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Hello everyone,

So I got my Gre Subject grade. It is pretty bad.

I am an international student applying for an M.A. in English lit this fall. All the other elements in my application package is fine, maybe average or above average, except for this score. Obviously, it is a very difficult exam for me as a foreign student. I did my best to prepare for it in a short time while writing papers for classes, and I knew it won't be great. The problem is, it is not bad. It is terrible. I look like someone who is almost ignorant about the history of English and American literature, whereas in fact I know I am not. I just don't have enough time to prepare, plus English is not my native tongue, I am making up these gaps by personal study.

Some schools I applied for do not need to the subject exam, but most do. Now I am really worried about my application this year. I wonder if anyone knows how important the subject exam is. I am sure they will take a look at it, but considering I am an international student and I am applying for an M.A... if my other elements are strong enough, can they offset a low gre subject grade?

Also, anyone who score well on this exam, please share with me the ways you prepare for this exam, and please help me with it. I read most of the Norton Anthologies, but obviously it is really not enough to just read through them; I have Princeton review, but I don't really find it helpful, perhaps I need to practice it more; I searched online and some students make flashcards to help them memorize minutiae, I tried but I guess I need to try harder. Please help. Any experience/opinion is welcome. If you are too shy feel free to write mails to me. I know it is one of the biggest obstacle in my way, and I've got to overcome it. I am ready for a long-term fight/preparation: since I am not a native, it will probably take me up to 1 or 2 years to prepare for it. I am willing to try and keep trying, but I can't stick to my methods. They didn't work, and if they were wrong, they will never work. I want to adjust, fix myself and change my future. Maybe I won't get in this year, but if I start to overhaul myself earlier, maybe I will win a chance after 1 or 2 years...

Many many thanks and I wish the best of luck for you (and myself!).

Edited by Rollingstone
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I didn't take the subject exam because the schools I'm applying to do not require it. I'm not 100% sure how highly the subject scores are looked at. It is very debatable. However, I don't imagine that the scores will be looked at differently because you're a non-native English speaker. While I understand the hurdle you are clearing taking a heinous test in another language, you are applying to programs that require fluency in English reading/writing skills.

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I think some schools ask for the test just because they think they should and others ask for a score it's because they find it useful in disqualifying applicants. No one gets into a program based on their score, while some may be eliminated from consideration because of their score. This sucks and is a huge advantage to you: you generally don't need an amazing score, but just a good one--ideally north of 600. I don't know what you got, and I'll assume you're below that--but the good news is that you can and will get a good score. (If it turns out you need to retake). It's a test of attrition: get the Princeton book, memorize the poems they tell you to, read/skim/wikipedia as much of their list as possible, read the intro to the Norton chapters, read 3 or 4 famous poems by every major poet (it's totally do-able), and while you can't technically study for the reading comp/analysis questions, the biggest hurdle to answering them is general familiarity. If you've read a few stanzas of Milton, chances are when given another one you're going to be a decent reader of them. If you've read a Wordsworth poem, when presented with another one (even if you don't know it) you'll be able to answer questions about it. You are already smart and good at literary studies. Now you just need to artificially and systematically dump literary information into your head.

I know it sucks. My first round of GREs went awfully and I didn't understand why. I'm sorry if any part of this sounded harsh, I didn't mean it to. And ideally you'll get into a school (or schools) that didn't require it in the first place. The websites that are around can be helpful. I used http://www.duke.edu/~tmw15/. I had NO IDEA who Christina Rosetti was!

Edited by WellSpring
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Again, I don't mean to be harsh or rude. This test sucks; the application system sucks. Qualified, intelligent, worthy people won't get to do this for a living because the decent schools only take so many candidates. A very young professor pulled me aside the first semester of my MA and said "You can do this, but only if you play the game. If you do follow the arbitrary and oppressive rules, and do well on the meaningless tests, then you will get to research your interests and write about literature for a living. But in the meantime you need to play their game." I think it was good advice.

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"You can do this, but only if you play the game. If you do follow the arbitrary and oppressive rules, and do well on the meaningless tests, then you will get to research your interests and write about literature for a living. But in the meantime you need to play their game."

So so so so so so true

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I've always heard, in general, that committes first evaluate your personal statement, then writing sample, then letters of recommendation, then grades and finally test scores.

I've also heard that sometimes GRE general scores [not the subject] are used to make an initial cut.

My sense is that schools that use scores as an absolute cut and require very high scores are STATE schools, dependent on scores for funding. Private institutions are typically more flexible and can afford to evaluate a candidate "wholistically." These schools would likely be more flexible about scores, particularly when evaluating a non-native speaker, who might be a very interesting candidate in other ways, but didn't test well.

If I were you, I would try and find programs that don't require the GRE subject at all. There are many. Columbia. Duke, I think, and every school in Lolopixie's footer :)

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firstly, sorry to hear that you didn't get what you needed on the subject test. It is a brutal and humiliating experience, but you can definitely improve upon your score (and I don't think the score itself matters too much, anyway).

I'm not very good at tests like this and really had no idea how to study, and ended up not really studying. I lucked out and scored high and I really think that the reason is that I specialise in early modern. I know seventeenth-century poets back to front and was able to answer all those questions very quickly. And there were many such questions. So I would advise you to brush up on your early modern writers as it was my only advantage on an otherwise very confusing test! Good luck and don't let it get you down or ruin your confidence.

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Tests of this breadth can be formidable. I used the Princeton Review book and the Vade Mecum site that Wellspring mentioned. The advice that I can offer from my experience is don't get bogged down too much in the detail of the works -- you really do just have to have a passing familiarity with the names and authors to be able to identify them for the purposes of the test. I would just use the list of works to know as a the outline and read up on them on Wikipedia to achieve this level of (as the Princeton Review puts it) cocktail-party level knowledge.

However, I did notice that the November test that I took also had a heavier slant towards analysis of poetry and reading comprehension passages (than the 2007 test ETS sent to practice with). For this part, I would take as many practice tests as possible to understand what the test is looking for and to practice its particular brand of analysis. Reading the Norton Anthology is helpful to steep oneself in the ethos of the language, but if you don't have the time for it, these are some other ways to go about familiarizing yourself with the body of knowledge necessary to do well. If you have any other questions, I'd be happy to answer them. I scored a 760 on the November test.

Best,

Eris

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I'm probably stating the obvious, but remember too, that you can really up your score by figuring out where your gaps are. The challenge is, it's not simply "where are your gaps in knowledge of English literature" so much as where do you keep losing points on the test. As much as the subject test has changed, I had collected former literature subject tests spanning over two decades--and as arbitrary as the test is and seems--I did continually get questions wrong in two areas (for me it was medieval and twentieth-century American poetry). First identifying--and then working on problem areas can really help to increase your score.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Don't worry too much about the subject test. Many of the school who require it do so merely because it helps the department's ranking in lists like USNWR. I scored a 570 (approx. 60th percentile) on the test and was really worried about it. I ended up getting into four very competitive programs, three of which required the subject test, and one of those that required it (where I ended up accepting the offer) also gave me a GSAS competitive supplementary assistantship in addition to the stipend offered to every PhD student. I'm not trying to brag (believe me, the rest of my numbers were middling compared to other students in my field; I think it was my SOP and writing sample that made the difference). I just want to give you some real world perspective on the subject test.

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Don't worry too much about the subject test. Many of the school who require it do so merely because it helps the department's ranking in lists like USNWR. I scored a 570 (approx. 60th percentile) on the test and was really worried about it. I ended up getting into four very competitive programs, three of which required the subject test, and one of those that required it (where I ended up accepting the offer) also gave me a GSAS competitive supplementary assistantship in addition to the stipend offered to every PhD student. I'm not trying to brag (believe me, the rest of my numbers were middling compared to other students in my field; I think it was my SOP and writing sample that made the difference). I just want to give you some real world perspective on the subject test.

Always nice to hear a voice from the other side.

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Don't worry too much about the subject test. Many of the school who require it do so merely because it helps the department's ranking in lists like USNWR. I scored a 570 (approx. 60th percentile) on the test and was really worried about it. I ended up getting into four very competitive programs, three of which required the subject test, and one of those that required it (where I ended up accepting the offer) also gave me a GSAS competitive supplementary assistantship in addition to the stipend offered to every PhD student. I'm not trying to brag (believe me, the rest of my numbers were middling compared to other students in my field; I think it was my SOP and writing sample that made the difference). I just want to give you some real world perspective on the subject test.

Thanks for sharing this. It alleviates a little anxiety. I scored a 570, as well. After I found out, I had a mini breakdown. But I know that it's not all about the scores. Hopefully, I'll have the same good fortune as you!

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