I did my undergraduate degree in the US and am heading to graduate school here in less than a month, so I myself have taken the Graduate Record Examinations (the general as well as two subjects tests) and I guess it always just seemed as a sort of un-avoidable formality that nothing could be done about, and so I just took it and got it over with.
In the intervening year between undergrad and the start of my Ph.D. work, however, I traveled overseas to Cambridge where I found that I was quite mistaken: the GRE is very, very avoidable. The solution is simple: don't apply to universities in the US.
By the time I had arrived there, I had already gotten it over with myself, but for most of my peers there, this was not the case, and quite a few of them had simply decided to not even bother applying to the US because of the inconvenience that comes along with that in the form of the GRE.
This made me wonder: are admissions committees at US universities aware of the number of highly qualified candidates they miss out on because of the GRE?
I could understand being willing to miss out on the potential recruitment of these students if the GRE were a significant part of one's application, but I have yet to find any US professor tell me that the GRE scores are weighted highly when it comes to making admissions decisions (perhaps I just haven't asked around enough?). In fact, I've often been told it's the least important factor when deciding whether someone should be admitted. (Indeed, my impression is that the general GRE is more or less a joke and only serves as a convenient way of tossing out applicants who would have been found un-qualified for other reasons.)
Putting aside for a moment the issue of those who decide not to apply to US universities, let's consider the inconvenience faced by those who do. Once again, if you're from the US, I can imagine simply not being aware of this (I know I wasn't), but I now know of several people who have had to fly (sometimes the flights have even been inter-continental!) in order to sit to take a GRE test. And even for those who don't (like probably most of us in the US), there is the ridiculous price: almost $200 for the general and an extra $150 per subject test. I was under the impression that admissions committees encourage people from all backgrounds to apply, rich or poor, but how can they honestly expect this to happen if even those who don't have to fly have to shell out anywhere from $300-$500 in addition to the application fee? (I personally find it a bit nuts that these tests cost several times more than the application itself.)
So, could somebody please explain to me why we still require students to take these things? Do they really add information about the applicant and their abilities that could not be found out any other way?