Many PhD/graduate applicants stress about the GRE a lot more than they should. It seems like a daunting task with high stakes (and to some extent certainly is), but applicants should be aware of its role before dedicating too much of their time to it.
The most important thing you should know is that the GRE is a small part of your overall application. While it’s good to do well, after a certain threshold, focus on strengthening other parts of your application over worrying about scoring higher. Especially given that it costs around three-hundred dollars, it may not be worth the time and money to retake the exam if your scores are good enough.
A natural question to ask is what constitutes “good enough.” For most top PhD programs, the GRE really serves as a cutoff score. Admission committees receive far too many applications than they can read. Various admission committees and professors have stated that, in many programs, they end up discarding applications where the GRE score falls below a certain program-dependent threshold. In other words, the GRE serves only as a cutoff.
After the application clears this threshold, things like letters of recommendation are far more important. Indeed, the GRE in this case serves as a way for your application to really be read and taken seriously. So if you have a good enough score, stop worrying and focus more on your personal statement, grades, research, etc. If you’re coming straight out of undergrad, it’s worth noting your senior year grades can slack just a little bit as they understand you’re busy with applications, but make sure to keep them up and make time for the important things. For instance, if you’re on the verge of publishing something, focus and push through so you have that on your application.
So what is this cutoff? In short, it’s program dependent. There are various sources online that will give you averages of scores broken down in the various sections by university. One important thing to note is that specific programs weight the importance of each section differently. For instance, a math program or a program with a heavy quant focus will not care very much about your verbal scores. Ask your professors for advice – they generally know how the system works, as many have at some point in time served on an admission committee.
Of course we all would like to get a 6.0/170/170, but if you’re preparing on a time crunch, focus on the section most relevant to you. The GRE is definitely important, but don’t let it be the center focus of your application!
Justin Y. is an Honors Yale Graduate in Mathematics and Economics and is one of our amazing tutors for GRE, Math and Economics. Please call 6464079078 to speak to get in touch with our amazing tutors in NYC, Brooklyn, and online.