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I am about to graduate with a B.A. in Math and want to pursue a Ph.D. in the subject. I understand that most graduate schools require both the general GRE as well as the subject math test.

I am wondering exactly how important these exams are for admissions. Obviously it varies by school, so I was hoping people could compare them to undergraduate admissions with the ACT or SAT.

For example, as a high school student we were told that SAT / ACT scores were an important but not determining factor in admissions. Accordingly, I stressed quite a bit about my scores and even retook the ACT.

For a graduate program, especially in mathematics, is the general GRE really that important? Or is it more of a check mark — that is, to make sure candidates are able to read and write, but not necessarily to pick those with the highest scores.

Similarly, are the subject tests decisive at all? Or are they used to just make sure that you know the "basics," while the course load and letters of recommendation are far more important.

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    How exactly a given committee (member) weighs different aspects of an application is highly variable... – vonbrand Dec 23 '15 at 1:19
  • My impression is that the general general GRE is somewhat analogous to the ACT or general SAT for undergrad. If you familiarize yourself with the format, try some practice test questions, and show up well rested, and you are generally well read person with good basic math skills, you should be fine. (This comment is not about SAT subject or GRE subject tests.) – aparente001 Dec 23 '15 at 4:15
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The SAT/ACT are there really to quantify if your abilities in the subjects tested are to-par with what you'll need to succeed generally in college. It also gives the college a means to compare individuals at a national level. The GRE itself is technically supposed to measure how your undergraduate studies have progressed your academic ability as a preparation for graduate school, but institutions vary widely in their consideration of GRE scores in their admissions process. It could just be a check mark, but it could also be integral to the selection process. Many graduate programs at my institution require nothing but the general GRE score to exceed 1000 in total, and selections are influenced much more by letters of recommendation, GPA, statement of purpose and prior research experience. Of course, a particularly low GRE score could have a negative effect on your application, much like a low SAT/ACT can impact college admissions. If they want your performance on the GRE subject test in math for a math Ph.D., it may be reasonable that they're going to scrutinize that score more than the general exam. But it's really up to the graduate admissions staff who oversee the application.

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Certain programs in Mathematics will heavily weight the GRE Subject test for mathematics programs. Many top programs will have a threshold that they expect students to pass for them to actually read the application. Usually, one should view the subject test more as something that can help you be considered, not something that can get you accepted to a program.

This being said, it is definitely something that should not be considered just as a formality when applying to top 25 universities.

  • I completely second this: for competitive programs, it is particularly important to take the GRE subject test seriously and do well on it. I have spoken to faculty at several schools who indicate that applications without high enough GRE subject scores are unlikely to be accepted, with the low score being a justification for rejection on its own. – Oswald Veblen Jan 13 '16 at 13:42

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