I am a software engineer with 2 years of experience. I am very passionate about software and technology. I code the whole day, creating applications that my friends and I can use.

Now I have left my job because I was not finding it challenging enough (intellectually) and wanted to do something of my own. I feel that I need to study and gain more knowledge in a more systematic way. Thus only option which I feel has the maximum return to investment ratio for me are the MS programs in USA.

So this year I am taking the GRE General Test in May (2013). The problem is that I am not good at words plus I am not very passionate about learning them also. I also feel that they should not really matter considering I want to do research work in the field of Computers.

My question is - Can I still get into a university? If yes then what should be the right approach? I am really scared about what I should be doing right now as the dates for my exams are getting closer. Please Help.

Update: I saw this video on TED trying to explain why being good in english is not required (Im being even more liberal by saying what is the point of learning so many words?)

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    I'm not too sure about this, but there are several universities in USA which allow one to pursue a MS in Cs without requiring the GRE. Also MS in CS, in particular fields requires really good knowlegde in Linguistics and hence why several professors require students to have a decent/good GRE score. – Naresh Apr 13 '13 at 9:01
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    duplicate? academia.stackexchange.com/q/5032/102 – user102 Apr 13 '13 at 9:52
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    @TusharMathur re: "...why does CS require really good knowledge in linguistics?" See my answer below, but reading and writing are key skills in any research field. – Chris Gregg Apr 13 '13 at 10:50
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    "I am not good at words plus I am not very passionate about learning them also. I also feel that they should not really matter" - How can you expect to be in a graduate level program and not care about words? What do you think you will be reading? Do you think it is only writing code and reading code? Do you think you won't have texts that are important to read and understand? How can you explain what you want to do without writing about it? Let someone read a block of code? – earthling Apr 13 '13 at 15:00
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    I also feel that they should not really matter — Not only would I deny you admission to my department's MS program on those grounds, I wouldn't even hire you as a programmer. If you can't communicate, you're going to be useless as a computer scientist. Code is written first for the next programmer, and only second for the compiler. – JeffE Apr 13 '13 at 16:48

There are a couple of ways to look at this issue.

  • I agree with the commentators who point out that any grad program worth its salt requires good communication skills (involving reading and expressing non-trivial ideas), but I suspect thats not what you are objecting to - its the word-list aspect of the General GRE that you find pointless. In that context:

    • Feel thankful that you would be taking the Revised General GRE, which as wikipedia notes, has a much more reduced emphasis to rote memorization of uncommon words, than the older version (which I had to take, unfortunately)!
    • Also, I've read on blogs/heard from seniors that top CS programs don't look too closely at your verbal scores: a good score would not get you too far ahead, nor would an abysmal score totally gut your chances (this does not apply for quantitative scores - I'd been consistently advised by seniors that scores below 780-750, out of 800 in the old scale, would definitely get your application rejected!)
  • There are some schools in US where the applicants are encouraged, but not required to submit, General GRE scores. If you feel that other aspects of your application are strong enough, you can opt for those schools only - but IMHO, its not recommended, as almost every other applicant would submit GRE scores, and the absence of one on your profile may seem suspicious and may do more damage than a mediocre score.

  • Also, the Verbal section and the AWA sections are radically different - whereas the former may have limited utility in a grad program, the latter is much more relevant, as it tests your ability to reason and express the same within a short time-frame. Preparing for the AWA does not involve any rote memorization, so you shouldn't be complaining about it!

  • I really appreciate the fact that you understood the main point which is the 'list of words aspect'. This is also quite motivating for me as I was pretty demoralized with my performance in the verbal section. – tusharmath Apr 16 '13 at 6:51

There are a number of different exams that comprise the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). There is also the TOEFL exam, which may be required if English is not your first language.

Each university has its own set of requirements, and you will have to look on the websites for individual programs to find out this information. Here are the exams you may have to take:

The bigger question is not necessarily which exams you have to take, but which exams will make a difference. In computer science, your verbal and analytic writing score will count for much less than the quantitative score (which in some case is a shame, because analytical writing skills are very important for reading and writing papers...).

What should be the right approach?

  1. Study for the exams. There are many online study guides and practice exams, and books to purchase.

  2. Take it as many times as you can before applications are due. This can get expensive.

The problem is that I am not good at words

You'll need to work on that, and it is very possible to improve your skills and ability with hard work.

...plus I am not very passionate about learning them also.

You'll have to change this attitude if you want to be successful.

I also feel that they should not really matter considering I want to do research work in the field of Computers.

As I said above, the quantitative exam will matter the most (and the CS exam will matter more if you take it). The verbal and writing exams will matter, but you can afford to do worse on them than on the other exams. Unfortunately, your personal feelings on the matter won't get you accepted, and you have to work within the system and do the best you can.

  • I will also add that writing skills do matter, even in computers. For many programs, you'll be required to write a thesis, and communicating your ideas efficiently and effectively is not something that comes naturally to most. – Jeff Apr 13 '13 at 20:25
  • Thanks for your answer Chris. I guess I should not have said 'i am not very passionate about learning them also' as I have quite frankly offended a lot of people. But every one is missing out on the main point. The words that we learn for the English exam are way too complex and most of them are seldom used. Again I have attended quite a lot of sessions on CS, read a lot of computer books and seen a lot of videos on youtube. In my experience I have never seen the presenter use such 'grandiloquent' language. – tusharmath Apr 16 '13 at 6:45
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    @TusharMathur I understand your point, and thanks for clarifying. If you have a strong basic vocabulary, you will do well enough on the GRE verbal portion to score well enough that it shouldn't hurt your chances for acceptance. Again, I would urge that you take practice exams to see where you are right now. – Chris Gregg Apr 16 '13 at 7:31

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