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Another brick in the wall

Photo: Taelar Pollmann ⋅ The Sentry

Why is the GRE a thing?

I’m applying to PhD programs this fall. The one at CU Boulder requires applicants to submit GRE scores with a minimum score of 300 necessary to apply to the program. This summer I had to do what I’ve been putting off for years–signing up to take the GRE.

For those unfamiliar, the General Record Examination is a standardized test administered by the same organization as the SAT. Like the SAT, it contains reading comprehension, writing, and math sections.  

The SAT famously benefits students from high-income areas with rich parents who spend thousands of dollars on SAT prep for their teenagers to increase chances of getting into top-rated private universities. A group of wealthy parents, including actress Felicity Hoffman, were even indicted earlier this year for, among other crimes, allegedly paying to alter their children’s SAT scores. 

The GRE has similar issues. Obviously students who can afford to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on Kaplan prep classes, after already paying over $200 just to sign up for a test date, are going to have overall higher scores. But the GRE has the additional issue of what does this even have to do with graduate programs? 

Graduate programs are highly specialized. I haven’t taken a math class since I was 18 and haven’t needed to use the Pythagorean Theorem since then. Being ask to find the hypotenuse of a triangle has nothing to do with anything one studies in PhD programs for American Politics.  

Even the writing section, which, yes, graduate students do a lot of writing, hardly resembles graduate-level writing assignments. The prompt basically gives test-takers a random political or social issue to examine and half an hour to write something like a five-paragraph essay.  

That’s not a situation that remotely resembles something graduate students encounter. We’re given essay prompts weeks ahead of time, and have plenty of time to conduct research and go through rounds of edits. 

I borrowed a Kaplan GRE prep book to study, which spent the whole introduction reiterating that it’s totally possible to get a great score on the GRE with the help of Kaplan prep materials! Just spend more money on us and you’ll ace the GRE! 

My preliminary GRE score was 317. Hopefully I never have to worry about this again. 

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