GRAD 5104 – The Future of University Admission

The relevance of the G.R.E. in determining the fate of which university a student is admitted or if at all accepted to any is something I think about. When I was preparing my application for PhD, my least favorite part of the process was preparing to take the G.R.E. and taking the test. I bought a copy of The Princeton Review to practice because my scores could determine whether or not I would be admitted to a program of top choice. What surprised me was the way the preparatory material was presented. Two things stood out: a) scoring high in the test was simply a matter of knowing how to write the test b) it is expressly stated in the book that other than the vocabulary part, none of the material studied will be useful after the test. What a waste of time!

If you are a university admissions committee, whether or not an assessment tool was a waste of time for the prospective student may be irrelevant. But I think it should be a concern that those who score high may just be those who trained themselves how to take the test well. That surely is a skill but is that the kind of skill graduate students need to succeed in the program and their careers after graduation?

I came across an article in the Chronicles of Higher Education that discusses the reliance on test scores. The article says that the indicators of higher ed success are, “the ability to think analytically, creatively, and practically; the capacity to teach and conduct research; and the quality of one’s dissertation.” Is there a correlation between GRE scores and success in graduate school? The author states, “Those tests weakly predict course grades during the first year of a multilayer program” but “the GRE and its relatives do not tell us who will go on after training to revolutionize a scholarly discipline or a profession”. The article admits the pressure on admissions committees, “to rely on a precise number, rather than on an overall subjective impression of an applicant’s worth, is enormous.” Yes, selecting from highly competitive applicants with impressive past accomplishments and excellent references to admit to limited number of slots is not an easy feat. The author provides what can be an alternative to the G.R.E.: a test that is specific to a discipline and evaluates skills that are relevant to it. Tests that evaluate prospective students based on what is expected of them in graduate schools of their specific programs will be able to recruit students that are better matched to graduate programs.

So, what do I believe should change in higher ed? The tests that are used to select applicants.

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