The GRE Woes

by Caroline Brandon

Lately, the Time Hop app has reminded me of the excitement of my senior year of high school. Applying to college was the next step in determining my future, and while I felt a little nervous about what the next four years of my life would bring, I knew it would prove an adventure. It was about this time of year when I had completed the application process and anxiously waited to hear back from my prospective schools.

The application process for graduate school has proven quite the opposite experience.  Rather than feeling confident in my academic and leadership achievements, I find myself questioning whether my grades will be good enough; if my extracurricular activities will make me stand out amongst a competitive field of applicants; or if my standardized test scores will be high enough.

This brings me to the center of my argument and my main gripe with the process—standardized tests.  I believe they are one of the least effective ways to measure a person’s intelligence and potential.  The Graduate Record Examination, or more commonly known as the GRE, is no exception to this.

Rather than focusing my time and attention on my personal statement or writing sample, I am studying vocabulary that I will likely never use.  I am reviewing mathematical concepts and theories that have no relevant purpose in my future studies or life.  Lastly, I am practicing writing concisely and with words considered to be more difficult—exactly the opposite of what my professors taught me.
In the midst of a crazy senior year, my time has been devoted to these practices, which directly negate the principals of a liberal arts education.  This leads me to question why graduate programs value the scores of such tests that do not accurately gauge a person’s ability to think critically and analytically about a topic.
I understand that it may serve as a leveling tool for applicants, which innately possess diverse backgrounds and undergraduate educations.  However, I believe that the most accurate way to determine whether or not an applicant will be successful in a specific graduate program is to analyze what he or she has already accomplished, primarily through the writing sample.  The writing sample clearly demonstrates a student’s ability not only to understand a text, but also to engage with a text and incorporate secondary sources.
Unfortunately, until our educational system can successfully transition away from emphasizing standardized testing scores, I will go back to studying my flashcards. Who knew memorization would be so important after high school?