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From what I hear, the subject test is generally viewed with disdain amongst academics, and several programs I applied to not only make it optional, they flat out reject it (Columbia, UCR). More and more seem to be moving in that direction. And as mentioned above, studying endlessly for it is futile. It was by far the most disappointing aspect of the application process for me as I invested a huge amount of time (6 months at 4-6 hours a day) studying texts, reading synopses, making flash cards etc. and I still scored poorly. The test that I took bore little resemblance to the practice tests the ETS puts out, and 85% of it was analysis. Consequently, the bucket-loads of trivial knowledge I went in with were completely worthless.

My suggestion to future test takers would be to hone your speed-reading and concentration skills. Keep in mind that you're expected to read 300-500 word complex excerpts and answer questions on them in less than 60 seconds. I took the test in an overcrowded classroom with construction taking place directly outside the window, and consequently I couldn't concentrate for shit. If you're like me and you prefer to read carefully and without distraction, this will most likely prove to be a hurdle.

Edited by truckbasket
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Vanderbilt, too.

And no one has mentioned the potential for disaster that expecting ETS to send the correct scores to the correct places by the correct date can be. As a heads-up: if you had a different mailing address when you took the GRE General from when you took the GRE Subject, you should call to make sure they have merged the damn files. I learned this the hard way 3 hours before a flight in late December.

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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From what I hear, the subject test is generally viewed with disdain amongst academics, and several programs I applied to not only make it optional, they flat out reject it (Columbia, UCR). More and more seem to be moving in that direction. And as mentioned above, studying endlessly for it is futile. It was by far the most disappointing aspect of the application process for me as I invested a huge amount of time (6 months at 4-6 hours a day) studying texts, reading synopses, making flash cards etc. and I still scored poorly. The test that I took bore little resemblance to the practice tests the ETS puts out, and 85% of it was analysis. Consequently, the bucket-loads of trivial knowledge I went in with were completely worthless.

My suggestion to future test takers would be to hone your speed-reading and concentration skills. Keep in mind that you're expected to read 300-500 word complex excerpts and answer questions on them in less than 60 seconds. I took the test in an overcrowded classroom with construction taking place directly outside the window, and consequently I couldn't concentrate for shit. If you're like me and you prefer to read carefully and without distraction, this will most likely prove to be a hurdle.

Yes, this is basically it. I don't know what test you guys took, but I took a test like this. Studying didn't really help. Honestly, I think studying the facts and Nortons for three months allowed me to pick up something like, I don't know, 3-5 questions? I could have gone in there without studying. In fact, I scored ten points less on the real test than I did on my first practice test, which I took before studying. And I had been doing better on my other practice tests after a fair amount of studying, too -- it's just that the particular test I took favored ETS-style reading comp questions over general knowledge of the texts. There is no aspect of the application process I resent more than the GRE Lit test.

Edited by sarandipidy
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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.

Very true!! English, or many of the humanities, it could be argued, have very little to do with rote memorization and recitation, e.g. elements of the GRE (yes, being able to quote Shakespeare's Henry V or Milton is awesome, but I would imagine a student's ability to interpret & contribute to said authors/texts is much more valuable). One the other hand, vocabulary is the cornerstone for establishing proper critical language, and that is probably their logic. BUT: If there needs to be a barrier to access an advanced degree, how does an under-funded, ill-equipped, understaffed institution gauge who receives funding? and make this information translatable to the board or committee who controls their funding? Numbers, percentiles, information that can be tracked, graphed and measured; what an odd system that is incongruous with the object of the humanities... :angry:

Ok, now I am ranting...

At this point, standardize testing is a monster. I took a free paper-based course through Kaplan, and I am amazed at the options they have available for purchase: online, one-on-one, classroom, and various combinations depending on your income level/access to a credit card/parent's finance. Left alone these testing systems will simply self-perpetuate, it's schools like the ones listed by the many posters here that are making the change needed to address these issues. Until then? Rant & rave, I guess... :D

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There is no aspect of the application process I resent more than the GRE Lit test.

It's also significant to point out that although the GRE standard reading comp is considerably easier than what's on the subject test, it's equally disingenuous in its goal. You're speed reading bland, convoluted blocks of data followed by equally bland, convoluted questions that are explicitly designed to trip you up. It's one thing to test reading ability, but it's another to create a test that unabashedly sets out to try and make the student fail.

I could make excuses for my performance on the GRE all day long (I did fine on the verbal), but it's pointless. All the tests did for me was to expose one of my flaws as a student: that I am incapable of skimming what I read and finding ways to cut corners to "beat the clock." But not only am I incapable of that, I'm not sure it's a skill I'm interested in learning, as reading and writing (for me) are about careful and thoughtful engagement with the page -- not about some imposed time limit. Fortunately, it does seem that most committees are aware of this, as what program would value students who can skim and cut corners over those who painstakingly scrutinize and actively think? Although I totally understand the need for some form of statistical screening, it breaks my heart that the ETS is still in business, and I heartily applaud the programs that are making a conscious effort to move away from them.

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On an absolutely trivial level, but one that nonetheless impacts, the actual typing favors the good typist. As one who never learned to type formally, I rely on the modern word processor. The strange cut and paste process is awful, especially for those who don't type so well. I wished that I had taken the time to take a hand written exam from this perspective. A colleague told me that when she worked as a marker for the GRE, length of the essay gave the greatest rewards. I did a short essay and scored very poorly.

I am usually a great writer. Anyone have insight into this ? How does the essay part affect the acceptance rates?

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I am usually a great writer. Anyone have insight into this ? How does the essay part affect the acceptance rates?

It's the least considered aspect of the GRE, especially for us English weenies.

Think about it this way: you've submitted your SOP and Writing Sample, both buffed and polished to the max. The committee have those examples of your writing, and then they have the GRE AWA score which is a haphazard sample written under pressure in 25 minutes on a computer that allows for minimal interaction on a topic that you don't have any investment in. Moreover, this wonderful GRE sample they now have was evaluated and scored (in part) by a computer, not a person. And lastly, as most of us who took the 'how to crack the GRE' route know, the essay you write is supposed to be shitty. The ETS values formulaic, canned, five-paragraph essays -- not well-written, thoughtful pieces. For many of us, we actually have to intentionally deteriorate our writing IN ORDER to please the ETS robot. As a result, the AWA score holds the least credibility when applying to grad programs in the humanities.

Edit: I hope my anti-ETS screeds don't come across as polemical -- especially for those who nailed the tests and pride themselves in that. I spent six months researching and writing on the efficacy of standardized testing (primarily SAT's), much of which became an all-out depantsing of the ETS's hideous existence.

Edited by truckbasket
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Thanks that makes me feel better.

I think you are right to say dumb it down to a five para high school essay.

Perhaps I'll stop beating myself up now.

The GRE writing sample is a 5 paragraph essays, plain and simple. The people who grade those things don't take more than 2 minutes. Statistically, your sample will receive a higher grade if (1) it is long (er) and (2) you have a clear three point thesis and 3 paragraphs that start with first, second, and third, and then a conclusion. I followed that format and got a 6 both times. That's always been the easiest part of the test for me. Who cares about the actual topic of the question or the issue. Just study how they want it done. A good friend of mine did stellar on V and Q and totally bombed the writing, thinking that they actually 'cared' about what he was writing, and not how he was writing it. It's about studying the format. Same with the other parts. Focus on nailing those first 10 questions and the last 5 will barely count.

As for the lit test, my background is not in literature (I studied, and will go on to study, creative writing) so most of my time was spent in studio, not in Shakespeare. I studied the nortons, took practice tests, and did about average because I thought I might apply to some lit programs and some CW programs. In the end, studying the test format and learning more about lit than I ever did in undergrad paid off. I didn't get into ivy league programs (a tough sell with no strong lit background) but I got into most of the top programs in my field. As everyone says, the app makes the most difference, but when it comes to the GRE you probably want that to stand out in a good way which means studying how to take the test, at least, in my opinion.

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From what I hear, the subject test is generally viewed with disdain amongst academics, and several programs I applied to not only make it optional, they flat out reject it (Columbia, UCR). More and more seem to be moving in that direction. And as mentioned above, studying endlessly for it is futile. It was by far the most disappointing aspect of the application process for me as I invested a huge amount of time (6 months at 4-6 hours a day) studying texts, reading synopses, making flash cards etc. and I still scored poorly. The test that I took bore little resemblance to the practice tests the ETS puts out, and 85% of it was analysis. Consequently, the bucket-loads of trivial knowledge I went in with were completely worthless.

Yes. I studied the Nortons for the subject test and did fairly well---but the test I took absolutely did not resemble either of the practice tests (ETS & Princeton Review). People came out of that room traumatized!

All the lit test says about you is that you've read some books. You know how to analyze a paragraph. The actual statement of purpose and writing sample should say as much--we don't need this test. I'm glad some schools are setting an example by not requiring it!

Edited by Raputa
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if you had a different mailing address when you took the GRE General from when you took the GRE Subject, you should call to make sure they have merged the damn files.

I second the above. Last cycle, none of my schools received my subject test score because my files were not merged. ETS "customer service" wanted to charge me to send them out again. Be persistent. Talk to a manager. Show no fear.

I also agree that the GREs are a game, but, as someone who performs well on tests, I needed them to offset a poopy undergrad GPA.

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Another note on GRE strategy with the current general test:

If timing is an issue for you - you have trouble finishing the test or you feel too rushed to do a good job - keep in mind that answers count for more at different points in the test. This isn't the SAT where they give you a "raw score" of how many points you score on the test, and then convert that to the bell curve 200-800 range for your "scaled score." It's computer adaptive, right? So that means that if you get a question right they give you a harder one next; if you get it wrong, you'll get an easier question. By bumping you back and forth between hard and easy questions they place you in essentially a ranking of everyone else testing and then give you a number score (your 200-800 score) based on a bell curve.

Interestingly, if you can get the first 10 questions correct, or do as well as you can on the first 10, what you do after that doesn't affect your score much. Someone who gets 10 questions correct that are all of the first 10 questions will have a significantly higher score than someone who gets 10 correct answers at the end of section.

So if you have trouble with getting stressed out about time, budget significantly more time to work on the first 10 questions, get as many of them correct as you can, and then relax in the knowledge that what you answer after that can't change your score too much.

Edited by skamp
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