In my gradual meander down the grad school application path, I am trying my best to ignore the glaring fact that I need to take the GRE’s. I have yet to register for them, although I occasionally go to the website and get outraged at the entire process which, in my view, is a complete scam. Just as occasionally, I will flip through the two year-old used GRE book I bought for five bucks, wonder what exactly a divisor is, sigh, and usually go make myself a sandwich. The key step, of course, is leaving the book open on the table at all times, so I can at least pretend that I’m preparing to take the test.
After four years of a liberal-arts education, such a multiple-choice standardized test appears like some distasteful and foreign apparition from my past. I disagree with the entire concept on a variety of levels. Although I realize schools want a consistent metric for evaluating “intelligence,” tests such as the GRE’s and SAT’s use the broadest possible brush to paint applicants. I can almost guarantee you that a student receiving a 1600 on the GRE is intelligent. I can similarly promise that someone receiving a 900 probably wouldn’t do well at Harvard. But looking at the difference between a 1300 and a 1500 for evaluating someone’s qualifications to attend your institution? It’s complete bogus. And while I realize that most grad schools (hopefully) use it as a an extremely general indicator, I just don’t see the point. Of course, the deeper problem is one of privilege and money: students and their parents spend hundreds of dollars on courses that teach them how to take these tests. This puts anyone else at a disadvantage, and works against any objective measurement of intelligence. It’s a broken system.
In the tradition of full disclosure, I openly admit that my GRE score will be the weakest part of my application. My “diagnostic test” was shockingly abysmal not only in the math section (which I was expecting, given the fact that I was a history major), but surprisingly low in the verbal section as well. All that’s left is for me to bomb the writing section. In conclusion, I am not objective, but I am curious: do the admissions boards for history PhD programs actually look at these scores? How much does it play into the decision?
In case it wasn’t obvious, I wrote this post in a procastinatory fit during another failed attempt at studying out of my trusty GRE prep book. Fortunately I remembered the key step of studying: I’ve left the book open on the table next to me. Okay polynomials, lets see what you’re made of…