I spent a good chunk of my summer huddled over a desk, furiously scribbling out answers to algebra problems I hadn’t seen since senior year of high school. As my graduate school entry exam, the GRE, drew closer in late July, it began to feel like the $200+ application fee for the test had not been a sound investment.
I didn’t have much of a choice. In order to apply to most graduate programs, standardized tests are a necessary evil. Similar to ACT and SAT requirements for undergraduate admissions, many graduate programs use the GRE to get a standardized outlook of their applicants. Other graduate programs require standardized tests as well — the LSAT, MCAT and GMAT being prime examples. Proponents of these standardized tests, specifically the GRE, state that it is just one piece of an applicant’s hodgepodge of recommendation letters, transcripts and writing samples. Others say the test allows admission committees to evaluate students’ knowledge due to varying curriculum across undergraduate programs.
After this process, something has become increasingly clear: The GRE requirement is unnecessary and puts an undue burden on graduate applicants, particularly in the wake of COVID-19. The cost alone of the GRE is enough to make one question its value. It costs $205 to take the test, supplementary study materials total about $50 and sending the GRE to schools costs an additional $27 per school.
Additionally, the time-consuming nature of the test and studying can rack up additional costs and limit one’s work schedule. This financial barrier, alongside rising application costs to graduate programs, eliminates many potential applicants who may not have the necessary budget to accommodate such a large investment, disproportionately affecting students from low-income and rural backgrounds.
The nature of the GRE is odd. The test consists of five multiple choice tests (two English, two math and one random test for research) and two essays. How well students perform on the first English and math tests determines the difficulty of the second set of English and math tests.
As with many graduate students in the humanities, the nature of my future academic relationship with math is minimal; I will only need to have a thorough understanding of statistics to do research projects, and there are usually only five data interpretation questions on each test. On the other hand, students entering into a math or similar field of graduate studies will likely not need the same depth of grammar, spelling and language as those entering the humanities. COVID-19 exacerbated a variety of challenges to test-takers. Given that many testing centers were closed, many students had to opt to take their test at home. Strict laptop requirements affected those with- out access to a computer in their home, while others have faced technical difficulties mid-test and others simply feel stressed at the prospect of at-home testing.
Some graduate programs have announced the GRE will not be required this year due to COVID-19 hurdles. This begs the question, do we even need it? No. A study by two Cornell and Harvard professors found the GRE to be an ineffective predictive measure of a student’s success in a graduate program. A 2016 article by the Atlantic echoed these findings, showing that the GRE can be discriminatory in practice, putting underrepresented groups at a disadvantage and eliminating candidates that may otherwise be selected for graduate admission.
I scored pretty well on the GRE; I was proud of my score and it fulfills the requirement for all of my potential programs. That being said, I am frustrated with its use in the admissions process. I am hopeful that graduate schools will discontinue their requirements permanently in the years to come.