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Is the GRE actually a good measure of students' aptitude?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016
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Is the GRE actually a good measure of students' aptitude?
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Many people would argue that standardized tests are not a good indicator of a student's intelligence level or skill set. However, many schools use them when reviewing school applications. As the SAT has been criticized, so too is the GRE earning a bad reputation. People argue that these tests are exclusive and don't necessarily lead to admission of the best talent. Sadly, most graduate schools tend to use scores from the GRE as a large measure of whether or not a student gets into a program. So if the GRE isn't a good measure of future success in graduate school, are schools really letting in the best talent? Furthermore, are some students being excluded?

"Vasquez decided to teach himself and learn how to take the GRE."

Going against the odds
Christian Vazquez might argue that the test is exclusive. Vasquez grew up in an underprivileged neighborhood with a single, working mom, but he always put his education first. Vasquez was the first in his family to go to college, and he paid his way through his undergraduate program by taking on a cashier job at Kohl's. After he graduated with almost all A's, Vasquez knew he wanted to take on a graduate degree and become an English professor. Yet in order to do that, he would need to take the GRE. Unable to afford a private tutor or test prep classes, Vasquez decided to teach himself to learn how to take the GRE, believing he could prepare well for the test.

However, after his first round of GRE testing, Vasquez didn't get the scores he was looking for. While they weren't terrible, they weren't good enough for many of the English programs he was interested in.

Vasquez's story isn't rare. Many students feel like they are excluded from programs they're interested in because of mediocre GRE scores. The test is largely based on analytical thinking, so if you're not good at thinking one specific way, you might not do very well. Sadly, if you're looking at a program that relies heavily on GRE scores as a measure for acceptance, not doing well on the test could mean not getting into the program of your choice, despite your other talents and skills.

"In our society we put a huge premium on the kinds of analytical problems the GRE measures. So if you're a good abstract analytical thinker, you'll do well on these tests," Robert J. Sternberg, a cognitive psychologist and professor of human development at Cornell University, told the publication The Atlantic. "The GRE is like taking a cancer test that was invented in the 1940s, though. Most of us wouldn't have confidence in the results from a cancer test developed then. We have more knowledge and a far better understanding of intelligence and ability now."

Is the GRE really the best way to measure a student's intelligence? Is the GRE really the best way to measure a student's intelligence?

Stiff competition
While the GRE has been criticized by many in the academic field, it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon. With it, the stakes for student applicants only get higher. Take a stellar school like Princeton University. In the Fall of 2015, the university had 10,956 students apply to their graduate program. However, only 11 percent of those who applied were accepted. The same went for Duke University. In the Fall of 2015, 3,427 students applied to their graduate program. Of that group, about 28 percent got in. Clearly, these programs are very competitive, so if you don't get good GRE scores, it might be a weighing factor for whether or not you get into one of these great schools.

However, some people, like Sternberg, are looking to change things. Many academic advocates, such as the president of the American Astronomical Society, have written open letters that challenge the GRE and ask for a better way to determine students' aptitude. Even research from the Educational Testing Service, the creator of the GRE, has revealed that there is a weak correlation between success on the GRE and success in grad school. Hopefully in the future, this measure will be changed for the better.

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