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Apply with low GRE or wait it out


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Hi all. I read and searched the previous entries in an attempt to not be redundant, and I think my situation is a bit novel.

Let me start by saying I just bombed my GRE, again. I received a 161V and 155Q. I'd like to apply for a biomedical PhD so the quant score is god awful. I've sat for this test repeatedly, and can't seem to do any better. I ace the first quant section (based on power prep II practice test analysis), so the second section is always their hardest version and the wording is so vague I can't figure out what's being asked until it's too late. My math is fine, it's the question interpretation that's killing me.

I'd retake it with alternate prep, but have a few issues surrounding that. I don't know of any books or interactive online courses that focus specifically on the hardest questions, so I could adjust to the convoluted wording. Secondly, I've been talking with several PIs who are interested in working with me. One of whom I'd die to work with, and of course he's at Stanford so my score is laughable. I feel like not applying this round is disrespectful to the people who've spent time and energy encouraging me and discussing their work with me. In brief; I feel cornered.

Here's the rest of my profile:

Undergrad: Biochemistry and molecular biology

GPA: 3.8

school and department honors as well as thesis specific awards.

First name authorship

5 years post-bac experience

Strong letters: from previous bosses as well as a CMO of a major pharma


Does anyone have any clever ideas? Thank you so much for your time.

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hi Science Girl,

I can only really comment on your quant. difficulties. There isn't a great source of convoluted quant. questions other than ETS. But a lot of people, I think, underutilize ETS's material.

One thing I might suggest is that you spend much more time analyzing ETS quant. questions than you spend doing them. By this, I mean keep working on a previously done question, whether you got it right or wrong, to identify:

1. The most efficient way to solve it.

2. What, if anything, might be applicable to future questions. For example, "next time I see the phrase 'percent greater than' in a question, I'll immediately set up a percent change equation".

Of secondary importance to the above might be breadth of experience with math questions. Here is where, if you have time, you might supplement with Manhattan GRE math questions.

Best, Vince

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Do you have the time/resources to work with a tutor? In your case it sounds like that might be helpful since what you're dealing with isn't covered by the materials you've worked with so far. 

Side note: I know you didn't ask about this, but I noticed that your LORs all come from industry rather than academics. In my field that's a no-no and a lot of apps specifically stated that letters from professors are strongly preferred and 1/3 letters could be from a supervisory if necessary. Perhaps your field is different in this regard, but I'd think about that and ask around before you apply to make sure, since if you need to ask professors to write letters you'll want to give them ample notice.

Good luck!!  

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Hi Science_Girl_,

While you've self-identified 'hard/convoluted' Quant questions as a problem area, that is NOT enough to explain the Q155 that you've scored. It's far more likely that 'your way' of approaching the Quant section is what's costing you points. If you can't score above that level, then you're going to have to make some adjustments to how you 'see' (and respond to) the GRE.

1) What resources have you used so far during your studies?

2) When would you plan to next take the GRE?

GRE Masters aren't born, they're made,


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Hi all.

Thanks for the responses.

@Vince Kotchian GRE Prep I used predominantly Princeton prep. If I retake it I'll do Manhattan. It's really a question of time. I'm in conversation with so many people I feel like I have to apply this round. I honestly am not sure I'd do any better if I waited, I work and don't have time to study, I can't afford the materials, and I simply don't test well this way.

@brown_eyed_girl My letters are 2 from academics and one from industry. They could be solid academics but my industry reference writes beautifully and (I thought) shows an ability to be successful post PhD in the private sector.

@EMPOWERgreRichC You asked what resources I used: Princeton prep online interface w/ 2 tests and every free thing I could get my hands on, including PowerprepII

I see your rational on 'my way' vs 'their way' for question answering. If I retake it, it'll be early 2016 and I'll miss the deadlines for this round. I have references, SOP, etc all lined up.

I think a more clear explanation for the score is this: The GRE is high school math, I'm a high school drop from a socioeconomically and educationally underprivileged background turned first gen college student. It's not an excuse, but it's the only thing I can think of that makes sense. I never took the SAT, and I don't do well at that type of testing so far. I'm also 35 and have been out of school for a while so whatever algebra is left has long been forgotten. No one uses this in actual lab work. Verbally I do well because I'm a book nerd. I don't have money for a tutor, or any more materials for that matter. I scoured the internet for all the free tests I could get and bought the cheapest online test/question combo I could find. 

I know it's too low to be competitive. Here are the bottom line questions for me:

Is it too low to apply?

Should I hedge my bets and go for a masters? 


I'd hate to give up a dream based on one aspect of my profile, which is a standardized test.

Thanks everyone for your help.

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