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Panic over quantitative scores on the GRE


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In high school I thought I would be a bad-ass and stop taking math in Grade 11. I finished that course just before I turned seventeen. I am now twenty-two and preparing to apply for Fall 2013 entry into graduate programs and, lo and behold, the GRE is a requirement for American universities... and there's MATH involved.

I'm quite terrified?

I'm not only applying to American schools, but as I am not applying to many Canadian schools and I worry about funding in the UK, I need to keep my options open. So, my question is - does anyone know how much weight is actually put on the Quantitative Reasoning scores when applying for Ancient History/ Classical Archaeology programs? I've got practice books and I'm slowly making my way through them, but I've just hit the math portion and I have panicked immediately. I was not terrible at it in high school, I just had absolutely no love for it, and am (understandably?) out of practice after all these years revelling in a mathless academic life.

Can the scores on the other sections of the test redeem me? What if I have a decent GPA, good references, a good set of preperatory research and practical experiences during undergrad, etc.? Is a low quantitative score going to completely destroy any hope of admission to an American university?

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Hi there ciistai,

I was in a similar situation this past application season. I had not taken any mathematics courses during university, and dropped my maths classes in my final year of high school --in favour of history and english subjects. Maths was never my strong suit.

I studied for the GRE Quantitative Reasoning section quite a bit, yet I did not score that well. However, my scores in the Verbal and Analytical Writing sections were quite good.

I received offers for PhD programs in Ancient History/Classics/Classical Studies (with full funding) from two Ivy league institutions, and Oxford (for an MPhil, with scholarship), and might have received another two offers from US universities (1 Ivy, 1 other pirvate institution) had I not told them I had accepted another university first.

Not once was the GRE mentioned in any of the emails I received from the Professors running the US programs, nor did it come up in the interviews or on-campus visit. Many Professors do not seem to think it relevant--but their insitutions require applicants to take it. I've also heard that some Professors do not know how to interpet the test scores and what they might reveal about an applicant's suitability for their program--because let's face it, you're applying to a pretty specilaised discipline which rarely has contact with algebraic formulae or Pythagorean theorems.

I suspect the clinching aspect of my application was my GPA, writing sample, ancient/modern language proficiency, references, research assistant work/publications/presentations, and awards/previous scholarships (in that order of importance, based on what was mentioned in my interviews). But it is hard to say if this is entirely true for every program. I believe Departmental/Faculty politics will always play a role too.

Either way, I would not stress too much--especially as you are coming from outside of the US system, where I suspect (?) most undergraduates have exposure to a broader curriculum in their early undergraduate years. :)

Edited by cicero63
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Both times I took the GRE I didn't study for the math section. I received pretty lackluster results (no surprise), though I have been admitted to quite a few good programs (MA) over the last couple years. As long as you do well enough on the verbal/writing section I would rest easy.


I should also note the new policy ETS just sent out via email. When sending your scores you have the choice to send your individual (best) scores, rather than worry about any old, unwanted scores. So it's nice to know you can take the test several times, if need be.

Edited by jdmhotness
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  • 2 weeks later...


Thank you both for your responses! I've been doing some studying over the last couple of week and the math is getting easier, although I definitely have a couple of major weak points. Still, I am less worried now, and knowing that it's not as big a deal as I first thought is helping me focus a bit more. :)

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Long story short....

Who the frack cares about the GRE.

Just plug away through the books and get some practice in. A horrible score will most certainly affect your application to American schools but do at least decent and it's fine. Most schools will be far more interested in what you've done to prepare for grad school, your excavation history, languages, etc.

The GRE is really the least of your concern...and Canadian schools won't even look at it.

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I'd recommend getting a practice book and studying that. I didn't do that (I studied with the materials ETS provides) and my score was pretty low, but I plan to retake the test when I apply for PhD programs. However my writing and verbal were very high, and for Classics and Ancient History programs those are the ones which matter.

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I'll second what folk here have been saying. The verbal and writing scores are much more important than your math. Definitely pick up a gre study book and review, so you don't completely look retarded, but otherwise be more concerned with familiarizing yourself with the testing format.

But the real kicker is that the GRE just isn't that big of a deal, as far as your whole application packet goes. You don't want to do so badly that the grad school proper kicks you out of the running, but everything else in your application is way more important. So focus on your writing sample and your statement of purpose. Look for good program fits. Apply to enough schools to (hopefully) have options. But don't waste money on a school you wouldn't actually want to go to, if it came down to it.

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I've been working through a few Kaplan books - I have the general book and then a math workbook and a verbal workbook. I also bought a book with 1,014 practice questions so I anticipate that will also help. I'm definitely feeling more comfortable than I was earlier, although some math questions still have me at a loss.

I'm wondering about the merits of investing in a deck of GRE flash cards, but the Kaplan books have great word lists at the back, and the experience with Latin and Greek I have behind me help as well.

Thank you all! :)

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