Let’s acknowledge something upfront: The GRE can be a nuisance. It stands between you and graduate school, and there’s a lot you have to learn to do well on it. For a lot of students, it’s been a long time since you’ve had to do the kind of math tested on the GRE. Certainly you can show admissions officers your potential value to their program in some other way than suffering through a standardized test, right?
I get it. That’s a lament I often hear from my students, and I readily acknowledge that the GRE is a means to an end — your acceptance to grad school. But what an important end that is. As such, the GRE is important and needs to be respected.
Looking at the GRE with new eyes
The GRE has been part of the graduate admissions process for over 70 years, and it’s not going anywhere. So let me play devil’s advocate for a moment and give you five reasons why the GRE is valued by admissions officers as they evaluate your candidacy. Understanding their thought process can reshape your thinking about the exam and put you in the right mindset to prepare most effectively for it.
- The GRE gives schools a common measuring stick for narrowing down a large and diverse applicant pool. Yes, you’re unique. And yes, you should be evaluated as the individual you are. The rest of your application (essays, résumé, etc.) serves that purpose. But the GRE gives admissions officers a starting point to make sure the candidates they choose to take a serious look at have the capacity to succeed in their program.
- Toward that end, the GRE actually does a pretty good job of predicting your success in graduate school. These validity studies attest to that fact. Does that mean that someone with a low GRE score can’t still do well in the classroom? Of course not. Likewise, some high scorers may struggle in the team environment that’s common in many graduate programs. But on par, if your GRE score is below the median range for the school(s) you’re applying to, you may have a tough time with that particular program’s coursework — and that does a disservice to you and them both.
- The GRE is a reasoning exam, not an IQ test. Indeed, the test makers actually call the math sections of the GRE Quantitative Reasoning and the verbal sections Verbal Reasoning. Strong reasoning skills are important in higher education, and doing well on the GRE helps prove to admissions officers that you possess those requisite reasoning skills.
- In a way, the GRE is a stress test, too. Do standardized tests like the GRE make you feel anxious? That’s okay. Normal, even. But can you control that anxiety and still perform your best under test-day pressure? That’s part of what you’re trying to demonstrate by doing well on the GRE. A high GRE score shows not just that you possess the necessary quantitative and verbal skills schools are looking for, but also that you can control your nerves and think clearly when the stakes are high. If you can do it on the GRE, you’ll be able to do it when you have to deliver your first case study, take your first midterm, or defend your thesis.
- The GRE helps you demonstrate your commitment to graduate school. For most people, success on the GRE isn’t automatic. You have to work for it. Even if you have to take the GRE more than once, that’s actually viewed as a good thing by a lot of admissions officers. It shows you care, that you want it. You went back to the drawing board, studied, improved, took a GRE prep course perhaps, worked on your weaknesses, and overcame your challenges. Those are traits that schools are looking for. The GRE is an opportunity for you to show schools that you have the chops to go after what you want.
As my dad always used to tell me, “You can either complain or you can prepare.” Worrying about whether the GRE is or isn’t a good indicator of your talents doesn’t do you any good. At the end of the day, if the GRE is required as part of your application, that means it’s viewed as important to the admissions committee. And if it’s important to them, it’s important for you.
So adopt the mindset that the GRE is an opportunity to be seized, a hurdle to overcome, a challenge that you will rise to meet on your journey to graduate school and the next exciting chapter of your career. You’ve got this!
Whether you’re still in the early stages of thinking about taking the GRE or are already knee-deep in preparing for it, join us on August 12th for a free webinar where you’ll learn an actionable three-part game plan for dominating the GRE. Click here to reserve your spot. See you then!
Brett Ethridge is the founder of Dominate Test Prep, a leading provider of GMAT and GRE courses online as well as topic-specific GRE and GMAT video lessons. He has taught both exams for over 12 years and loves working with students to help them achieve their highest potential. Brett is an entrepreneur, a competitive tennis player, and an avid Duke basketball fan.
• Get Your Game On, a free guide to creating a successful grad school application
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