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Concern about GRE Quantitative score


Dudkin
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I will be applying to graduate schools--both MA and PhD programs--in Russian Literature at the end of this year, and I will be taking the GRE in a couple of days. My concern is that it has been almost ten years since I have done any math similar to that which is seen on the GRE, not to mention that math is something I have always struggled with. Assuming that the practice tests are an accurate gauge of how I should perform on the actual test, I am looking at landing in the mid-700's for verbal, and somewhere between 500-550 quantitative (yes, this is even after a considerable amount of studying). Being aware that for most reputable graduate schools, GRE quantitative scores are well into the 700's, I am wondering how (if at all) detrimental my less than stellar math score will prove to be when applying to a program in the humanities. Since so many factors come into play when applying to grad. school, I will also say that I already have a degree in English (w/ a 3.58 GPA), and returned as a postbaccalaurate to focus on Russian Lit. (earning a scholarship and 4.3 GPA for the year I have been back in school); I will be studying in Russia for the next year to gain experience and perfect my language skills; I have what I feel (and am told) to be a strong work sample, as well as recommendations from professors who earned their PhD's from two of the strongest universities in the field. I plan on applying to mid- to top-tier schools.

Will the programs I am applying to even bother with my GRE quantitative score? If so, should I reconsider which schools I apply to? I feel rather in the dark about this whole thing, and it has become the source of more than a little anxiety. Any guidance/recommendations/suggestions would be much appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

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Being aware that for most reputable graduate schools, GRE quantitative scores are well into the 700's, I am wondering how (if at all) detrimental my less than stellar math score will prove to be when applying to a program in the humanities.

Is quant score for the entire graduate school, or for Russian Literature programs? Have you checked the websites of the program that you're applying to? I know that for English Literature, the quant score is not very important. It's taken into account (as part of the total score) when the school determines funding, but doesn't play a role (or plays only a very small one) during the admissions process.

In short, check first to make sure that Russian Literature programs actually care about your quant score before investing a huge amount of time into studying that portion of the exam. While it might not be a bad idea to get the quant score above 600 (so your total score will top 1300, and keep you in the top funding pile), this shouldn't be a priority if R. Lit programs care as little about that score as my programs did.

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Thanks for the reply, circumfession, and I am glad to hear that your programs didn't care too much about your Q-score . I guess part of my problem, however, is that I have not found anything that specific, which breaks down average scores by department, or even any statement on department websites which would give me any sense as to how heavily the quant. section might be weighed. It is a matter, perhaps, of getting in touch with the schools more directly?

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Again, please keep in mind that although my field isn't THAT different from yours, it is different. So I'm not sure that my knowledge would apply.

From what I remember, few department websites actually posted quantitative GRE scores. Actually, not that many posted GRE scores (recommendations, averages, etc) in the first place, but when they actually do, they only discuss the verbal or sometimes the subject test (not relevant for you). For my field, at least, that's a pretty good hint that they don't give a damn about the quant, even though few if any website explicitly states this.

Case in point, Berkeley English: http://english.berkeley.edu/graduate/#Admissions

"there are no minimum GRE scores but those admitted score, on average, in the 700s (97%) in the Verbal test and 650 (88%) or higher in the Subject test."

That's (as far as I know) the only mention of the GRE's at all, and it omits both AW and Quant. From what I know of Berkeley's admissions process, they really don't give a damn about the AW or Quant. (And I know of at least 4 applicants who were accepted with scores BELOW the verbal and subject tests posted).

*

I'm not actually sure that seeing "average scores" will make that much of a difference, because you don't actually know if the program cares about those numbers. I do know that English programs that do post average Quant scores (such as Duke) show gigantic variations from year to year. Remember how just small the sample size can be, especially if the numbers given are for matriculated students. One program that accepted me ended up enrolling only 6 students. Some of those 6 scored quite low on the quant, so had I accepted the program and had my score included in the average, my quant score (an 800) *might* have change the average considerably...BUT (and this is key) the program doesn't consider quant scores at all, and I doubt that the 800 actually helped me in any way. Unless you know that the numbers are considered, averages can be misleading.

If this is keeping you up at night, you might want to call/email the programs and ask if they do consider the quant score. I don't know if they will tell you...some programs are very closed-mouthed around applicants (until you are accepted, of course), but it might be worth it for the potential peace of mind.

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Thanks again, circumfession. I appreciate the empirical information, and am comforted to know that those excellent schools couldn't care less about the Q-score.

I have been trying to listen to the (I think) more reasonable part of myself which feels that any grad school awarding PhD's in Russian Lit. is going to be little concerned with any inherently dubious standardized test score, especially the part of that test which has no practical or meaningful application to the field. My gut tells me that of far greater bearing will be those more personal and involved elements of my application which reveal me to be more than (I HOPE!) a number on an exam. As the test approaches though, my nerves and fears sometimes start to win out. So again, I am grateful for a bit of affirmation.

If you don't mind my asking, what is your field of study?

All the best.

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Dudkin - How much time have you spent studying? I started off in a position very similar to yours with no math exposure since the 11th grade and hitting around 500 on the practice tests to start off. I bought one of the GRE math books and went through it, doing the practice problems and tests, and was able to raise my score to 730 when I took it a few years back before my MA. I'm taking it again and scoring around 780 on the practices. You should be able to raise your score considerably by just learning all of the geometric formulas and how to handle each kind of problem (weighted average, distance = rate X time, permutations, combinations, etc.).

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Dudkin,

I'm in English literature. I do understand how nerve-wrecking the GRE's can be. I took the test 3 times (basically, just to raise my verbal score by 10 points)...only to find out AFTER I got in that it wouldn't have made much of a difference. You might want to talk to your professors to see what they recommend, given your list of schools. Mine told me to aim to break 700 on verbal, but definitely re-take if I score below 650. They said nothing of quant or A.W, other than to take those portions seriously (because the total score is sometimes factored into funding decisions), but not worry or exert extra effort into studying.

Strangely enough, I found studying for the quant section to be much easier, largely because there's far less pressure on pulling a good score. I might be an anomaly, but I would take breaks between studying for the verbal by going through a quant section. It helped to re-familiarize myself with the material, with really taxing my energy or time.

Good luck! When are you taking your GRE's?

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I take the exam tomorrow. Interestingly, I have had to study in the opposite way as you. I feel pretty confident with the verbal side of things, but much of the math is so frustrating and nonsensical to me that I find myself racking my brain studying the quant. material and have to give myself a break by turning to the much more comfortable world of words. It is even more bothersome because I know that math is straightforward: follow the appropriate steps and there is an unambiguous answer awaiting you; but even though I feel like I can learn those steps and follow them in a textbook example, applying them in a more complex context where a number of rules can come into play proves incredibly difficult for me. I see some problems and my brain quite literally goes blank, sometimes as if I am staring at an alien language; I have no idea of where to begin--even though I just reviewed applicable techniques! It is bizarre and terribly frustrating.

And to answer natofone's question: I have been studying for a number of weeks, and I can honestly say that I have improved my score by about the same margin as you have (sad, I know). So the studying has helped. Unfortunately, by initial score was significantly lower than yours. I am sure that if I feel the need to retake the exam I can improve even more, but it is a slow and arduous process for me.

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Tomorrow, eh? Good luck, and let us know how it goes. I hope you're NOT studying right now. I used to tutor GRE (and LSAT, GMAT, etc) students, and the one piece that I REALLY wish they'd follow is to give themselves a break the day before the test.

The GRE quant tends to reward those who are flexible, even "playful" with the concepts behind the problems. I have never been good at memorizing formulas and such (and consequently, was a poor math student until college, where math is taught more much conceptually). For ratios, word problems, and permutations, for example, I never bothered trying to memorize the formulas or rules to figure out which ones to apply (that confuses the heck out of me). Rather, I find it easier to intuit what concept(s) question is really asking me to play with, and construct an approach that fits that particular question. The math is plug-and-play only to a degree: what they REALLY want to know is whether or not you know the concepts well enough to tweak it to the particular problem. It's the "why" behind the formula, not simply the "what formula do I use" that is being tested.

That said, if you score a 550/750, you'll still be in great shape. 1300 should certainly be high enough for funding purposes, and many humanities students with lower quant scores have gotten into excellent programs. RELAX!

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