The Benefit of Not Taking the GRE

April 15, 2013

Commentary by Courtney Stelmach

There were many different characteristics that I could consider when researching potential Public Administration graduate programs around the Hudson Valley area. Did I want to enroll in an online program? Was I interested in attending class only on weekends? Many colleges and universities across the United States are offering more and more programs that work around working adults’ schedules, aiming to increase enrollment by offering expanded flexibility. I did know, however, that as soon as I saw that the CUNY John Jay MPA Program at West Point did not require Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test scores, I was sold.

As an undergraduate student at Binghamton University, I watched as my fellow classmates, many with stellar GPA’s and extensive extracurricular involvement, spent many sleepless nights studying for exams such as the GRE and Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). Oftentimes, they did not receive the results on the tests that they had hoped for, and believed they had prepared for. Discovering that I could avoid this headache was a huge relief- I had never been a strong test-taker, particularly in mathematics. I hated the idea that this test, which was supposed to give me a way to stand out in a pool of applicants, would only hurt my future plans.

Some may believe that not taking the GRE is a ‘cop out’, and I’ve had my fair share of comments regarding how ‘easy’ my program must be, and how I took the ‘easy way out’. As it turns out, an increasing number of scholars, and laypersons, are asserting that standardized tests, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), GRE and GMAT, are not accurate measures of one’s potential academic achievement. The GRE is written by a not-for-profit company called ETS, located in New Jersey. According to the Princeton Review, the test is written by regular, everyday persons employed by ETS- not academic personnel- and occasionally, ETS hires local graduate students on a freelance basis to assist. Furthermore, the Princeton Review writes, “the GRE is not a measure of intelligence; it’s a test of how well you handle standardized tests”.

Scientific experiments have been conducted which have sought to determine if standardized tests can predict how well someone will perform in a graduate program. An article titled “Why We Need to Dispense With the GRE” from Deep Sea News cites a 2001 study, titled “A Comprehensive Meta-Analysis of the Predictive Validity of the Graduate Record Examinations: Implications for Graduate Student Selection and Performance” conducted by Kuncel, Ones and Hezlett, that found correlations between GRE scores and multiple metrics of graduate performance were low. Additionally, a 1997 study conducted by Cornell University and Yale University found that the GRE scores do not predict how well graduate students in the discipline of psychology will do. The researchers concluded that “only the analytical subtest predicted any aspect of graduate success beyond the first-year grade point average (GPA) and this prediction held for men only. The verbal subtest and psychology test predicted first-year GPA, but this prediction vanished by the second year’s GPA”.

As we are able to gather more and more information about the ways in which individuals learn and acquire information, educational programs of all types across the U.S. have aimed to provide options for current and potential students to best fit their capabilities and needs. While some people learn best from sitting in a classroom, others prefer the solitude and quietness of at-home, online learning. Some students learn best from hands-on projects, while others learn from reading and taking notes. Educators and scholars know that not all students learn the same. With this is mind, it’s surprising how many undergraduate and graduate programs still rely heavily on standardized test scores to help determine which students will make a successful class. Simply put, some people are just bad test takers, and it is unfortunate that their futures are slighted because they are unable to ‘learn the test’. If higher education is working to develop more flexible time and space options for their students, they should also be considering more flexible admissions requirements as well. Many people do well on tests such as the GRE or GMAT, and go on to achieve great success in their programs, but admissions counselors should not look to the results of a test developed by regular people to be the ultimate determination of one’s academic skills. By waiving the GRE requirement, I truly believe that the CUNY John Jay MPA Program at West Point is giving people the opportunity to succeed and advance in their careers without giving them an unnecessary hurdle to jump over first. Although it seemed to me at first that I just liked the idea of not having to take the GRE, in hindsight, I realize that this waiver indicated to me that this program was realistic and understanding of people’s varying skills, and those attributes attracted me to the program more than anything else. Colleges and universities should consider following suit, and review applicants based on other criteria, such as work experience and previous academic achievement, to determine what they can bring to the table.