Katie Ribbens—Staff Writer
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test for graduate school admission. Essentially, it is a grown-up version of the ACT or SAT. It is divided into a writing section, a verbal reasoning section, and a quantitative reasoning section.
However, many graduate schools are waiving their GRE requirement due to COVID-19 and the challenges of taking the test at a public center.
Educational Testing Services (ETS), the nonprofit that owns the GRE, is providing a new, at-home testing option. With this change, students can once again take the GRE. Graduate schools are considering whether they wish to restore their GRE requirements, and many are not.
The flood of waived GRE requirements has been termed as the GRExit, according to Science. The peer-reviewed journal states that 50 percent of molecular biology Ph.D. programs dropped the GRE requirement, while only 10 percent of chemistry and psychology Ph.D. programs dropped the requirement.
In 2018, only a handful of schools waived the GRE requirement. As of Oct. 8, over 402 graduate programs are no longer requiring the GRE, according to graduate admissions at the University of North Carolina.
Why the discrepancy? Should the GRE be waived once and for all, or is there a place for standardized testing?
ETS recommends that graduate programs use several factors to evaluate an applicant, rather than constraining them to their GRE scores.
Dr. Luralyn Helming, professor of psychology at Dordt University, agrees with this assessment. She acknowledges the problems with the test: it is biased against certain groups of people, such as those that do not have access to tutoring services. Helming also agrees that the test is, to some extent, measuring how well the student can take a test.
Tiana Schroder, a senior pre-physical therapy student at Dordt, plans to take GRE on Oct. 30.
“I feel like it’s a measure of how fast you can take your test,” Schroeder said. “The knowledge that seems to be on the GRE doesn’t appear to correlate very well with what my major is and what I’m hoping to do in the future.”
She is attempting to find time to study in her free time with a full course load.
“It could prevent me from getting into grad school if I don’t get a certain score,” Schroeder said. “I’m going to give it a shot. It just kind of feels like it’s a useless hill to climb over to get there.”
Sydney Stiemsma, a pre-occupational therapy senior at Dordt, took the GRE in September. Like Schroeder, she is not sure it measures her readiness for grad school.
“I studied to do well on the test, not to be ready for grad school,” Stiemsma said.
While she did not particularly enjoy the experience, she cannot think of a better way to narrow the pool for admissions.
Helming believes that the GRE should also be measuring analytical thinking skills, analysis of information, ability to do math, and vocabulary. She does not think some of those skills should be the final decision point in admission, but it would be problematic if a student did not have any knowledge in these content areas.
The GRE is a computer adaptive test, meaning its questions will be easier or harder based on the student’s answer to the question before it. Students must adapt to the changes in the test as they continue, a life skill that falls beyond the content of the GRE.
“Your ability to work under pressure to timed tests is important in grad school,” Helming said. “If you can’t adapt at all and figure it out at all, you’re going to struggle in grad school.”
For students used to being at the top of their class, the GRE percentiles can be daunting.
“It’s a much narrower field than even other people who went to college. It’s actually the big fish, little pond effect,” Helming said. “You went to a much more prestigious pond.”
In the end, the GRE offers a convenient way for graduate schools to evaluate applicants in a standardized way. The rest of a student’s application is subjective. The GRE provides a standardized tool for evaluation, so long as graduate programs are aware of its biases and limitations.
“It’s not going to make or break your application,” Helming said.