General GRE: how important is it?

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Joined: Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:14 pm

General GRE: how important is it?

Post by Catria » Mon Sep 23, 2013 7:58 pm

I did some GRE general tests through Powerprep II, got some practice scores, but I hated Powerprep II because I am totally clueless about how I performed in analytic writing. And faculty at my school have told me contradictory stuff about the role of the general GRE in physics PhD admissions: one prof said that the general GRE is only somewhat less important than PGRE, another said that neither verbal nor AW is taken into account, yet another would say that, while general GRE may not get one foot in the door by itself, it could be used as a tie-breaker, and that a 2.5 or worse on AW will hurt you.

For the record, here are the scores I got on practice tests (without AW scores):

Powerprep test #1: Q169, V159
Powerprep test #2: Q167, V158

So I asked how important was general GRE scores (and AW/verbal subscores in particular) for physics PhD admissions.

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Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2008 4:47 pm

Re: General GRE: how important is it?

Post by astroprof » Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:06 pm

Catria, you answered your question in your own post: some faculty think that the General GRE is important and others do not. Admissions committees are composed of physics faculty, so some will think that the General GRE is important, and others will not. In fact, you can replace "General GRE" with almost any aspect of the application (Physics GRE, grades, letters, personal statement, etc) since professors weigh these items differently based on their own experiences. Since you cannot control how individual admissions committee members will weigh these items, the only thing you can do is to create the best possible record that you can, so that all aspects of your application are viewed positively. You can also apply to a range of programs, so that you have a chance of having your weaknesses down-weighted by at least one program (or, conversely, your strengths up-weighted by several programs).

Despite these disparate views, I think most physics faculty would agree that the General GRE is not what will get you in the door (i.e., faculty do not rank applicants primarily based on these scores), but it might keep you out (i.e., a low score on any aspect of the GRE might be sufficient to reject an otherwise reasonable applicant). For reference, the Graduate School (not the department) at my institution expects students in all programs to be above the 50%-ile for all sections of the General GRE. The Graduate School also has a minimum GPA requirement. We can admit students that fall below these cut-offs, but we have to justify why they are acceptable and why we think they will succeed in our program. However, most of our top applicants meet or exceed these requirements, so their precise scores on the General GRE are not usually the determining factor in the admissions decision.

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