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total GRE fail--580 V


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So, OK. I took the GREs for the first time today and got a 580 verbal and a 460 quant...I felt pretty good about the writing section, but that's another story. I've been reading various posts regarding GRE scores and how they factor into acceptances, fellowships, etc., and obviously when I got a 580 my life got infinitely more complicated.

My real question is, as a BS/BA student with national and regional conference experience, creative publications, research grants, a 3.7 GPA, president of honorary, so on and so forth--should I spend another month studying for the GRE again to hit the 600+ mark for verbal, or should I shoot for working harder on my SOPs and writing samples?

I am between a rock and a hard place--I feel like it's important to do well on the GREs, but I know that in the end the SOPs and writing samples tend to matter more. Is it worth it to retake? I am looking to apply to schools such as Florida, Minnesota, Arizona State, and UC San Diego for PhD programs in American Literature, mainly big research schools outside of the top-10.

and I had so hoped this GRE crap would have stopped being an issue today!

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So, OK. I took the GREs for the first time today and got a 580 verbal and a 460 quant...I felt pretty good about the writing section, but that's another story. I've been reading various posts regarding GRE scores and how they factor into acceptances, fellowships, etc., and obviously when I got a 580 my life got infinitely more complicated.

My real question is, as a BS/BA student with national and regional conference experience, creative publications, research grants, a 3.7 GPA, president of honorary, so on and so forth--should I spend another month studying for the GRE again to hit the 600+ mark for verbal, or should I shoot for working harder on my SOPs and writing samples?

I am between a rock and a hard place--I feel like it's important to do well on the GREs, but I know that in the end the SOPs and writing samples tend to matter more. Is it worth it to retake? I am looking to apply to schools such as Florida, Minnesota, Arizona State, and UC San Diego for PhD programs in American Literature, mainly big research schools outside of the top-10.

and I had so hoped this GRE crap would have stopped being an issue today!

It can take quite a while for your scores to be sent to schools, so I doubt you would be able to take the test in a month and be sure they reach their destinations in time. Although a 580 does complicate things, your GPA may make them look twice. Was your GPA within your English major really excellent? If so, I think this will probably get you through the first round, if you have great LORs and a great wriitng sample. There isn't really any telling, but it seems risky to wait a month and spend more time and $ on another test.

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The question is, how much time do you think you'll need to spend studying in order to get a score over 600? 580 is close enough to 600 that you probably won't need to study *too* hard, and luck is such a big component of the GRE that you might even score higher the second time around. (Frankly, you might score higher if you took it tomorrow, with no extra studying.)

I took the November subject test and it got to my programs in time, so I don't think that will be too much of an issue. And if you report your scores in time, your schools probably won't care if the official scores take a while to arrive. I'm not sure what kind of score is attractive to the schools you listed, but I would advise you to retake the GRE--that is, if you don't have to devote 12 hours a day to studying. My philosophy is, if you have a chance to make your application better, why not take that chance?

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That's a tough call. On the one hand, the GRE is not all that important--the writing sample and SoP will count far more. On the other hand, that score is a bit low, and exactly how the GRE is used will vary from program to program and even prof to prof on the admissions committee. Some programs (particularly those with differential funding), as you noted, will use the GRE as leverage while asking for fellowships. This should be of less concern at programs that give equal funding to all students. Other programs (or particularly professors) might use the GRE while evaluating your application...though it's generally done holistically. Still other programs will use your GRE as a "first cut" score, though there's almost always leeway for outstanding applicants with lower GRE scores.

One thing to note: I wouldn't necessarily count on the other things that you listed (conference presentations, GPA, honor society) to counterbalance the GRE score. A 3.7 is certainly not weak (I know of many students in top programs with far lower scores), but it won't necessarily be that high either compared to the rest of the applicant pool. Depending on where you went to school and what programs you apply to, a 3.7 might very well put you in the lower half of the applicant pool, GPA-wise. It's not uncommon for top programs (and even not-so-tip-top) programs to average a 3.9 or higher. I'm not saying this to alarm you: as I noted earlier, the GPA isn't all that important. But I am suggesting that this probably isn't high enough to counterbalance the GRE score...though to be honest, I'm not convinced that applications are evaluated that way to begin with. I think that when ad-comms note that they evaluate applications holistically...they actually mean it.

Personally, I would think about re-taking it. You might want to spend some time (say, half an hour a day) working on vocabulary and going over a practice test, while focusing on the SoP and writing sample. If you can get these two things in order by...say, the middle or end of November, than commit some time to studying hard-core for the GRE verbal for a week or two, and take the test before your first applications are due. It will be fine if your officials results don't get in on time, as long as you have unofficial results (which you'll have immediately after the rest) to report on the applications. Many schools will only check the official report once they're ready to make you an offer.

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I'll be honest: Got into an MA program with a 540 V score, 1200 overall. Took the test in Fall 2006 and got in Fall 2007.

Getting that 600+ would be ideal. But you might also consider what strokeofmidnight is saying, in terms of the applicant pool.

I would also think about retaking it and concentrating on exercises for vocabulary. Just keep in the mind the scope of everything, in terms of where you are applying, and where you might fall in an applicant pool. You might have to consider some MA programs that, while not ideal, you could get into and they would offer you full funding. Sounds like a cop out, but it isn't. You need to develop some kind of contingency plan if you can't get into the schools you absolutely want to go to. This all sounds scarier than it is, but, it really isn't. The more realistic your approach, the less you have to swing for the stands where you know you might be competing against a few hundred others who might be just as qualified.

I would, in your shoes, definitely retake it if you feel it is less than what your are capable of.

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On their website ASU English lists 580 V as an average score for those admitted to their PhD program, so I wouldn't worry about getting cut based on your verbal score for that one anyway. However, if you think you can move your percentile from 82nd to 90th or higher, then I'd retake. Remember though that 580 V sounds lower than it really is when compared to percentile (82nd).

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  • 2 weeks later...

Decaf, I'm in the same boat as you.

I have a 3.7 GPA and slightly lower than 1000 combined GRE score. I am applying mostly to M.F.A programs, which don't require the GRE, and one English program with an emphasis in creative writing that requires the GRE. I had a similar dilemma when I saw my scores, however I refuse to take it again, just because I don't believe in standardized testing (which is probably why I would fit in better at an M.F.A program).

My advice would be to work on a stellar statement of purpose/writing sample, etc... as that would give them a better idea of who you are, not just how you performed on test day. A 3.7 is not a bad GPA at all. I learned the importance of the personal statement when I applied to Berkeley as an undergrad. A tour guide told us the story of a surfer who got in to Berkeley with a 2.7 GPA. His personal statement was about his love for surfing. Universities thrive on diversity. Above everything else they want someone who can contribute as a creative individual. I wrote the personal essay for both my twin sister and I and we both got in. Moral of the story: it's all about the writing.

I spoke to the admissions officer for one of my choice schools (which is highly recommended) and she said, "writing sample, writing sample... it's all about the writing sample." The only thing I worry about is that a low GRE score might affect potential funding. If that's the case I may just have to go back to the M.F.A. where I belong.

Hope this helps. Let me know if you find out anything on this perturbing subject (I learned that word from the GRE :) ).

Edited by ifwriterscouldtalk
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I wrote the personal essay for both my twin sister and I and we both got in. Moral of the story...

I can't help it: moral? I'm confused (and wrong, I hope) - did you write your sister's personal essay? Yikes.

I do want to interject that advice given to undergrads is not applicable to grad students, and advice given to one field of grad students isn't necessarily applicable to the next. So no, I would not find solace in the surfer story.

Anyway, I'll offer (yet another) personal anecdote - take it with a grain of salt. When I applied three years ago, I believe I had the same scores as you. They were enough to get me a 1.5/2 that application season: I got into an MA program and was invited to the MA program of the PhD I had applied to. I retook the test this round, because those scores were much too low (especially since I have an MA, not a BA).

But frankly, I wouldn't worry about it. When I look at the weak parts of my application from that round, it's glaringly obvious: the statement of purpose was rough. Good enough to get me where I wanted to go, but rough. My writing sample was OK but I would never submit that now. So that's where I'd focus my energy. Yes, some schools might reject you outright for your scores, but it's all a crapshoot anyway, so why not save the extra $200 (test fees + extra score reports)? There's no way of telling.

Edited for typos!

Edited by Alette
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I can't help it: moral? I'm confused (and wrong, I hope) - did you write your sister's personal essay? Yikes.

I do want to interject that advice given to undergrads is not applicable to grad students, and advice given to one field of grad students isn't necessarily applicable to the next. So no, I would not find solace in the surfer story.

Anyway, I'll offer (yet another) personal anecdote - take it with a grain of salt. When I applied three years ago, I believe I had the same scores as you. They were enough to get me a 1.5/2 that application season: I got into an MA program and was invited to the MA program of the PhD I had applied to. I retook the test this round, because those scores were much too low (especially since I have an MA, not a BA).

But frankly, I wouldn't worry about it. When I look at the weak parts of my application from that round, it's glaringly obvious: the statement of purpose was rough. Good enough to get me where I wanted to go, but rough. My writing sample was OK but I would never submit that now. So that's where I'd focus my energy. Yes, some schools might reject you outright for your scores, but it's all a crapshoot anyway, so why not save the extra $200 (test fees + extra score reports)? There's no way of telling.

Edited for typos!

We are identical twins. If you heard my story you would understand, but that doesn't matter because we didn't go anyway. We were lazy in the application process and only applied at the urging of professors and peers. I know the grad application process is MUCH different than undergrad, but I also believe that if you're not afraid to be yourself on paper the committee will see an application that stands out rather than run-of-the-mill generic prose that's trying too hard. I'm just sayin... we all make mistakes... ;(

Also, all of the programs I am applying to do not require the GRE (MFA). They base the admissions purely on the writing, which is why I think it is so important.

Edited by ifwriterscouldtalk
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Also, all of the programs I am applying to do not require the GRE (MFA). They base the admissions purely on the writing, which is why I think it is so important.

Yes, for an MFA the writing is paramount - but that's the same for MA or PhDs. I simply think the original poster's score of 580V is acceptable, with that in mind. Granted, applications have become so competitive in the past few years that nothing is for sure, hence his/her worry. Bottles, I would recommend, once you get your MA, retaking the GRE if you choose to continue, but, once again, your scores seem fine for now.

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