A Step to Graduate School: The GRE

One of the goals of our McNair Scholars Program is to prepare scholars for the graduate school application process. GRE score submissions are part of the process. Having students from an array of majors, we wanted to hear from Geneseo faculty from various departments on their perceptions on how much the GRE is emphasized in their respective disciplines. We asked the following questions: 

  1. Do graduate schools in your discipline request or require the general GREs? If yes, do scores play a significant role in the admissions process?
  2. For Biology, Chemistry, and Psychology only: Do schools in your discipline request or require the subject tests of the GREs. If so, do scores play a significant role in the admissions process?
  3. Does your department help students prepare for the GREs (general or subject)? If so, how?
  4. Do you have advice about the GREs that we should share with McNair scholars? 

Here is what faculty had to say!

Anthropology Department

Dr. Melanie Medeiros, Assistant Professor

Anthropology programs do require the GREs. Some schools use the GRE to weed out applicants (i.e., they don't look at the other material if the GRE scores are lower than a certain benchmark). Others will consider the GRE and undergraduate GPA together when considering an applicant, so an excellent GRE score could make up for a lower than ideal GPA. I think ultimately the personal statement and reference letters are more important for actually gaining admission, but the GRE is a gateway to being considered. 

Dr. Jennifer Guzman, Assistant Professor

I concur with Melanie's observations about how the GRE is generally weighted in PhD admissions in anthropology. I would add that the quantitative reasoning score of the GRE is generally less important in anthropology admissions than scores on the analytical writing and verbal reasoning sections. Our department does not provide any GRE preparation for students. 

Chemistry Department

Dr. Wendy Pogozelski, Professor

  1. Yes, graduate programs in Chemistry and Biochemistry and related fields require the general GRE. Some told me that the GRE score correlates best with student success - especially the verbal score, interestingly enough.
  2. Some schools have said that while their admissions materials said that the subject GRE was required, the committees didn't require it. And my impression is that even when scores are submitted, they aren't given that much weight. I am told that letters of recommendation, research experience, the reputation of the undergraduate school, and the interview are what really count.
  3. My department does not offer any formal training for the GRE (other than the writing we teach in our seminar class).
  4. I think students should review a small amount for the math section (because they usually need to be reminded of things like the volume of a sphere, area of a circle, etc.) and to take one or two exams for the verbal sections, just to get a feel for timing and expectations. Many students think they should study for the GRE the way that students study for the MCAT, but the MCAT is more similar to the SAT and is an aptitude exam rather than a knowledge exam. 

Physics & Astronomy Department 

Dr. Charlie Freeman, Professor, & Dr. Anne Pelerin, Assistant Professor 

  1. Typically, graduate schools in physics require the general GRE. How significant a role these scores play in the admissions process varies. I served on a graduate admissions committee for the University of Rochester, and there were committee members that really cared a lot about the general GRE scores and there were other committee members that did not care that much about them.
  2. N/A.
  3. We have a specific course called "Advanced Physics Problem Solving" that is designed to help students prepare for the Physics subject test. It is a one credit course, offered in the first half of the fall semester.
  4. Most physics students are fantastically well-prepared to do very well on the general GRE test (especially the math part). I don't think your typical physics major student would need to worry about studying for the general exam. In fact, I would say if they just did one practice general exam at some point, that would be more than sufficient to prepare them for this part. As for the physics subject test, I think it is worthwhile for physics students to try and spend some time preparing for this exam. It is a tough exam, and I think it is a bad idea to try to take it without preparing. It is unlike virtually any other physics exam that I can think of - there are a large number of very short problems, whereas physics students normally take exams in their regular classes that consist of a small number of very long problems. So, preparation is definitely recommended for the physics subject exam. 

Political Science & International Relations Department

Jeremy Grace, Lecturer

  1. Yes, particularly MA programs in Public Policy, Public Administration, and International Affairs. We also have a fair number of students who take the LSAT for Law School and the GMAT for MBA programs.
  2. N/A.
  3. The department does not offer GRE prep in any organized way.
  4. Preparation is essential. The research I have seen suggests that taking courses or focus and disciplined preparation can make a significant different in scores. 

Psychology Department 

Dr. Jennifer Katz, Professor

  1. GRE scores are very important for clinical psychology PhD programs. Acceptance rates are very low for clinical psychology PhD programs (e.g., The University of Rochester takes four people a year). Students need to earn about an equivalent of 1250 combined (verbal and quantitative) out of 1600 to even be considered for acceptance. They also need very high GPAs - at least a 3.6, but preferably higher.
  2. In clinical psychology, some schools do and some don't require the subject test. Students are usually coached to take it just in case.
  3. Not in any type of formal way. I suspect most advisors say what I say - the Q section is more study-able than the V section, and it's useful to take a course for the general GRE if you can afford it because studying for the GRE is assertive. To prepare for the subject test, I suggest reading an intro psych book cover to cover. 

Dr. Ganie DeHart, Professor

  1. Virtually every PhD program in psychology, as well as most masters programs, require the general GREs. Some programs, especially in clinical psychology, have a minimum GRE score; if you score below that level, they don't even look at your application. They do this because they have so many applicants (up to 500 for 10 or fewer spots). They can find more than enough applicants with all the other things they're looking for (including diversity) without going below their minimum score. For at least the last 20 years, students from our department who have gotten into PhD programs in clinical psychology have typically had stellar GREs, especially quantitative. (Programs will often overlook a less than spectacular verbal score if the quantitative score is high). The most important factor into getting into a psychology PhD program is research experience; good programs rarely admit students who don't have several years of research experience, and they especially like student-initiated research. The bottom line is, if you don't have the best GPA, doing well on the GREs can help, but there's no substitute for serious research as an undergrad.
  2. Relatively few PhD programs require the psychology subject test--more selective programs are least likely to require it, for some reason. I always tell students it's absolutely essential to check what the programs they're interested in require, especially because so few actually require the subject area test.
  3. We don't do anything formal as a department to help students prepare. Psych Club and/or Psi Chi do grad school workshops that include tips on taking the GRE.
  4. I usually advise students to take the GRE during the summer before their senior-year, to give the time to re-take it if they need to before application deadlines, which are mostly in December and January for PhD programs, and February and March for masters programs. I recommend that they get a good GRE review book and take practice exams, mostly to familiarize themselves with the question formats. I'm not convinced that prep course are worth the extra time and money. I also strongly recommend that students focus on reviewing for the quantitative test than on the verbal. The quantitative test doesn't cover anything beyond advanced algebra, but many psych majors haven't taken a math class other than stats since high school. Reviewing all the math they learned 4-7 years ago can pay big dividends when they take the test, and the material to review is very concrete and entirely manageable.