I'm applying for the PhD mathematics program in the US, so I decided to appear for the GRE mathematics subject test. This test is only conducted once a year in my country. I had to travel 1200 kms to take the exam. But six hours before the exam started (and after I traveled), the exam was cancelled. I was told the exams did not reach the testing center because of a snafu at customs. This was very frustrating, and it is not even clear if a makeup exam will be offered.

Under these circumstances, how much effort should I put into rescheduling my exam? It is optional at my universities. It seems to me that if everything goes perfectly, the results will not reach the universities until mid-January, which is after the deadline but maybe not too late to be considered. But this is a big hassle and perhaps my time could be better spent on other parts of my application.

Also, how should I approach my (lack of) exam scores in my application materials? I'm afraid my application will be filtered out before its read by the admission committee due to lack of scores, even if they are optional.

  • 2
    While I think we all understand your (rightful) frustration, what kinds of answers are you hoping for? That we all feel indignant about ETS? We probably do, but it doesn't do anyone any good if we all expressed this. If your goal is to ask whether the Subject GRE scores are important, make that the focus of your question -- though I am quite sure that there are plenty of other questions on the forum already about that. Nov 1, 2022 at 21:27
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    Your question was still accumulating close votes, so I took a stab at removing the rest of the off-topic stuff. You can edit if I botched anything, but please be aware that we want questions that others could potentially face in the future. Questions tied to your long, unique story are likely to be closed (we call this "depends on individual factors"). Please see our help center for more details.
    – cag51
    Nov 1, 2022 at 23:33
  • As you note, US departments do often utilize the GRE as a coarse filter for international applicants, particularly from countries that they are unfamiliar with. On the other hand, committees are usually familiar with academic standards in countries with many applicants (e.g. China, India). Perhaps it may help to mention your country, and your previous school's standing within the country and internationally.
    – user71659
    Nov 2, 2022 at 4:43
  • What does ETS mean?
    – EarlGrey
    Nov 2, 2022 at 8:09
  • 1
    @EarlGrey: ETS is an acronym for Educational Testing Service. Nov 2, 2022 at 17:13

1 Answer 1


For the main issue, there is little you can do but explain the problem. Exceptions can be made in the US application process.

Note also, however, that the GRE isn't actually required everywhere anymore and is becoming less of a factor. This is partly due to COVID and partly to the, perhaps questionable, predictive value of the test. Other things in the US are very important, especially letters of recommendation from people who can honestly predict your success.

Third, the SoP may not be the place for your GRE scores in any case. The SoP is about the future, not past accomplishments. Us the CV for that. In the SoP state your plans for doctoral study and thereafter. Be reasonably specific about field, but it isn't really necessary to drill down to a dissertation topic. And the SoP isn't the place to explain the issues with ETS. Use the SoP for its intended purpose.

Other than a failure to notify you in a timely manner, I don't find a lot of fault with ETS. They don't have control over imports into a foreign land and have limited control over shipping and such. You have been caught in an unfortunate situation. Casting blame isn't going to make it better. A simple explanation that the test was cancelled is all you should need. You might not even bother to bring it up unless asked except at a place that really requires it.

See the answer for the US in the following for more information about the application process: How does the admissions process work for Ph.D. programs in Country X?

  • I'm confused. Do they live in the past that tests need to be shipped? What do we have the internet for?
    – user9482
    Nov 2, 2022 at 6:01
  • If I understand correctly, you are saying (if the GRE subject test scores are optional) there is no need for any explanation unless the university asks for the explanation. Right?
    – User
    Nov 2, 2022 at 9:31
  • Yes, and the aren't likely to ask.
    – Buffy
    Nov 2, 2022 at 10:53

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