How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
elffriend
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Joined: Mon Dec 10, 2012 3:19 am

How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby elffriend » Mon Dec 10, 2012 3:26 am

Hello ,
I am from India. I am doing my MSc (which is equivalent to MS) in Mathematics at an IIT here. I have got reasonably good grades , which translate to 'A - A+' .

I have got 165 each in the two sections of the general GRE and 4.0 in writing section.

But , I gave the subject test and got a very poor score - 650 - 49%.


How important are these scores for admission to PhD courses , considering that this exam is for Undergrads. Though I noticed that it is a requirement for PhD courses too . Do they give more, or less importance to these scores ? What do you people reckon ? Should I sit again for the test before applying? Or is this score good enough?

Thanks.
Great forum by the way.

Legendre
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby Legendre » Mon Dec 10, 2012 9:33 am

1) The subject test is intended for people applying for postgraduate studies. Many highly ranked (e.g. top 10) schools require it.

2) In general, doing badly (<50%) on the test will harm your application. I recommend you do not submit it unless it is compulsory. Or try to retake.

3) However, doing very well (>80%) will not help you much except if you are an international student from a school US admissions might not be familiar with. Then, they might use a good test score to "confirm" that your excellent grades are not just the result of grades inflation or that your school has mostly weak students.

Point 3 may or may not be important in your case. The IITs are quite well known outside of India. But I am not sure if they are well known enough or if they will use the score to judge the validity of your undergrad grades.

elffriend
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Joined: Mon Dec 10, 2012 3:19 am

Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby elffriend » Mon Dec 10, 2012 11:35 am

I won't be applying for admissions this year. So I think I will give the test another try (or two if need be).
I need to increase my speed .
Just a query , you talked about undergrad grades, for PhD they will look into Grad grades , right ?

Thanks for the reply , it was very informative. :)

Legendre
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby Legendre » Mon Dec 10, 2012 12:04 pm

elffriend wrote:Just a query , you talked about undergrad grades, for PhD they will look into Grad grades , right ?

Thanks for the reply , it was very informative. :)


They will look at both undergrad and graduate grades. Many applicants are applying with just undergrad degrees. I in fact applied and got into Stony Brook for PhD Applied Math fresh out of undergrad but decided to do an MSc first.

You are welcome. Good luck to us both!!

virgo
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Joined: Mon Nov 12, 2012 6:11 pm

Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby virgo » Mon Dec 10, 2012 9:30 pm

Legendre wrote:1) The subject test is intended for people applying for postgraduate studies. Many highly ranked (e.g. top 10) schools require it.

2) In general, doing badly (<50%) on the test will harm your application. I recommend you do not submit it unless it is compulsory. Or try to retake.

3) However, doing very well (>80%) will not help you much except if you are an international student from a school US admissions might not be familiar with. Then, they might use a good test score to "confirm" that your excellent grades are not just the result of grades inflation or that your school has mostly weak students.

Point 3 may or may not be important in your case. The IITs are quite well known outside of India. But I am not sure if they are well known enough or if they will use the score to judge the validity of your undergrad grades.

I think this is so stupid. What if someone is just a bad test taker?

korean
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby korean » Mon Dec 10, 2012 10:14 pm

@Virgo Dont be harsh. He did not say it is the only way to "confirm" it.
If someone is a "bad" test taker he must find another way to "confirm"
somewhere in his application the integrity of his achievements,
which is possible as discussed in other threads.

virgo
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Joined: Mon Nov 12, 2012 6:11 pm

Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby virgo » Mon Dec 10, 2012 10:27 pm

korean wrote:@Virgo Dont be harsh. He did not say it is the only way to "confirm" it.
If someone is a "bad" test taker he must find another way to "confirm"
somewhere in his application the integrity of his achievements,
which is possible as discussed in other threads.

The thing is that a lot of these schools have cutoffs. You basically have to be a prodigy or something to get into UCB if your score is below the threshhold.

Edit: Also, if you come from a small unknown school you are screwed.

Legendre
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby Legendre » Tue Dec 11, 2012 10:39 am

virgo wrote:I think this is so stupid. What if someone is just a bad test taker?


This is very true, and I agree with you.

But the same argument applies to a large part of our application: undergrad GPA, graduate GPA (if any), GRE General, GRE Subject, academic awards (which are usually awarded based on exam grades).

I guess if the applicant is a bad test take and hence has low scores for all that I mentioned above, he could still make it up with great letters of recommendations and research experience or publications.

Unfortunately, I think admissions are mostly likely to put that applicant in the reject pile while filtering by GPA, GRE and awards. :(

virgo
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby virgo » Tue Dec 11, 2012 12:24 pm

Legendre wrote:
virgo wrote:I think this is so stupid. What if someone is just a bad test taker?


This is very true, and I agree with you.

But the same argument applies to a large part of our application: undergrad GPA, graduate GPA (if any), GRE General, GRE Subject, academic awards (which are usually awarded based on exam grades).

I guess if the applicant is a bad test take and hence has low scores for all that I mentioned above, he could still make it up with great letters of recommendations and research experience or publications.

Unfortunately, I think admissions are mostly likely to put that applicant in the reject pile while filtering by GPA, GRE and awards. :(

See, I meant standardized tests in general. For example, I tend to make silly mistakes a lot and this is the reason I have A-'s in some classes, however I will get a lot of partial credit on tests because I get the general idea and so my upper level gpa is quite high and above 3.9. I'm particularly bad with arithmetic and algebra mistakes. Upper level classes don't require you to use arithmetic and algebra much so I makes less bad mistakes in those classes but the math gre does. In a standardized test, there is no partial credit and that really screws people who are bad test takers over. Basically the only flaw in my application is my GRE scores and it sucks that my chances will be hurt so much just because I had a bad day and screwed up a test. I think this holds for a lot of people.

waiting512
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby waiting512 » Tue Dec 11, 2012 3:03 pm

I actually tend to disagree with your sentiment. Unfortunately, "making stupid mistakes" can sometimes be a euphemism for "not being careful" (I'm sure this is not the case with you, though.) Thus, graduate committees may want to know that information. The caveat is, however, that it is impossible to discern the careless types from the less-knowledgeable types. I agree, though, that standardized tests are stupid, but for a different reason. Standardized tests are made for middle and upper class white men. Therefore, minorities and women tend to do less well on them, and thus they typically have lower scores.

virgo
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby virgo » Tue Dec 11, 2012 4:36 pm

waiting512 wrote:I actually tend to disagree with your sentiment. Unfortunately, "making stupid mistakes" can sometimes be a euphemism for "not being careful" (I'm sure this is not the case with you, though.) Thus, graduate committees may want to know that information. The caveat is, however, that it is impossible to discern the careless types from the less-knowledgeable types. I agree, though, that standardized tests are stupid, but for a different reason. Standardized tests are made for middle and upper class white men. Therefore, minorities and women tend to do less well on them, and thus they typically have lower scores.

I agree that's important to be careful. However, one can be careful when it comes to research/homework and just not be careful when they are under a lot of stress/time pressure. We all handle the specific kind of stress that time pressure induces differently. Some people are naturally better at handling this kind of stress but I don't see how that's related to their ability to be great research mathematicians.

waiting512
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby waiting512 » Tue Dec 11, 2012 4:39 pm

Maybe they want to know how you would react if you had a short deadline to finish something, etc. I mean standardized tests are mysteries, so who knows why or how committees use this data to determine strength of application.

Legendre
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby Legendre » Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:39 am

I think standardized tests are just a lazy way to compare applicants. There was a study done on factors that influences grad school admissions at ivy league departments, and the result implies that it is random.

I agree that tests are made for rich people: A bad test taker like me would have never gotten above 70% if I didn't have the resources to spend 6 months studying (part time), and take the test 3 times!

waiting512
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby waiting512 » Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:58 pm

I agree with that characterization too, but that's not what I meant. Standardized tests are made by rich white males, and thus, rich white males do the best on it. Especially on exams with a number of real life examples, you sometimes have situations where students do not understand a particular problem because of a cultural gap and not an intelligence gap. Also, as a WASP male you typically have more access to education and are encouraged to do well in the hard sciences whereas females and minorities are not.

generic_username
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby generic_username » Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:14 pm

not to be a debbie downer or anything, but I thought the math gre was somewhat fair. Yeah, there is the argument of time constraints, but what is graduate school but a 5-6 year time restraint on coming up with sufficient research to write a thesis? yeah, the exam is a lot of calculus which may not be sufficient to tell if someone can handle graduate level mathematics, but it is definitely necessary. also people make arguments that they haven't taken certain subjects in a while: if you don't remember it, then you don't know it, simple as that.

I understand this viewpoint may not be very popular, but just know the math and you'll do well.

virgo
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby virgo » Wed Dec 12, 2012 9:19 pm

generic_username wrote:not to be a debbie downer or anything, but I thought the math gre was somewhat fair. Yeah, there is the argument of time constraints, but what is graduate school but a 5-6 year time restraint on coming up with sufficient research to write a thesis? yeah, the exam is a lot of calculus which may not be sufficient to tell if someone can handle graduate level mathematics, but it is definitely necessary. also people make arguments that they haven't taken certain subjects in a while: if you don't remember it, then you don't know it, simple as that.

I understand this viewpoint may not be very popular, but just know the math and you'll do well.
I do think it's somewhat fair, however I think it's dumb to put so much weight on it. I also think that the time constraints you have when in graduate school are on the order of days, weeks and months rather than a couple of hours. It's definitely a different type of time pressure and more analogous to the pressure we face during the semester to study for multiple class exams and get assignments done on time.
Also, my problem with the gre wasn't that I didn't know the test material well enough, but that I made a ton of dumb errors. This is probably hold for a lot of people. I took the practice exams under test conditions and did much better (scoring in the 80s) but my nerves got the best of me at the actual exam. On the practice tests and the princeton review test, I never missed more than 7 problems out of the ones I answered (50+). Yet, on the actual exam I missed like 16 or 17. I do also want to add that sometimes bad luck comes into play for people as well. For example I was recovering from Bronchitis on the exam date so that also screwed me over personally. I had been sick for 3 weeks going into the exam. I lost a lot of weight in a short period of time and was underweight for the first time in my life so I was somewhat drained going into the exam. Of course, I would never tell an admissions committee as it would look like I was making excuses.
Also, a lot of people take the exam more than once and score considerably higher the 2nd or 3rd time. Look at Legendre. My friend boosted his score by almost 20th percentiles. The reason these people tend to do better the 2nd or 3rd time around is because they get better at taking the actual test, not because they somehow become more prepared for graduate school. I really wish I had taken it in April the first time like my friend. Furthermore, some people are just much better at taking standardized tests than others.
Last edited by virgo on Wed Dec 12, 2012 9:34 pm, edited 2 times in total.

virgo
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby virgo » Wed Dec 12, 2012 9:23 pm

Legendre wrote:I think standardized tests are just a lazy way to compare applicants. There was a study done on factors that influences grad school admissions at ivy league departments, and the result implies that it is random.

I agree that tests are made for rich people: A bad test taker like me would have never gotten above 70% if I didn't have the resources to spend 6 months studying (part time), and take the test 3 times!

I totally wish I had taken it in April and then again in October. I actually didn't decide I was going to go into math until April of last year though :(. Anyway, I'm going to stop bitching, it is what it is. It's just nice to vent on here now that all my dreams have been crushed.

IIIII
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby IIIII » Thu Dec 13, 2012 3:23 am

My feelings about the GRE:

It is impossible for each graduate committee to know a ton about each math department, its strengths, etc. (even domestically). Plus, it is difficult to assess from GPA whether a student has retained knowledge and concepts from courses they have taken. I have friends with a much higher GPA than I (largely based on homework scores), but come graduation time I doubt any of them could have done better than me on a test reviewing the undergraduate curriculum, even if it were proof-based instead of multiple chocie. There are more and more undergraduate research programs and few undergrads have significant published work resulting from them. It is difficult for graduate schools to assess the value of these, unless you have research you feel is compelling enough to submit, in which case the admissions committees will look carefully at these papers. The GRE is a necessary tool for standardization, because there are so many unknown variables.

I took the GRE in October. I thought I did very well, though apparently I missed many more than I expected. I was extremely disappointed. My November one went better--I still felt like I answered more correctly than my scaled score would indicate. (I answered 65/66 and felt confident on 61 of them. I got an 820, which is much lower than the 880 or so I was expecting.) Many, many people overestimate there scores, so it is usually not an anomaly when someone is shocked by a low score (like my October score). It is a result of preparation.

I get that the test is expensive and people talk about barriers to taking the test a second (or third) time---I left to work for two years to pay off some loans and have a bit of money. I have been working 55-60 hours weeks. I couldn't have paid for multiple tests and several score reports during my senior year either, but I want to go to a good graduate school badly enough that I have busted my butt preparing. I had forgotten a significant portion of my undergraduate curriculum, but I've been studying 3-4 hours per night (after long work days) for a period of about 4-5 months. As others have said, if you have forgotten it, you don't know it. Of course you can learn it back more quickly the second time around, but if you don't make time to review for the GRE, then it is your own fault.

If you are talented enough for a good grad school, and are committed to studying hard for the GRE, you will find a way to get a good score. There is some luck. The GRE is only an approximation. The questions are not perfect. But so many have cried foul about the GRE being unfair, carrying too much weight, etc. I do have sympathy for those that have been sick during the test, or have extreme anxiety, etc. Yet, to alleviate the odds of something like this from sinking your application, take multiple tests, or try again next year. Planning far in advance (>12 months) is important. You should leave yourself time to study. You should schedule multiples tests if possible. You should do everything you can to strengthen all other parts of your application, to soften any bad score, and enhance any good score. If not, then take a year off to work and try again later.

I'm not going to sit here and say the GRE is overweighted/underweighted. I think the admissions committees making these decisions know a whole lot more about the predictive power of these test than I do, or most anyone else in this forum. They've been doing this for years, so I will leave it to them to make decisions and will not call it unfair.

virgo
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby virgo » Thu Dec 13, 2012 3:31 am

Good post. I agree with what you've said. I think it's just nice to rant somewhere.

IIIII
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby IIIII » Thu Dec 13, 2012 3:54 am

virgo wrote:Good post. I agree with what you've said. I think it's just nice to rant somewhere.

I scored poorly my first go around (last year) too. So I can sympathize with that feeling. I wanted to rant then too.

Nonetheless, your GRE score really isn't that bad. It might be disappointing relative to what you were hoping for... it won't be competitive for top 10 schools. But you have a good shot at the lower end of the top 25, if the rest of your application is strong. If the rest of your application is decent (say 3.5< GPA < 3.9, little/no research, mediocre personal statement and LORs), you are still competitive at the 25-50 range with an outside shot of still cracking top 25. Your professors probably could give you a better perspective of course, but from the multiple professors I have talked to, this is the impression I get. (I had a very similar score last year.) You still have a chance to go to a very good institution!

Or, as I did, wait a year, study up and give it another go. Master's Programs are also possible.

virgo
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby virgo » Thu Dec 13, 2012 4:09 am

IIIII wrote:
virgo wrote:Good post. I agree with what you've said. I think it's just nice to rant somewhere.

I scored poorly my first go around (last year) too. So I can sympathize with that feeling. I wanted to rant then too.

Nonetheless, your GRE score really isn't that bad. It might be disappointing relative to what you were hoping for... it won't be competitive for top 10 schools. But you have a good shot at the lower end of the top 25, if the rest of your application is strong. If the rest of your application is decent (say 3.5< GPA < 3.9, little/no research, mediocre personal statement and LORs), you are still competitive at the 25-50 range with an outside shot of still cracking top 25. Your professors probably could give you a better perspective of course, but from the multiple professors I have talked to, this is the impression I get. (I had a very similar score last year.) You still have a chance to go to a very good institution!

Or, as I did, wait a year, study up and give it another go. Master's Programs are also possible.
Yeah, I think I might do a Masters Program and then try to transfer. I think my application is between decent and strong. I have 2 strong LORs and 1 ok one (the professor only had me in 2 grad classes that I got As in). I currently have a paper in prep with a prof so I guess my research experience is decent. My research adviser was encouraging me to apply to top 5. My upper level math gpa is above 3.9 and I will have 12 grad level math classes plus 1 grad physics class completed by the time I graduate. I'm also wondering if they are slightly more lenient with females when it comes to subject scores. I know for physics they are. There was actually some article about UT Austin's physics department admitting females with scores on average 100 points lower as females tend to do worse on these types of tests.

IIIII
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby IIIII » Thu Dec 13, 2012 4:51 am

virgo wrote:Yeah, I think I might do a Masters Program and then try to transfer. I think my application is between decent and strong. I have 2 strong LORs and 1 ok one (the professor only had me in 2 grad classes that I got As in). I currently have a paper in prep with a prof so I guess my research experience is decent. My research adviser was encouraging me to apply to top 5. My upper level math gpa is above 3.9 and I will have 12 grad level math classes plus 1 grad physics class completed by the time I graduate. I'm also wondering if they are slightly more lenient with females when it comes to subject scores. I know for physics they are. There was actually some article about UT Austin's physics department admitting females with scores on average 100 points lower as females tend to do worse on these types of tests.


Wow, the rest of your application appears very strong. How did you manage 12 grad level classes?!

virgo
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Re: How important are Subject GRE scores for admission to PhD ?

Postby virgo » Thu Dec 13, 2012 5:01 am

IIIII wrote:
virgo wrote:Yeah, I think I might do a Masters Program and then try to transfer. I think my application is between decent and strong. I have 2 strong LORs and 1 ok one (the professor only had me in 2 grad classes that I got As in). I currently have a paper in prep with a prof so I guess my research experience is decent. My research adviser was encouraging me to apply to top 5. My upper level math gpa is above 3.9 and I will have 12 grad level math classes plus 1 grad physics class completed by the time I graduate. I'm also wondering if they are slightly more lenient with females when it comes to subject scores. I know for physics they are. There was actually some article about UT Austin's physics department admitting females with scores on average 100 points lower as females tend to do worse on these types of tests.


Wow, the rest of your application appears very strong. How did you manage 12 grad level classes?!

I overloaded a lot and had no social life lol.




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