Flames of the Torch

With the recent economic decline, more students will likely continue their studies in pursuit of a graduate degree. These students will now have to face the GRE, a standardized exam necessary to apply to graduate school.

The GRE is the college equivalent of the SAT, which has itself been the recipient of criticism for being more about testing your knowledge of how to take a test than actual intelligence.

The GRE asks nearly the exact same types of questions as the SAT, except there are less of them, so there is less room for error. There is only one section of verbal, one of math, and one of writing on the test. The writing section is graded out of six. The math and verbal sections are worth 800 points each, just like the SAT, but with only 30 questions.

After four years of college, students are supposed to be more academically developed than they were in high school. So why should we take the exact same type of test again?

The math section is composed of basic math problems, and the verbal is mainly questions testing one’s knowledge of vocabulary. This boils down to knowing how to take the test, rather than learned knowledge, as the quality a student is being graded on.

Along with the general GRE exam, there are also subject tests, which again is a similarity to the SAT. These subject tests make a lot more sense as a measure for students applying for
graduate work.

Rather than asking basic math or vocabulary questions, subject tests can focus more on the coursework that a student of a given major has covered over his college career. This also would do a much better job of gauging a potential graduate candidate’s aptitude relative to the field of study he is
hoping to enter.

With more and more schools using GRE scores as criteria for acceptance decisions, more should be tested than a student’s skill at learning how to take a test. Exams like the GRE or SAT are formatted in such a way that the only way to prepare for them is to study the actual test-taking process.

This leaves students with few options in preparing to take the test. The only way to learn this process is to buy a GRE study guide book or to enroll in a GRE test prep course.

Applying to graduate school is already expensive enough. Adding more fees to the equation is just another unwanted cost. The cost of taking the GRE is $140, a hefty sum to pay for something that seems so pointless.

The fact that the company who produces the guide books and holds the prep courses is the same one that produces the exam makes it seem like more of a money-making scheme than a genuine attempt to identify which students are most qualified to enter graduate studies.

The same problem also applies to many other standardized tests. In contrast, the MCAT, which is required for application to medical schools, is based largely on material that pre-med students studied throughout their four years of college. Tests like the GRE should follow this example.

As a person’s education becomes more specialized from high school to college and on to graduate studies, so too should the examinations necessary to advance become narrower in their scope.

If a history student takes a history test to earn his undergraduate degree, why should he be tested on vocabulary and rudimentary math when seeking to further his history studies?