I took the general GRE two years ago and received V167/Q161/W5.0 or V98%/Q78%/W93%.

I am applying for PhD programs in applied mathematics this fall and plan on taking the GRE mathematics subject test.

My question is, should I focus on doing well on the subject test or also study and retake the general exam?

If my general exam scores are "good enough" then I suppose I would like to simply focus on the subject test. On the other hand, I am slightly worried about my 78th percentile score in quantitative reasoning.


3 Answers 3


Other commentators have suggested that little notice is taken of GRE in graduate admissions, but I am a bit more uncertain about this. I think some faculty will give little weight to it, but others will use it as an estimation of your abilities (in conjunction with other evidence such as your undergraduate grades) In any case, if you are going to submit these results as evidence of your abilities, you should make sure they put you above other applicants, instead of below them.

With that in mind, you are right to worry about your quant score - it is a bad score (relative to the program you are applying for). The distributions of GRE general scores by intended major can be found here, and as you can see, for students intending to pursue "Applied Mathematics", the average GRE Quantitative score is 164 (SD 6). Your score puts you above 78% of general test-takers, but it puts you in the bottom half of those applying for postgraduate maths. Students who make it into postgraduate maths generally have very high levels of quantitative ability. Around 20% of them get a perfect quant score in this test.

Based on this, I would suggest you retake the general test and try to at least beat the average Quantitative level for postgraduate maths applicants (GRE Quant 164+). Your verbal and written work is well above the mean, so just try to hold your scores here, but really, you need to improve your Quantitative score.


RoboKaren is correct that GRE scores are not much use in graduate admissions. However, you should put substantial effort in to the subject test because you want to get bast the first round of screening.

If you have your other admissions tasks taken care of, then sure, you could retake the general GRE. Just be sure you are better prepared.

While the GRE is dubiously useful for determining how good someone is at graduate research, it does provide a simplistic test of planning ability. A good score indicates sufficient planning ability to sign up for the test in advance and study for it.



Good PhD programs have concluded that the general GRE serves as a poor predictor of success.

Some programs do use the topical GRE to screen the first round of applications but after that, it’s the trifecta of: grades, statement, and letters.

  • 6
    While the GRE tests are far from perfect, I'm not sure this answers OP's question. For better or worse, the math subject test score is widely used along with your "trifecta" to make admission decisions. Further, the quantitative reasoning on the general GRE contains only middle school math questions; a math applicant getting "only" a 78th percentile may in fact raise some eyebrows.
    – cag51
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 5:01
  • @cag51 "raise some eyebrows" not really, it's a test of high-school level math (or it was back when I took it). Commented May 29, 2018 at 20:06
  • 3
    I second @cag51 for an applied math PhD, you would expect higher than 78th percentile in the quantitative section. Yes the test is stupid, but it definitely seems odd ot me.
    – Thomas
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 20:59

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