even worth trying. I'm so far behind that it's more than daunting.

Anyway, to conclude this rambling post: Am I stressing too much? Should I even take the test again? What if I get the same mediocre score? Should I just jettison hopes of getting into the top-flight programs and apply other places (IE, out of country where they realize the GRE is the most otiose and inconceivably stupid test ever devised by man)?


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I am not an expert on history programs but in general the importance of the GRE is more or less only to get your application past initial cutoffs. Once your application lands in the hands of the admissions committee members, it's going to be your qualifications that get you in; the GRE can only keep you out. From what you write you should have a decent shot at being accepted at good schools, depending of course on how your SOP and writing sample look. For a history applicant I would suspect that a score of at least 650 is expected so I'd suggest you retake the test and try to at least get a 600+ (or the equivalent of 90th percentile). Again, a lower score is not a deal breaker if the rest of your application packet is strong. I don't know anyone whose application didn't have some weak point that they were concerned about. The worry is only that your application might get tossed without being read if there is a sweeping cutoff score. So, retake the test but don't stress about it overmuch. You should be spending the bulk of your time on the essay parts of the application, not the tests.

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From what I understand, the GRE is the least important part of the application. Considering the rest of your application will be strong, you have nothing to worry about.

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