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I took the GRE-general test, for the first time--besides a few practice tests--and bombed. Ok, so, 440 (V) and 340 (Q). I absolutely freeze when a multiple choice test is in front of me. I took it on December 8th, so I don't know my Analytical yet, but I feel as though I did much better in that section. I am finishing up my Master's degree in Spring 2011, earning a 3.87 GPA. I have three awesome letters of rec from professors and am working hard on my sop. I'm applying to U of Chicago, Northwestern, and Iowa (my long shot schools) UW-Milwaukee, U of Illinois at Chicago, Illinois State U, and St. John's in NY. What are my chances... are those scores gonna kill me?

Also, If I am not accepted, I will try again next year. Is that feasible? Would that be better than applying with those stats? Also, my GRE scores were on 12/8, will schools accept my scores if they arrive past the deadline (e.g. Northwestern is 12/14)??

This is my first post on gradcafe, and I could really use some advice.

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Okay, I'll be honest: this is pretty problematic, as we hear a lot about GRE cutoffs for schools... Generally speaking, you want to have a combined score of at least 1000 to get past the first round of application. Not saying it's impossible to get in with your scores, but it'll be pretty hard indeed, and you may also find difficulty in getting funding (since fellowships also often need a minimum GRE score)... Good luck anyway!

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Okay, I'll be honest: this is pretty problematic, as we hear a lot about GRE cutoffs for schools... Generally speaking, you want to have a combined score of at least 1000 to get past the first round of application. Not saying it's impossible to get in with your scores, but it'll be pretty hard indeed, and you may also find difficulty in getting funding (since fellowships also often need a minimum GRE score)... Good luck anyway!

Yes, absolutely this. Sure, schools don't care too much about scores, but I think there is a threshold (1000) that they like to see. However, you might want to root around and see if you can't find a school that really doesn't care (and is also a good fit, of course).

Beyond this, what was your undergrad GPA like? Why was your master's a 3.8? Not that everything can be determined by numbers, but it seems relevant to note.

Best of luck this cycle. Worst comes to worst, start studying for the GRE for next cycle and take it again - but much earlier (August or September). But don't retake it until you're confident that you'll score significantly higher. I don't know how you studied, but make flashcards with vocabulary, take notes for math (the Barron's guide was really extensive for both the verbal and math sections - I'd recommend it), then start drilling yourself. This will build your confidence, which I think will help just as much as knowing more words when it comes time to take the test. Take practice tests online that mimic the CAT, and create the test environment (you can even turn your pockets inside out if you want to go all the way ;)). Make your test sessions timed, so you can start getting over your anxiety.

But again, that's worst case scenario, and this cycle has barely begun. Good luck :)

Edited by Chumlee
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Beyond this, what was your undergrad GPA like? Why was your master's a 3.8? Not that everything can be determined by numbers, but it seems relevant to note.

That is the question I feel will be on most reviewer's minds regarding the gulf between my GPA and GRE. I prepared using Kaplan flash cards, but when it came down to it, I just froze. It may have been the format. I took my practice tests on paper.

Thanks for your post!

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Dear USTgrad,

I'm a first-time user here too, but unlike you, I've already been admitted and have, of course, also gone through this ordeal of anxiety, frustration, depression checking out gradcafe everyday (yet not registering!). I feel sorry for you not scoring high on the GREs, but I feel more sorry for the fact that no one has yet told you and *convinced* you that the GRE scores would REALLY not be a matter of concern if your other application components REALLY stand out. I had a similar experience about my scores, but, not trying to flatter myself here, I was eventually admitted to three top ten English Lit programs. I thought that I was the only one in my entire program who came in with such unseemly scores, but I heard that there are others who came in without even submitting their scores in their applications. Truly top programs do know how to sort out the best applicants. I'm not saying that the scores won't matter at all: in fact, some other top programs might automatically screen you off in the first round; and there are many who scored 800 in my current program. I'm probably regurgitating what many users have said over and over again here: your writing sample, statement of purpose and letters of recommendation are the three determining factors in your application. As for the strategies of drafting the first two, I'm sure there are already many discussions on the forum, and that would probably be too late for revision. But I'm just (re)stating the fact here: not all top programs will reject you based solely on the GRE or the GPA.

Good luck with your applications.

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It's important to understand the structure of Ph.D. programs: there's usually a back-and-forth between the department and the graduate division concerning admission and funding. Most (ethical) programs won't admit you if they can't fund you, and most graduate divisions give out merit awards based on GPA, GRE, and other evidence (publications etc.). Some programs don't follow this pattern, and for them your scores may not matter.

Grad GPA's are inflated, so having a 3.8 simply indicates that you can handle graduate work. It, unfortunately, won't make you stand out. Most English M.A.'s who go on to the Ph.D. have a 3.8 or higher. Your letters of recommendation and statement of purpose are your greatest assets right now, it seems to me. Your SOP is by far the most important part of your application. Your GRE will clearly be a hindrance. As I explained above, it may quite simply exclude you from some programs because the graduate division, not the department, has a funding mechanism based on a combo of grades and GRE.

While studying again, don't worry too much about the math. Acing the verbal is what really matters to programs. And, if it's an option, TestMasters' GRE course really does help.

Good luck!

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It's important to understand the structure of Ph.D. programs: there's usually a back-and-forth between the department and the graduate division concerning admission and funding. Most (ethical) programs won't admit you if they can't fund you, and most graduate divisions give out merit awards based on GPA, GRE, and other evidence (publications etc.). Some programs don't follow this pattern, and for them your scores may not matter.

Grad GPA's are inflated, so having a 3.8 simply indicates that you can handle graduate work.

Thanks everybody for responding! I also appreciate everyone's honesty very much. It also helps to know that others are out there, up until 3am writing SoP's, filled with anxiety.

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I agree with the general sentiment here that writing sample, sop, and lor > test day.

Im a terrible test taker, but I took 13 practice gre's and obtained a decent score, and by that one that I assume a few people will have to look at the rest of my application before tossing it in the trash (730 v, 480q, 5 writing); warm up on paper tests, then move on to the computer based ones. There is no substitute for the computer practice. I studied vocab casually for 2 months before moving into my actual test practice. Also, reading and analyzing scholarly prose really helps. Books I used were Kaplan, Barrons, and Princeton. I got to the test center 20min early and took a 15min walk around the whole complex, lots of deep breathing etc because of my anxiety.

I would be interested to see what schools are accepting the people who say "I got accepted into a top 10 school with drooler scores", since we might be able to see/create a list of top schools where fit, sop, and writing sample really (thankfully) seem to trump bad test days.

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  • 2 months later...

My BA GPA was 3.75 and so is my grad MA GPA 3.75 . I have great LORS and I think a strong essay, but on the GRE's I froze. I scored 670 verb, 450 quant and this is the worst, 3 on the essay. Since most of my LORs will talk about my great essay skills, and also because I was told by two of the English dept at Columbia that a 450 on verbal was okay by them, I just sucked it up and thought the admissions will tell this is anomalous.

Actually, I type terribly and spent most of the time trying to fix the typos and this together with the numbing panic attack that happened half way through the exam... I knew what the outcome would be.

I am hoping that this won't impact too heavily. Any thoughts?

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The emphasis placed on the GRE and the adcom process is going to vary school by school. Some schools (Miami Ohio) don't even look at the GRE anymore, and others take them but do not use them as part of their central screening process (though they do help when considering fellowship offers--which are often outside of the department and are determined by quantitative factors). That said, a better score always helps (especially for top-notch schools), but a better writing sample, SOP and LORS will be even more important--almost always.

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I think many schools overlook low GRE scores if the rest of your application is good, and you are a good fit for the department. If you don't get in anywhere, I suppose there will be nothing for it but to try again and do better on it (they're getting rid of analogies on the new gre!! YAY!!!). Good luck! (I studied for an entire year for my GREs, just to be safe. The GRE literature is freakin' impossible!!)

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It definitely depends. Some schools don't look at GRE schools until the last minute, others use it to cull the herd, so to speak, if they are facing some 500 applicants. Some people don't take them at all and get admitted anyway. GRE scores don't necessarily help, but they *can* hurt. Of course, if your scores are exceptionally high, your app might get a second look if the rest of your materials were kind of blah. They can help you stand out in good and bad ways.

Your scores are pretty low, and admit panels might raise their eyebrows at that, but if you explain in your cover letter maybe that you are a bad test taker, etc etc, they might not care, but the graduate school will as they often have minimums (even if unstated.) I am a terrible test taker, too, and did not do well on the test. I practiced and practiced and did not do well on test day, though I nailed the AW portion (6.0). So a month later, I took it again and improved my score by like 300 points. It's not like my knowledge increased in that month, but my knowledge of taking the test sure did. It is expensive and annoying, but if you test poorly, at least in my case, the solution is to take the test more than once. If you go through the app season again, give yourself enough time to take the test two or three times (too many times looks excessive). So try August, then October or November. In the end I probably cared more about my scores than the schools did, but I wanted to give myself the best chance.

Good luck!

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Thanks for all the responses. I was told in a pep talk for undergraduates at Columbia, by two of my professors that the English dept didn't care about the quantative at all and expected to see 450's. But I'm sure this varies from institution to institution. My scores would have been much higher but a comprehension question was about platelets, magma,shifting crusts and underwater plumes. My brain saw "science", panicked and shut down.

Given my exam anxiety track record, it is a miracle that it did not happen earlier.

Edited by Watmeworry
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I took the GRE-general test, for the first time--besides a few practice tests--and bombed. Ok, so, 440 (V) and 340 (Q). I absolutely freeze when a multiple choice test is in front of me. I took it on December 8th, so I don't know my Analytical yet, but I feel as though I did much better in that section. I am finishing up my Master's degree in Spring 2011, earning a 3.87 GPA. I have three awesome letters of rec from professors and am working hard on my sop. I'm applying to U of Chicago, Northwestern, and Iowa (my long shot schools) UW-Milwaukee, U of Illinois at Chicago, Illinois State U, and St. John's in NY. What are my chances... are those scores gonna kill me?

Also, If I am not accepted, I will try again next year. Is that feasible? Would that be better than applying with those stats? Also, my GRE scores were on 12/8, will schools accept my scores if they arrive past the deadline (e.g. Northwestern is 12/14)??

This is my first post on gradcafe, and I could really use some advice.

The hyper-competitive schools -- and I would place Chicago and Northwestern in that category -- have so many applicants for each available slot that I doubt you will be competitive without a verbal GRE of, say, at least 640 and preferably higher. That said, it is true that the most important parts of your application are your SOP and your Writing Sample. It's just that with extremely competitive schools like Chicago and Northwestern any area of weakness in your overall application just gives the ad. com. a reason to toss your file into the reject pile. They have to be very picky or they'll never winnow the 600+ applications they receive down to the 15-20 that they are seriously interested in pursuing.

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Grad GPA's are inflated, so having a 3.8 simply indicates that you can handle graduate work. It, unfortunately, won't make you stand out. Most English M.A.'s who go on to the Ph.D. have a 3.8 or higher. Your letters of recommendation and statement of purpose are your greatest assets right now, it seems to me. Your SOP is by far the most important part of your application. Your GRE will clearly be a hindrance. As I explained above, it may quite simply exclude you from some programs because the graduate division, not the department, has a funding mechanism based on a combo of grades and GRE.

I wasn't aware of this and hadn't noticed any difference in the quality of grading on my papers. In as string of all A's for literature, I stepped out of my comfort zone and took a high level History of Political Economics course, received a B+ . I expected the lower grade might be the outcome as I was totally new to all the econ literature, but I also applied information to my other work with great success. Was it a big mistake to risk a 4.0 in grad school?

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I wanted to weigh in on the GRE discussion. I agree with what most people have said that while GRE scores aren’t a great tool, grad schools and departments do use them in conjunction with GPA to both eliminate candidates with very low scores who they won’t look at any closer and to decide who to offer fellowships to.

That said, the GRE—both the subject and general tests—is teachable. I used to be a general GRE instructor for avery large test prep company—one of the two who’ve heard of if you’ve heard of any. Their courses are pricey, but if you don’t do better on your final test than you did on your first choice, you get your money back. If you’re struggling with the test, I strongly recommend taking a course—not only for the instruction but also for the 8 computer adaptive tests that you have access to.

About the changes to the test, both sections of the test are changing. I would strongly recommend taking the test before the changes because there in a lot of knowledge out there about how to beat the existing test. On the current verbal section, if you learn the 200 to 1,000 vocabularywords which the GRE uses heavily, which if you’re planning on getting a degree in English you probably already know, and if you have the opportunity to practice how they’re used on the test, you can get a very good score.

One of the changes which is coming to the test is that they are getting rid of analogies. This is not good news for people who study for the test because the analogies are the most teachable part of the verbal section.

Don’t worry too much about the quantitative section. As long as you do above average, you’re doing great.

No matter what, make sure that you finish every question in each section. You get at least 100 points just for finishing each section.

Practice your pacing. Be systematic about how you study. There’s a lot of information out there about how to study for the general test, so I won’t say any more.

About the subject test:

I didn’t realize that it’s something you can study for, but it really is. My undergraduate program had essentially no breadth requirements within the English major, and in my last year I realized that I had studied just American and Irish writers after 1850--which is my area of interest, but not great for distribution. I quickly took a Shakespeare course and a course on the metaphysical poets, and studied my ass off. It took me six months of serious study, but I moved from a score in the 20th percentile (ouch, that was demoralizing) to a score in the 85th percentile.

Here’s my advice:

Read/skim the Norton Anthology (I just used the Major Authors edition which is only one volume, but I probably would have done a little better if I had used the complete 2 volume edition).

Identity your weaker areas (periods, genres, literary terms,etc), and read widely but not deeply on them.

Get the Princeton Review prep book. Their advice is very good. Particularly, their study strategies and target score formula are good. For example, I found that after studying, when I was reasonably confident in the answer of a question, I had—averaged across the whole test—about an 80% chance of gettingthe answer correct. Therefore, in order to get the score I wanted, I needed to answer about 90% of the questions on the test.

Get all the practice tests. As far as I know, there are 7 practice tests in existence: 1 which ETSwill send you when you register, 1 in the Princeton Review book (it’s the sametest in the 4th, 5th, and 6th Editions), 3 in the other practice book in existence (black and yellow cover, I can’t rememberthe name), and 2 in an out of print book published by ETS which I was able to find on eBay (these two tests were the most similar tests to the actual test).

Practice your pacing. There are 230 questions in 170 minutes. Also, know that the proctors in the actual exam are not allowed to give any indication about time except for a 20 minute warning. Keeping track of your own time is essential,and nobody tells you this. It took me a good four to five practice tests to get my pacing down. Every Saturday morning for two months before the test, at 8 am, I sat down and took a test. I wrote out the quarter, half, and three-quarters time marks as well as my target question number for each time period. If that hadn’t been automatic by test day, I would have been sunk.

Lastly, make allowances for yourself and the way you take tests. For me, this meant admitting that I would get a better score if I allowed myself a 5 minute break three quarters of the way through the exam.

I hope this helps. Rightly or wrongly, test scores do get used by departments when evaluating students, but the good news is that the tests are teachable.

Best of luck UST.

(edited for a sticky space bar)

Edited by osodulce
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I wanted to weigh in on the GRE discussion. I agree with what most people have said thatwhile GRE scores aren’t a great tool, grad schools and departments do use themin conjunction with GPA to both eliminate candidates with very low scores whothey won’t look at any closer and to decide who to offer fellowships to.

That said, the GRE—both the subject and general tests—is teachable. I used to be a general GRE instructor for avery large test prep company—one of the two who’ve heard of if you’ve heard ofany. Their courses are pricey, but ifyou don’t do better on your final test than you did on your first choice, youget your money back. If you’re strugglingwith the test, I strongly recommend taking a course—not only for theinstruction but also for the 8 computer adaptive tests that you have access to.

About the changes to the test, both sections of the test arechanging. I would strongly recommendtaking the test before the changes because there in a lot of knowledge outthere about how to beat the existing test. On the current verbal section, if you learn the 200 to 1,000 vocabularywords which the GRE uses heavily, which if you’re planning on getting a degreein English you probably already know, and if you have the opportunity topractice how they’re used on the test, you can get a very good score.

One of the changes which is coming to the test is that they are getting rid of analogies. This is not good news for people who study for the test because the analogies are the most teachable part of the verbal section.

Don’t worry too much about the quantitative section. As long as you do above average, you’re doinggreat.

No matter what make sure that you finish every question ineach section. You get at least 100 pointsjust for finishing each section.

Practice your pacing. Be systematic about how you study. There’s a lot of information out there about how to study for thegeneral test, so I won’t say any more.

About the subject test:

I didn’t realize that it’s something you can study for, butit really is. My undergraduate programhad essentially no breadth requirements within the English major, and in mylast year I realized that I had studied just American and Irish writers after1850. I quickly took a Shakespearecourse and a course on the metaphysical poets, and studied my ass off. It took me six months of serious study, but Imoved from a score in the 20th percentile (ouch, that wasdemoralizing) to a score in the 85th percentile.

Here’s my advice:

Read/skim the Norton Anthology (I just used the Major Authorsedition which is only one volume, but I probably would have done a littlebetter if I had used the complete 2 volume edition).

Identity your weaker areas (periods, genres, literary terms,etc), and read widely but not deeply on them.

Get the Princeton Review prep book. Their advice is very good. Particularly, their study strategies and targetscore formula are good. For example, Ifound that after studying, when I was reasonably confident in the answer of aquestion, I had—averaged across the whole test—about an 80% chance of gettingthe answer correct. Therefore, in orderto get the score I wanted, I needed to answer about 90% of the questions on thetest.

Get all the practice tests. As far as I know, there are 7 practice tests in existence: 1 which ETSwill send you when you register, 1 in the Princeton Review book (it’s the sametest in the 4th, 5th, and 6th Editions), 3 inthe other practice book in existence (black and yellow cover, I can’t rememberthe name), and 2 in an out of print book published by ETS which I was able tofind on eBay (these two tests were the most similar tests to the actual test).

Practice your pacing. There are 230 questions in 170 minutes. Also, know that the proctors in the actual exam are not allowed to giveany indication about time except for a 20 minute warning. Keeping track of your own time is essential,and nobody tells you this. It took me agood four to five practice tests to get my pacing down. Every Saturday morning for two months beforethe test, at 8 am, I sat down and took a test. I wrote out the quarter, half, and three-quarters time marks as well asmy target question number for each time period. If that hadn’t been automatic by test day, I would have been sunk.

Lastly, make allowances for yourself and the way you taketests. For me, this meant admitting thatI would get a better score if I allowed myself a 5 minute break three quartersof the way through the exam.

I hope this helps. Rightly or wrongly, test scores do get used by departments whenevaluating students, but the good news is that the tests are teachable.

Best of luck UST.

For what it's worth, subject-test-wise, the best thing I did to study (without realizing it!) was to take a survey course in pre-1798 British lit. There's shockingly little on the exam from after 1900, so be warned.

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About the subject test: rather than spending all that money/time on anthologies, really take a hard look at the Princeton review study guide. I studied from it for about a month and got 640/82% on the test. They really do what they're talking about. It's a truly awful test that has absolutely nothing to do with the current state of literary studies (or currently trending disciplines within the field), but points-minutes ratio, short study guides like the Princeton review's are the best.

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So a month later, I took it again and improved my score by like 300 points. It's not like my knowledge increased in that month, but my knowledge of taking the test sure did. It is expensive and annoying, but if you test poorly, at least in my case, the solution is to take the test more than once.

tinycat, I think you articulated my frustration with these tests very well! And that is why many schools frown at someone repeatedly (4-5 times) taking the GRE until they get that perfect score. I was also told, while visiting schools in Chicago, that the adcom at Loyola considers applicants in descending order of GRE scores, i.e. you get considered first if your score is 700 (V), as opposed to 400 (V). This is completely fair, and understandable from their financial perspective. As long as they have to use numbers/standardized tests to prove to the state/board of trustees, etc. that a student is intelligent/worthy of funding, then the GRE is a fairly decent measurement of that proof. English departments must be in a constant struggle to prove themselves against the "hard sciences," but that is another rant... I imagine the conversation for funding from the admissions office isn't: "but this person uses Spivak in a totally new way!" It's probably more, "but this person is in the 80% percentile on verbal!"

I guess this is me coming to terms with the GRE instead of fearing it, which is what lead to my crap scores my first time around. As for the subject exam, that is some very helpful advice osodulce. And addressing mattyd05: I am of the opinion that with the changing of the guard in English departments, the subject test may be reexamined or even dropped (U of Chi doesn't require it), but who knows!

I am very interested in the test changes in August. It looks as though it is changing for the better, at least the verbal (I literally guessed on every single quantitative question, so a calculator is superfluous). But, no more vocab out of context! :)

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tinycat, I think you articulated my frustration with these tests very well! And that is why many schools frown at someone repeatedly (4-5 times) taking the GRE until they get that perfect score. I was also told, while visiting schools in Chicago, that the adcom at Loyola considers applicants in descending order of GRE scores, i.e. you get considered first if your score is 700 (V), as opposed to 400 (V). This is completely fair, and understandable from their financial perspective. As long as they have to use numbers/standardized tests to prove to the state/board of trustees, etc. that a student is intelligent/worthy of funding, then the GRE is a fairly decent measurement of that proof. English departments must be in a constant struggle to prove themselves against the "hard sciences," but that is another rant... I imagine the conversation for funding from the admissions office isn't: "but this person uses Spivak in a totally new way!" It's probably more, "but this person is in the 80% percentile on verbal!"

I guess this is me coming to terms with the GRE instead of fearing it, which is what lead to my crap scores my first time around. As for the subject exam, that is some very helpful advice osodulce. And addressing mattyd05: I am of the opinion that with the changing of the guard in English departments, the subject test may be reexamined or even dropped (U of Chi doesn't require it), but who knows!

I am very interested in the test changes in August. It looks as though it is changing for the better, at least the verbal (I literally guessed on every single quantitative question, so a calculator is superfluous). But, no more vocab out of context! :)

I had to really study the actual taking of the test, because I know how I get. I took all of these online practice tests, and my scores always varied widely. Because the current version is adaptive (your score is calculated based on the first 10 questions. That is, is calculates the probability of what you will get based on your performance on the first ten) I realized, from the online practice tests, that you could get the same number of questions wrong, or even more wrong, but if you get then wrong in certain places, that's what counts. So, if you get the first 10 right, and get the last ten wrong, your score will be higher than if you get the first 7 right, and the last 5 wrong, and so on. I took the test twice in two months or so because my scores were also expiring. I had a test score from 2005 and they are only good for 5 years. I took it once, didn't do well, but gave myself enough time to take it again. So while I did take it again to improve my score, it certainly looked as though I hadn't spent those 5 years studying the GRE, you know? Either way, thanks to ETS screwing up, my newer and better scores never got sent to a lot of places, or they got sent late (And I had to pay for them all again, too). But those programs that got the old 2005 scores didn't seem to mind! So you never know....

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I hate the gre. I think it is a worthless test that really only tests your vocabulary. That says absolutely nothing about your academic ability. Nebraska doesn't ask fo test scores - I need other schools to get on board. I believe ets is just a money making scheme - the schools don't even get kickbacks for asking for the scores. Ugh I just want to do away with that thing.

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I hate the gre. I think it is a worthless test that really only tests your vocabulary. That says absolutely nothing about your academic ability. Nebraska doesn't ask fo test scores - I need other schools to get on board. I believe ets is just a money making scheme - the schools don't even get kickbacks for asking for the scores. Ugh I just want to do away with that thing.

Agreed. I can't imagine ever having to take that thing again. I failed the writing section, and I was so worried about my scores this app season. My advisor reminded me that I got into an MA with the bad score and that I had a writing sample that clearly belied the score on the GRE (btw-- belie was totally one of my GRE vocab study words...). It's just so stressful, and some people just do not test well. I remember I was really sick that day and had to raise my hand and ask permission whenever I needed to get a testing center approved tissue to blow my nose.

Edited by Chris83
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I am of the opinion that with the changing of the guard in English departments, the subject test may be reexamined or even dropped (U of Chi doesn't require it), but who knows!

I agree, and I hope this is true. When I was applying, I made a long list of schools which don't require the subject test because I didn't want to have to take it. Unfortunately, many of these schools which don't require the subject test do accept scores from it and use these scores to make funding if not admission decisions--which is why I ended up taking it.

Other schools which don't require the test include: Penn, Penn State, UMass (American Studies Concentration), Washington, Florida, SUNY Buffalo, Brown, Kansas, Oregon, Minnesota, UNC, UC Santa Cruz, Ohio State, and Duke

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