# Which part of the GRE is of least importance to Engineering schools?

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I am a bit confused here. I can tell that the quantitative sections rank number 1. What comes after the quantitative sections? I personally find the analytical writing bit to be the easiest part of GRE. This agency that will handle my application to 2 universities told me to aim for a minimum 320 if I want to have any hope for consideration.

P.S. The schools are : - Florida Institute of Technology

- Auburn University

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It's all about competition. Quant is obviously the more important, but you can imagine that if 2 students have Q=170, but one has V=145 and the other V=160, the later has the advantage.

Some schools have an AWA of 4.0 or greater for admission(yep, it's a rigid cut off, I've seen people with Q=170 rejected for low AWA).

So I'd say: First quant, then AWA and then verbal. AWA and verbal are mainly cutoffs, so if you get, say 4.0 and 160, you should be fine.

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Actually, my opinion is that Quant is the least important part of the GRE for students in STEM fields. Why? The GRE Q tests only basic high school math and pre-calculus algebra. If you have a Bachelor degree in science or engineering, you know way more math than the GRE Q so your performance is not very meaningful. Everyone is going to score in the 90th+ percentile and honestly, how is someone who scores 170 in Q better than someone who scores 167 in Q when the math being tested is well below the level of math needed for graduate school?

Caveat: An abnormally low GRE Q score will still be a bad thing though, but in terms of competitiveness, I don't think this section is very important.

I think the most important part of the GRE for science/engineering majors is the Verbal Reasoning section. I think this section tests a lot of useful skills required for graduate school. It is a very good test of logic and reading comprehension. It tests your ability to communicate and understand information as well as relationships between words/concepts.

I'd put GRE V over the essay portions because while writing persuasive essays are important for STEM grad students, the scoring is simply one number out of 6--it's not like the admissions committee can read your actual essays. I don't think the essays you write for the AW section is that similar to the kind of writing you do in STEM, so there's also not a direct correlation there either.

However, that said, I would say that all three sections are usually determined by "cutoffs", as Mechanician2015 said. And the GRE overall is not likely to be very important compared to the other parts of the application. I just think that the GRE Q is the least informative score, for reasons stated above, and that if you are going to spend time improving any section, it should be GRE V.

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Interesting perspective. I guess you can say Q Is least important as long as it's above a certain number, whether 160 or 165 or something else. But a 145V is more forgivable than a 145Q (for STEM fields).

I think V is more important than the writing, but don't think it should be. So much of it depends on vocab, and if an engineer has never seen the word jejune, that shouldn't be such a big problem. In writing, the essay where you explain what's wrong with an argument is not a bad exercise. In math, it could help indicate how good you are at dissecting a proof. Similar for other STEM fields, I'd imagine. The essay where you take a stance is the difficult one for me -- it's sort of hit or miss, depending on whether I can think of lots of examples to back up my opinion. I suppose it's debatable how important this essay should be.

I think the most important section is really the subject test -- whether it's math, physics, or something else.

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I think the most important section is really the subject test -- whether it's math, physics, or something else.

I don't think that always matters since some STEM grad programs don't require a subject exam.

IMO I have to agree with TakeruK - the verbal and AWA sections are usually used to filter some of the weaker applicants when most of them have exceptionally high Quantitative scores.

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Agreed that the cutoffs for V and Q are not the same. But if there were three candidates:

Person A: V: 80th percentile Q: 90th percentile

Person B: V: 85th percentile, Q: 90th percentile

Person C: V: 80th percentile, Q: 95th percentile

I would say that person B (higher V percentile) is more preferred to person C (higher Q percentile). This is assuming all candidates meet minimum cutoffs for Q and V.

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I don't think that always matters since some STEM grad programs don't require a subject exam.

IMO I have to agree with TakeruK - the verbal and AWA sections are usually used to filter some of the weaker applicants when most of them have exceptionally high Quantitative scores.

This is true, but I'm sure one of the GREs could be helpful for many disciplines where it's not required. For example, some elite schools in CS mention it could be helpful to take the subject GRE in math or physics if you have the background.

In TakeruK's scenario, I'd go with person C to be honest (assuming all else is equal). The Math part of the general GRE is so basic that anyone in STEM should be able to get a 165+ with a day of preparation to be honest. 80%+ is roughly 159+ on the verbal part, which is far above what STEM programs will care about. They'll likely be happy with 153+, and certainly with 156+. Back when I was applying to Math Ph.D. programs, it was pretty much assumed you should get 800 on the Math section. If you got 780, you were probably still okay (but maybe not for top 20 schools), but if you didn't break 750, you should really retake it. As long as you got 500+ on verbal and 4+ on writing, you were probably in okay shape. Of course it's desirable to score higher, but it's unlikely it'd make much of a difference in your applications. Now for STEM fields outside of Math, there's a bit more room for error on the Math section, but you should still comfortably break 90% IMO.

Edit: For the schools mentioned (Florida Tech and Auburn), unless they're highly ranked in some engineering field (which would surprise me), hitting 160Q, 155V, and 4A would probably be safe.

Edited by velua
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The Math part of the general GRE is so basic that anyone in STEM should be able to get a 165+ with a day of preparation to be honest.

Exactly. This is why if I see a STEM major with a Q score of 160, I don't think "oh this person doesn't know how to do math". Instead, I would say this person probably just made a few silly mistakes on the GRE (or does not do multiple choice math tests well) and ignore the Q score.

There's also a ton of other metrics that measure your quantitative ability (e.g. all the college level math courses or other math-intensive courses on the transcript) that the Q score provides very little new information. And as I argue above, I would even say that it provides no useful information because the Q sections do not test any quantitative skills relevant to graduate work in STEM.

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I don't see why "being bad at tests" is so forgivable for the GRE. That's what we've been doing for 20 years of our lives in school (or at least 10). You learn stuff, prepare for an exam, and take the exam. Getting a 160 requires more than a few mistakes. It's indicative of a deeper problem, or that you should re-take the exam if you really just couldn't focus or whatever. Especially if you come from a weak school where in calculus classes, everyone gives you tons of partial credit for knowing, e.g., the product rule, but being incapable of computing derivatives without making mistakes, these exams can be somewhat of a reality check if you're that bad with numbers (really, subject GREs are better for this purpose).

I agree that the Q section really provides no new information, but it's alarming at the very least if a STEM student with a 3.8 GPA (or 3.6, or whatever) only gets 160Q, assuming it's a top 50ish school anyway. And the general GRE has little value, but a 160 is a pretty bad score for anyone who's taken a calculus class.

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Exactly. This is why if I see a STEM major with a Q score of 160, I don't think "oh this person doesn't know how to do math". Instead, I would say this person probably just made a few silly mistakes on the GRE (or does not do multiple choice math tests well) and ignore the Q score.

There's also a ton of other metrics that measure your quantitative ability (e.g. all the college level math courses or other math-intensive courses on the transcript) that the Q score provides very little new information. And as I argue above, I would even say that it provides no useful information because the Q sections do not test any quantitative skills relevant to graduate work in STEM.

I read the same statement and came to a different conclusion( either, a lot of STEM test-takers do the test without that 1-day preparation, or they are all so mediocre that they don't score what they should ... the second being a rather pretentious statement).

I've taken graduate courses on PDE and Numerical analysis, and I am on the 80th percentile(161). I just dislike doing math "against the clock", or playing with numbers to get a blatant non-general solution(which is a winning strategy for the GRE, I've read).[ Or the GRE just gave me a reality check and I have a poor quant skill]

Anyways, I think you are not getting the key point of the question. The Q-GRE is the most important. Unless you have an otherwise perfect application, you won't get in with Q=150 V=170. On the other hand, with Q=170 and V=150, your chances are decent.

You are taking Q-GRE=166 for granted and concluding that V is more important.

To the OP:

As for 2013, according to US news, for aerospace engineering at Auburn University (that's what your profile says you are applying to) the average Q-GRE is 737. According to ETS, the equivalent is 157. Florida Tech is not shown on the ranking.

I adhere to the belief that a perfect Q-GRE benefits your application marginally, but a very low Q-GRE can utterly destroy it.

Edited by Mechanician2015
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Quant is the most important. Aim to get at least 160 (a little practice should do). If you want a better quant score (like 165 or more for top/higher ranked schools), you'll need more practice. Depending on your program, you might need either a 3.5 or a 4.0 on AWA. A 150 verbal should do fine for most engineering programs; but the more the merrier. The higher ranked the school is, the higher verbal and AWA scores required (e.g. you might need a 155V/4.5AWA for some programs).

Also remember that the the requirements of MS admission are slightly lower than PhD admission (or that you need better credentials to get accepted for a PhD, whichever way you see it).

All of these sections are important in their own regards. Which one you give more importance to depends on where you stand in terms of preparation.

Adding to what Mechanician2015 said, I had 5 calculus courses in my undergrad (compulsory, actually :/), and GRE's quant style still felt like something new, especially the QC sections. Doing calculus and doing GRE math just aren't the same.

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Doing calculus and doing GRE math just aren't the same.

One of the most true statements I've ever seen. I was a ChE undergrad, and I took quite a few advanced mathematics and stats courses during that time but it took me studying for more than just one night (about 3 wks of prep) to eventually get a 165 on the quant section. I don't believe that it meant I had a weak mathematical foundation but in a lot of engineering sub-disciplines, you just don't utilize some of the math you see on the GRE (same goes for the vocab used in the verbal section) so it takes a bit of revision to score in the 90th percentile (especially if you came into college with a lot of advanced math credits and you take the exam 4-5 yrs later).

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I didn't really intend either interpretation, and certainly not the second. What I meant was one can train for the test, and do so pretty quickly on the math side, especially with a couple college math courses under one's belt. It may be a different style test than a freshman calculus exam, but if you can get a B in calculus, you can get a 165Q IMO, as long as you're careful and double-check your answers. Getting a 170 may be a little more challenging, but that's not really necessary.

160Q is 78% according to ETS, but I wonder what percentile it is among STEM students. I'm sure it's brought up a bit from all the humanities (and many of the social science) students. Anyway, my views are more geared toward the more selective schools. I'm sure 160Q would be fine to get into Auburn.

I agree with this:

I adhere to the belief that a perfect Q-GRE benefits your application marginally, but a very low Q-GRE can utterly destroy it.

To answer the question, I think the writing is the least important. Quant is clearly the most important, and in fact, your agency said to get a minimum of 320 = Q+V, not a minimum of 320 and 4A (or 3.5, or 4.5, whatever the number would be). For the schools you're interested in, I think 320 minimum is a bit high (unless you get 170Q).

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One of the most true statements I've ever seen. I was a ChE undergrad, and I took quite a few advanced mathematics and stats courses during that time but it took me studying for more than just one night (about 3 wks of prep) to eventually get a 165 on the quant section. I don't believe that it meant I had a weak mathematical foundation but in a lot of engineering sub-disciplines, you just don't utilize some of the math you see on the GRE (same goes for the vocab used in the verbal section) so it takes a bit of revision to score in the 90th percentile (especially if you came into college with a lot of advanced math credits and you take the exam 4-5 yrs later).

I'm not saying they're the same, only that you can get a good score on the GRE without too much work if you have the quantitative ability to do well in a calculus course. In fact, I'd say my experience TAing calculus for several years got me very good at doing computations quickly and with very few mistakes (the point being that if you learn the material well -- not just well enough to get a B or even an A, but learn it well enough to explain to others -- it should translate to being able to perform well on the GRE with a little preparation). This translated into high scores for me, both on the math section of the general GRE and on the math subject GRE.

Edited by velua
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Anyways, I think you are not getting the key point of the question. The Q-GRE is the most important. Unless you have an otherwise perfect application, you won't get in with Q=150 V=170. On the other hand, with Q=170 and V=150, your chances are decent.

You are taking Q-GRE=166 for granted and concluding that V is more important.

I agree that we seem to be interpreting the question differently. I am taking for granted that since the OP is asking for Engineering graduate programs, all applicants are already going to do well in the GRE Q. This is why I also said that "as long as it's above some cutoff", e.g. a very low GRE Q would be a red flag and would severely hurt your application.

Maybe I should phrase my answer in this way:

Given that an engineering applicant will do well on the GRE Q, the most important part of the General GRE to prepare for is the Verbal Reasoning part. By "most important part", I mean the part where your score will actually distinguish you from other applicants, and the one section where I think admissions committees will actually use the numerical value of your score to distinguish applicants. Here is why I think this:

1. If you have the top GRE Q score out of all applicants, that is not very meaningful because even if you have Q=170, there are going to be tons of people with Q in the 165-170 range. However, if you are the top GRE V score out of all applicants, you will stand out a lot more.

2. The GRE Q does not test any abilities that is relevant in graduate school. On the other hand, the GRE V tests a lot of relevant abilities.

3. The GRE Q quantitative materials are much lower in difficulty than college level classes that uses any kind of math.

4. For international students, the GRE V is another useful test of language ability. TOEFL etc. will test for basic understanding, but the GRE V is a good way to compare an international student against native speakers.

However, I agree with you that if you are talking about absolute importance, then the GRE Q is more important in the sense that you can probably do okay with an absolute low GRE V score (50th percentile) but an absolute low GRE Q score (50th percentile) will be very bad. But GRE scores are not meant to be compared in the absolute sense, only the relative sense. So, when I say a "good GRE score", I mean different cutoffs for different sections. Also, I think it is silly to answer this question without considering that we have prior information -- the applicant is an engineering student and is likely to score high enough on the GRE Q.

Finally, I do think "being bad at tests" is very forgivable for graduate school applications in general. There are many good graduate students that do very poorly on standardized tests and many people who are very good at "training for the test" but do very poorly in graduate school. "Training for the test" is not a useful skill for a graduate student. This is why most of the graduate courses in my field do not have exams and why GREs and transcripts generally have lower priority in the admissions process than real experience like LORs. Many professors have discussed their worry that an applicant might "look good on paper" with high test scores but turn out to be very bad at basic graduate student abilities, like critical thinking, working independently, communicating ideas, etc.

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Agree to disagree. We've spent 4 years taking exams in college, 4 years before that doing the same thing in high school, and some number of years before that doing the same thing (maybe they were tests or quizzes, not "exams"). You're absolutely right that doing well on exams doesn't necessarily translate to doing well in research, but you're still going to have classes with exams your first couple years, not to mention quals. Plus, recruiting graduate students in STEM fields, especially math, is a good way to hire cheap labor to teach the huge intro classes to all those freshmen.

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I don't think you're well versed in what qualifying exams generally are.

And I think you'd also be surprised at the difference in tests between undergraduate and graduate courses, as well as the relative importance placed on tests vs projects.

Past a certain threshold a better Q score doesn't really benefit you as much as a better verbal.

In physical sciences, last I saw the statistics, over 20% of applicants had perfect Q scores. Far fewer had perfect or near perfect verbal scores.

Accordingly, having a high verbal score will set you apart more than a high quantitate score- it's rarer.

I know I got comments on having a high percentile verbal score when I applied, with people saying it was usually indicative of a larger vocabulary, and more ease writing & reading. All of which are quite important for grad school, as the further you go the more time is spent writing.

Your grades in math courses matter more for physical sciences in showing whether or not you get math- the GRE is pretty much arithmetic anyway.

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Actually I've been in grad school, taken many grad classes (in multiple fields), and taken quals before. It's true that many grad classes have no exams, many of them have exams that are very different from undergrad classes (like oral exams), but many of the pre-quals classes have exams that are basically the same thing as undergrad exams, perhaps a little bit harder. Quals are more difficult than exams for these classes.

I'm not suggesting that these exams are similar to the GRE, or that a strong GRE score is predictive of strong performance on exams in grad school. What I'm saying is that for an easy exam which you can take (almost) as often as you want, it very quickly gets old hearing an excuse of "bad test taker" for someone with a weak GRE score, especially when you've studied the material at the high school and college level. If you can't figure out how to find the angles in a triangle, then I have a hard time believing you can pass a qual in, say, real analysis.

The fact is, math education in the U.S. is very weak. There's so much hand-holding and rewarding people for rote memorization and giving out partial credit, even if you don't actually think, understand, and solve the problem. This is especially true in high school and to some degree in college, as well. If you know the formula for the product rule but can't actually compute a derivative, there's something wrong. If you're out driving, you take a wrong turn, and follow the rest of the steps correctly, you shouldn't expect to arrive at the correct destination.

Everything you say about Q scores not mattering beyond a certain threshold and V scores allowing one to stand out I agree with. But the one thing we're trained to do as students is take exams, so hearing excuses for poor Q scores (whatever "poor" is defined to be) is about as interesting as hearing excuses for why Ryan Howard can't hit a fastball.

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I'm happy to agree to disagree as well. Your pre-quals (and quals) experience seems to be very different from my own pre-quals experience, so maybe CS is more of an exam-based field than physics. Ever since I finished my first year of undergrad, I have never been in an exam environment comparable to the GRE (both General and Physics Subject GRE). There were exams in my 2nd and 3rd year Physics courses, sure, but they were mostly open book (or at least 1 page of notes) and the professors do a good job of not using time as a factor. That is, I believe the GRE uses time as a testing factor in the sense that it measures how many questions you can get right in a limited number of time. For my physics courses, the exams are often designed to be finished in much less time than allotted, so that time management or speed is never a factor. Then, in my 4th year physics courses, almost every course had a project or paper instead of an exam, or the exam was a completely open note take home exam.

Grad school is most similar to my 4th year courses, and my quals were 100% oral and focussed on my research rather than coursework. As such, the Physics Subject GRE test score is not very heavily considered in my field. Many people, such as myself, get into top programs with very mediocre test scores (both of my Subject test attempts, 2 years apart, resulted in approximately 50th percentile). I was very frustrated that my understanding of physics is not the type of understanding that the Physics GRE subject test evaluated. Luckily, most grad schools in my field recognizes this!

And I do not think "bad test taker" is "just an excuse". You are right that the years and years of test taking practice prior to the GRE means that people who are capable to developing strong test taking abilities certainly have had the chance to do so. But I don't think this is a good thing, or even a good reason to trust GRE scores. If we only accept high GRE scores, then we are limiting graduate education only to those who are good at taking tests (or those capable of developing good test taking practices). This is not useful for academia or research--we want to attract a diversified group of people with strong and relevant skills. Test taking ability might certainly be a byproduct of our education system, but it is definitely not a useful skill in my field of research. I think it would be bad practice to use a measurement of test taking ability (what the GRE measures) as a measurement of knowledge in that field (and it would definitely be bad practice to use this as a measurement of ability to do research work in that field).

Your analogy of driving and baseball does not work here because while following directions correctly is an essential skill in navigating and while hitting fastballs is a useful and desirable skill in baseball, answered timed arithmetic questions correctly is not a useful/relevant skill in STEM research.

^^ ditto

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If the quant section of the GRE had 10 more minutes, I think 170 would be like the 70th percentile

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"Your analogy of driving and baseball does not work here because while following directions correctly is an essential skill in navigating and while hitting fastballs is a useful and desirable skill in baseball, answered timed arithmetic questions correctly is not a useful/relevant skill in STEM research."

Hitting fastballs is what baseball players (non-pitchers anyway) train to do, just like taking exams is what students train to do. You claim that the GRE is not predictive of success in graduate school, and I agree. Being able to take an exam is necessary, but not sufficient.

By the way, arithmetic skills are important. I've met countless grad students TAing calculus who are terrible at calculations and just don't care to improve. Not a good attitude to have. Knowing all the theory in the world doesn't make you a good teacher (which is another thing grad school trains you for) if you can't do problems on the board without making computation mistakes.

"If the quant section of the GRE had 10 more minutes, I think 170 would be like the 70th percentile"

Isn't it already 40 minutes for 20 questions?

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"Your analogy of driving and baseball does not work here because while following directions correctly is an essential skill in navigating and while hitting fastballs is a useful and desirable skill in baseball, answered timed arithmetic questions correctly is not a useful/relevant skill in STEM research."

Hitting fastballs is what baseball players (non-pitchers anyway) train to do, just like taking exams is what students train to do. You claim that the GRE is not predictive of success in graduate school, and I agree. Being able to take an exam is necessary, but not sufficient.

By the way, arithmetic skills are important. I've met countless grad students TAing calculus who are terrible at calculations and just don't care to improve. Not a good attitude to have. Knowing all the theory in the world doesn't make you a good teacher (which is another thing grad school trains you for) if you can't do problems on the board without making computation mistakes.

"If the quant section of the GRE had 10 more minutes, I think 170 would be like the 70th percentile"

Isn't it already 40 minutes for 20 questions?

35 minutes for 20 questions. 2 sections.

My point is that the time factor is a major part of whatever the GRE measures. If you don't have the answer in 1:45, the best option is guess the answer and carry on.

This is fundamentally different from what you do in, at least, engineering and physics, where you solve a huge and complex problem and rationalize about the plausibility and consistency of your answer, often times locating arithmetic errors. The time constrains of the GRE wouldn't allow this process, and place any skill of doing that on the trash bin.

I think my criticism about your position is not so much about wether people should be able to do arithmetics(and algebra) without errors. The point is: doing it with such a time constrain is not that meaningful(IMHO).

Take the verbal reasoning. The fact that you read slowly  doesn't imply that you lack the capability of infering meaning and interpreting complex texts. A lot of people would still answer correctly if you gave them the time to finish a passage.

Edited by Mechanician2015
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Hitting fastballs is what baseball players (non-pitchers anyway) train to do, just like taking exams is what students train to do.

By the way, arithmetic skills are important. I've met countless grad students TAing calculus who are terrible at calculations and just don't care to improve. Not a good attitude to have. Knowing all the theory in the world doesn't make you a good teacher (which is another thing grad school trains you for) if you can't do problems on the board without making computation mistakes.

No, I disagree with you that taking exams is what students "train" to do. Exams are not the purpose of our classes. We don't "train" for exams any more than we "train" to sit still for 50 minutes for a lecture. Exams are just things that happen because of the way the education system is set up, they are not the point of the education system and they are not a measure of how successful the system is. To use a baseball analogy, I would say taking an exam is analogous to a baseball player putting on his or her uniform correctly. It's part of the game, but how well you do this task does not correlate with your baseball ability.

Arithmetic skills are important, agreed. I also agree that I think professors and TA that don't care about arithmetic and make sloppy mistakes on the board are not respectful of their students' time. Missing negative signs or factors of 2 can really impede understanding and learning. However, the arithmetic tested by the GRE Q does not reflect the arithmetic necessary to be an effective instructor. For example, when I teach, I always always prepare my examples ahead of time and work out all of the math. I double check everything, even things so simple I take for granted, to ensure I don't create more misunderstanding, and to ensure I am clear (since my students might not take these things for granted). Arithmetic/calculus/math ability is important in teaching quantitative classes but the real grad school applications of these skills do not match what the GRE Q tests at all.

That said, I don't believe that "not making mistakes" is a necessary quality of a good teacher. As I said above, good teachers should not be sloppy and make mistakes out of negligence. But I don't think the idea that you must be perfect and all-knowing is a good one to have towards teaching.

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Being imperfect is fine, I've made my share of mistakes on the board as a TA, but consistently making computational errors when all you do in your recitation is problems on the board is a significant issue. If an experienced instructor who's taken the class and TAed it (possibly) many times can't do these problems without mistakes, then the students won't respect you and won't care about doing the math carefully.

One would like to believe that we train our students to learn or think or be independent. Although that notion is romantic, it is far from reality. The fact is, exams take priority over learning in classes, especially when you're talking about the huge public universities, where the basic classes have 3 midterms, a final, and a quiz in every non-exam week. There's just no way for them to leave the exam world and try to learn as one might do without tests.

It sounds like you believe getting good at mistake-free computation will not improve your ability to do well on the GRE Q section, and I hope you're joking. Double checking things is great, but when a student asks you to do a problem you didn't have prepared in advance, and you can't do it without messing up the calculations, that is a problem.

You keep on saying the GRE doesn't measure what you need for success as a grad student, and I have not disputed this. It's a fairly useless test, except possibly as a weedout for those who really can't do basic computations (which may be important as they're likely also recruiting you for cheap TA labor).

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