Is the GRE important?

This is a very interesting question, and one with diametrically opposed answers, depending how one interprets the question. One common answer is that the GRE is not important at all, and it is an arbitrary test that purports to measure some elusive concept known as intelligence, or, more pejoratively, IQ. It is at best a rite of passage—much like ritual scarring—one must suffer if they are to ascend to the rarefied realm of grad school.

On the other extreme is the idea that the test is a highly valid measure of the intellectual skills required for success in grad school. Get a high score and you’ll do well in grad school, this line of reasoning goes.


So useful or useless?

My own opinion lies somewhere in the middle of these two views. I am loath to consider the GRE some arbitrary intrusion upon the lives—and sanity—of grad school aspirants. I could think of far more whimsical forms of arbitrariness (a test of world capitals or one’s ability to memorize a random series of digits). Ultimately, since much of the reading is lifted from academic journals, being able to understand such writing will make a difference in grad school.

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The math may not be as defensible, especially for one looking to write one’s dissertation on motifs of 15th century frescoes. At the same time, the math found on the test isn’t that “mathy” – it is more testing your logical reasoning with number, which, especially for the majority who will have to dabble in statistics side of things, is somewhat relevant.

Then there is the AWA, which tests your ability to logically articulate yourself in writing on a complex issue—anathema to the engineer, not totally irrelevant to one who hopes to have their work submitted to a journal.


Is the GRE too general?

I think what the above points to is the sheer quixotry of trying to create a general test for the diverse range of fields represented by the graduate curriculum. Surely, you cannot cater to every field without making the majority of test takers think, “What does this have to do with graduate school”, and without ultimately condemning parts of the test irrelevant for most.

So for a standardized test that hopes to accommodate disparate fields of studying the GRE could be a lot worse (Let us not forget the analogies from the old GRE, which were largely irrelevant to almost any conceivable field of study). Even the GMAT does not stack up as well, in my opinion, to the New GRE as a general test of skills needed in graduate school (I’m sure the GMAT writers would hardly demur, as they’ve created the test exclusively for one segment of the grad school spectrum).

As to the whether there is a test that would do an even better job of predicting grad school success, I’m sure the answer is yes. But my prediction, once researchers can trace grad school performance back to one’s new GRE score, is that the test will do a decent job for most fields of studies. This invites the question: Why not only include the subject specific tests then? The answer: each test is domain specific, but does not necessarily test overall intellectual aptitude (not that the GRE really does either, but it does a better job of doing so than a subject specific test).


How important is the GRE to your application?

For now, the new GRE is important in that it is a piece—though only a relatively small piece–of an application that gives admissions a somewhat accurate sense of an applicant’s intellectual ability in a highly artificial—and stressful—environment.

This observation allows me to segue into the final interpretation of the title question of the blog post: the new GRE is important to your grad school application. That said, relevant work experience, excellent letters of recommendation, a strong undergraduate GPA can bolster a weak score; a want of any related experience, or an abysmal undergraduate GPA can neutralize a perfect score.


Takeaway – a necessary evil

The GRE, while not a perfect test—if any general test for grad school ever could be—is an important part of your application, so make sure not to take the test lightly, because for most grad school aspirants, the GRE is a necessary evil.


So if you’re a GRE dissenter, what would you think is a better measure scholarly aptitude? Let us know below!


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  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

9 Responses to Is the GRE important?

  1. Ken C July 7, 2019 at 3:06 pm #

    In my experience the GRE was meaningless. I already had 15 peer reviewed papers by the time I took the GRE (including Subject). I did not score well, and was actually several points below the acceptance value for my grad school. Discouraged, it was 6 years before I applied. I was accepted as a PhD candidate, skipping the usual required Masters, on my publication record (an additional 7 peer reviewed, including senior editor of an edited volume). I raced through graduate school, completing my dissertation in 3 years (average was 6 in my field) while working full time and was offered a Fulbright at the end, but I was over the age limit.

    I can only wonder what brilliant mind who doesn’t do well on tests, like me, was denied the opportunity to contribute to society. It is a poor, antiquated system that should be tossed into the dustbin of history.

    • David Recine
      David Recine July 8, 2019 at 12:00 pm #

      I honestly share similar frustrations and concerns about standardized testing. I understand how GRE scores can be used to help universities make admissions decisions more efficiently, in the face of many applications. But like you, I wonder how many good applicants and brilliant scholars have been turned away in the interest of “efficiency.”

  2. Lisa B. January 17, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

    I’m 53 and want to start a PhD program in nursing. I’ve been a nurse 31 years, was a 4.0 undergraduate and graduate student. My Masters program did not require GREs. I hold three specialty certifications, have been published several times and have won evidence based practice research grants. What the heck are the GREs going to tell the program that is any better than my other accomplishments?
    Soo frustrated. I hate jumping through hoops.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 18, 2017 at 6:45 am #

      Hi Lisa,

      I know it is frustrating. Admissions panels now require something like the GRE so they have one single metric that compares all of their students from different backgrounds, countries, etc. But standardized tests often leave out a lot of color, experience and skill, focusing on specific academic and test-taking competencies. I would reach out to the schools and find out without a doubt what GRE score you may need. In some cases, you have to submit a GRE score but they are very flexible on the score itself. In other cases, you need to be competitive with other entrants. Going in with clear information can really help. I have no doubt that the GRE will not capture a lick of your nursing genius, so you just have to buckle down and tackle the GRE as an obstacle that stands between you and your PhD. Best of luck! 🙂

  3. Peter December 25, 2015 at 10:54 pm #

    While graduate programs emphasize personal statements, experience, recommendation letters, those that receive a large volume of applications often use the GRE as a screening criteria. Depending on the characteristics of competitive candidates that have been previously accepted into the programs, graduate committees might automatically reject applicants whose GRE scores fall below a certain level. In that case, a student might have all the credentials for success but might lose out because of the GRE scores. In other words, yes it’s pretty important.

    I also know people who have been accepted into competitive programs with low undergrad GPAs but very high GRE scores in conjunction with professional experience, rec letters, etc. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the case the other way around.

    • william November 28, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

      Actually, I was accepted into a masters program with a not-so-stellar undergraduate GPA and low GRE scores. The GRE is good for determining one thing: doing well on the GRE, but does not reflect on how you do in graduate school. I took the GRE 4 times and never acquired the score needed to get into the program. I was admitted conditionally however based on the grades in the program. I ended up getting all A’s and 1 B in the program which tells me that the GRE is completely pointless in determining who is eligible for graduate work.

      • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
        Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 29, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

        I’d say that whether the GRE is important to a grad program depends on two things.

        The first factor is the subject matter of the grad degree; the GRE matters more in really math-intensive graduate studies and in some humanities degrees with a heavy reading comprehension component.

        The second factor is how the program itself is using the GRE. If the program is just using the GRE as an automatic screening tool, then GRE scores really might not be connected to students’ actual ability to succeed in the program. So it’s great to hear that some programs (like the program William entered into) don’t treat GRE scores as the most important factor. Thank goodness for conditional acceptance programs and, and schools that use GRE scores intelligently.

  4. Shiv N August 7, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    Hello Chris and the magoosh team…firstly i would like to say that you are extremely helpful is all aspects when it comes to the gre. I recently gave the test and got a score of 316 q-166 v 150..honestly i tght i wld get a much better score because even in the practice tests (ets powerprep and kaplan tests) i always scored 320+ , i dont know what happened in verbal but i got a very low score..i had worked quite hard for the exam and had meticulously prepared for almost 2.5 months, i also left my job so that i can focus full time on the getting a good score…now i am confused should i write it again or what, because some say a better score wont help much because there aint much diff bw 316 and 320-324. i do have 2.5 years of work ex.. can you please suggest me what can be done?? should i just focus now on improving other aspects of my profile?? would love to hear from you

    • Sakshi lohana August 26, 2015 at 4:30 am #

      Hi..first of all I would like to thank the team at I learnt quite a lot from the material provided by you..I have exactly the same query as score is 317 q165 v152..I have an experience of 3 years in the relevant field. I can score more on quant as I was scoring 320+ in practice test. Would it be advisable to retake the test. Looking forward to ur response. Thank you

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