Take the 2-minute tour ×
Academia Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for academics and those enrolled in higher education. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm just starting to investigate doctoral programs in education in the United States, and I'm considering how to handle the GRE requirement:

  1. Hardline Activism: submit my incomplete application with a well-researched essay justifying my refusal to take the GRE.
  2. Soft Activism: submit my complete application including my first-try GRE scores along with a well-researched essay debunking the significance of my GRE scores related to my value as a candidate in the Ed.D. program, AND flatly stating that I spent no more than four hours (the length of the exam. i.e. No test prep.) on the GRE, in light of my scientific conclusions about it's relevance in this situation.
  3. Passive Acceptance: submit my complete application with my first-try GRE score and hope for acceptance.
  4. Active Acceptance: Study hard and take the GRE, then study some more and take it again. Submit my complete application and hope for acceptance.

Are there other options that I'm overlooking?

My position is not "the GRE has no value." My position is "I'm an excellent candidate for this doctoral program, as evidenced by my application. GRE scores would not alter that conclusion."

I found this discussion very useful, especially the answer and citations by Jeromy Anglim.

As an aside, I admit that I enjoy testing boundaries just for fun, but this issue is more than that. As a proponent of thoughtful, responsible education reform, I'm leaning toward options 1 and 2.

share|improve this question
20  
I feel the goal is noble, but very dangerous given the power structure among the selection committee and candidates. There is a fine line between appearing confident and pompous, and if the application pool is large or if the committee is very conservative, you may put your application at risk. I'd suggest perhaps get a good score, get in, and volunteer to serve in a student senate or rep, and start working from inside the department as one of the members. That way you may get better buy-in. –  Penguin_Knight Jul 30 at 13:41
15  
4. Then write your essay and publish it. You will have much more weight as a critique of a test if you passed it with a good score. And you won't jeopardize your chances of getting accepted. –  Jigg Jul 30 at 14:12
9  
Let me get this straight, you did poorly on the GRE and now want to argue that it is valueless. I would be much more likely to believe you if your convictions were so strong you refused to take the test. –  StrongBad Jul 30 at 19:01
6  
I think it is probably of critical importance that you are applying to Education departments. From my experience the field of Education has very different views of what is important from many other fields. –  StrongBad Jul 30 at 19:04
5  
I agree with @StrongBad: your position would be more noble and more interesting had you categorically refused to take the GRE. People who went to war and decided that it was not for them do not make ideal conscientious objectors. And I agree with the following comment: I think the fact that this is the education department must have some significance here: if you were applying to a PhD program in (say) mathematics, a research essay about your refusal might make interesting reading, but: not only would we not consider your application, we would feel honorbound not to consider it. –  Pete L. Clark Jul 30 at 19:30

7 Answers 7

I think the answer to your question is this:

How much do you value getting into graduate school versus how much do you value feeling like you are making a point?

If you value feeling like you are making a point, by all means, pursue the Soft Activism. My guess is that it will come across to the department like a complaint that you didn't do well enough on the test and are going rogue to make your point.

If you value getting into graduate school, then engage in "begrudging acceptance" that this is how you get into that particular graduate school. Like it or not, there's often a line of people willing to take your place, suffer the test, and smile. Moreover, if there's money on the line in the forms of scholarships or fellowships, consider the time/money you put into the test an investment. Study, practice, and prepare until you get a score you can submit in the hopes of getting in. You don't have to actively like the idea, you just need to accept this is the means to acceptance in graduate school.

For middle ground possibilities, I actually think the "hardline activism" approach is softer and less whiney than your "soft activism", because true or false it makes it seem like you've had a principled stand against the GRE since the beginning. Depending on the contours of the education program that might bode well for you. Some education programs might agree that the testing is bunk; my colleagues in education don't like standardized tests.

You can of course just submit the scores you have, but if you think they are inadequate for acceptance, that seems unwise.


After you're in, then write all the principled essays you want against it and try to change the system.

share|improve this answer

These opinions are based on my discussions with faculty members involved in PhD admission committees.

I think your crusade against the GRE will be more productive when you become the department chair or the dean of a school. Right now it just sounds like you're afraid.

Among the options you've listed, I would recommend #3. You should know that the GRE plays a small part in what gets you accepted in a good grad school. The admission committee cares about your essay, your letters, your past productivity, and how you've done in specific hard courses.

The GRE is correlated with IQ and simply enables the committee to focus their efforts on a smaller pool. They know that they might miss on a good candidate who inexplicably bombed the GRE but they also know that they would easily find many many equally good candidates in the pool of those who did average and above on their GREs.

If you do exceptionally well in your GRE (98 percentile +) then you will stand out. If you do average, the committee will focus on what they really care about, which is your essay, your letters etc. If you bomb it then your application likely won't be looked at.

Don't waste your time and money taking the GRE many many times. Your score won't change very much and what's really important is the rest of your portfolio.

share|improve this answer
4  
@RoboKaren - that might be because you only get to observe the correlation in a very small sample of applicants: those who were accepted. Those generally tend to have a narrower range of scores than the entire pool, and they are (hopefully) on the far end of the distribution, ability-wise. –  Ana Jul 30 at 18:28
5  
The GRE tests one thing: skill on taking the GRE. The fact that GRE prep increases your score indicates that it's not testing anything inherent. –  RoboKaren Jul 30 at 19:37
3  
"The GRE tests one thing: skill on taking the GRE." The Nobel Prize tests only one thing: your skill in getting the Nobel Prize. This is a tautology. "The fact that GRE prep increases your score indicates that it's not testing anything inherent." I don't happen to think it's testing your immortal soul, but your statement does not logically follow. Clearly most people cannot be prepped to get top GRE scores. Conversely, you seem to discount that studying for the GRE actually increases knowledge and suitability for grad school: on the math subject exam, this is at least somewhat true. –  Pete L. Clark Jul 30 at 19:42
4  
Merely because prepping for the test can increase your score does not mean that the test only tests your ability to prep. One obvious area where prepping matters is in understanding the instructions for the test. One area where it has limits is that part of the prep is learning / reviewing a large number of vocabulary terms. –  virmaior Jul 30 at 21:58
3  
....One could argue that math research has little to do with the undergraduate material tested on the GRE math subject exam, and that someone who did badly on this exam could still have all the inherent promise of a great future mathematician. My response: sure. But on the one hand that's even more true if someone has scored well, and on the other hand the exam is testing things we want the students to know upon arrival. If you have the inherent aptitude to do well on the exam but don't, that does say something about your current suitability for grad school. –  Pete L. Clark Jul 31 at 14:05

We had a student apply to our department with GRE scores of 0/0 (or whatever the minimum is) and a note that he refused to take the exam** because of his politics. We agreed (being a lefty department) and on the merits of the other aspects of his file, voted to accept him. However, when his file went to the provost's office for final approval, a red flag was raised*** and he was told to retake the GRE for real if he wished to matriculate. I didn't follow his case too closely, so I can't say what happened after that.

** he paid and went to the GRE exam center, but aside from writing his name, apparently refused to answer a single question.

** * provosts like high standardized exam score averages in departments because they think they are signs of "excellence."

I should note that a vocal minority of faculty thought that a student who would raise a fuss about standardized testing would be a troublemaker in the department, they were effectively cancelled out and overridden by those who thought we could use more active students. Your mileage may vary, considerably.

share|improve this answer
    
Would you say the student's approach was effective at changing attitudes or requirements pertaining to the GRE in your department (beyond the scope of this individual's admission)? –  ff524 Jul 30 at 19:01
3  
No. Those who were in the anti-GRE camp such as myself thought it was a cute but dangerous game with fire that he was playing. Those that were anti-GRE thought that he was trying to make excuses for what surely must be poor performance. I don't think any opinions were changed in the end. –  RoboKaren Jul 30 at 19:17
    
And if anything, those in the anti-GRE camp were now aware that the provost's office was more than willing to step in and block candidates with bad/missing GRE grades. So we've been put on notice. So I guess you could say his strategy backfired as no one else will be able to hand in 0/0 grades after him. –  RoboKaren Jul 30 at 19:19
1  
What's a 'lefty department'? –  Jigg Jul 30 at 22:43
2  
Left-leaning politics. –  RoboKaren Jul 30 at 22:47

If you want an exception from the GRE requirement policy, submit other materials and politely ask the head of the admission committee for an exception. In the request build carefully your case as why you think you would be successful in the school. Remember, the school admission is not about your principles, it is about the Department having confidence you would be successful. And that's what you need to show in your petition.

In my case, my GRE scores were excellent, but too old (10 years). Since taking the test I completed a Masters at one of the top schools with high GPA, and had a successful employment record at reputable (and picky) employers. The Department for my PhD program had no issues waving the requirement to retake the GRE, simply because I had other means to show that I would be successful in the program.

share|improve this answer

One word of caution regarding options 1 and 2: In many (if not most) U.S. colleges, the office of the Graduate School has the final say over who is admitted to candidacy for a graduate degree. GRE score requirements for that candidacy are usually a matter of official university policy and cannot simply be overridden by the faculty committee reviewing applications in a particular department. Getting an exception to university policy just because you don't like the GRE requirement seems very unlikely. There might be a few schools where that would work, but I would guess it to be a small minority.

I would agree with the advice of others that you play by the rules to get into the program and then work from within to change the requirements for others in the future. This doesn't require several levels of administration to approve exceptions to university policy, it doesn't make it look like you just don't want to take the test, it doesn't make it look like you're trying to hide or excuse a poor test score, it doesn't make it look like you feel entitled to special treatment that other candidates aren't getting, and it doesn't make it look like you're going to be unwilling to work with others when you can't have your way. Of course, as virmaior said, this decision also depends on how much you value getting accepted into the program. My answer is assuming you value it highly. Also, again, results at your particular school will vary and will depend strongly on the university policy of the school as well as the viewpoints of the graduate admissions committee in your department as well as any levels of administration that may be required to approve their decisions.

share|improve this answer

As someone who recently took the GRE for grad school I feel your pain. I didn't do badly but certainly not as well as I would have liked. I'm not a good standardized test taker and felt at a disadventage when taking it.

BUT, my department (no idea about yours), does not weigh the score of the GRE very heavily. Unlike the SAT or ACT, there is no minimum score that you have to meet. I actually emailed my advisor for grad school, asking him about my scores and if they would do (or if not, would I need to take it over). There is no "this score is good, this one is bad" scale so I really didn't know how I stood from other candidates.

My advisor essentially said this: they have the GRE as a requirment because they have to (or at least, it's the standard). However, they look more at GPA, letters of recom., and advise from the faculty. There are students from foreign universities who bomb it because of language barriers but that doesn't prevent them from getting in.

Bottom line, I would ask the school(s) you are appling to directly if you are worried about getting in to see how heavily it weighs. In my opinoin and from those that I've talked to, nobody really believes the GRE is some great test that determines sole ability for getting through grad school.

Now, if you just want to kick up some dust and try to take down the GRE all togehter, more power to you :p It's an antiquateated and unfair test and through my previous points of most schools (well, my school at least) not really caring about it, it's just a way to make more money.

Though I would advise against option #1. Not submitting a GRE I don't think will do anything than merely have your application by incomplete. Mine was all done online so without having every box checked off, it wouldn't let you submit it anyways and as fair as I know you can not apply unless it's online.

share|improve this answer

Consider a PHD program in Europe. To my knowledge and experience, you will get more papers published during a European program, and the number of papers in good journals is what determines your future academic career.

share|improve this answer
3  
...but for most of them, you need a Master's first. –  Jigg Jul 30 at 16:17
3  
There are a lot of other implications of doing a PhD overseas, see here for a few, and some people think it is harder to get a job in the US after doing a PhD in Europe. It seems to me that suggesting that someone change countries simply because they don't like the GRE is rather extreme. There are many pros and cons that are far more significant than the GRE. –  Nate Eldredge Jul 30 at 18:01
1  
And many English-language PhD programs overseas require a GRE for admissions purposes. (Mine does, for instance.) –  aeismail Jul 30 at 18:16
6  
I am not sure why someone interest in a EdD in the States would benefit from a PhD in Europe. This seems like awful advice. –  StrongBad Jul 30 at 19:07

protected by eykanal Jul 31 at 0:52

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.