The GRE® General Test and GRE® Subject Tests were designed to achieve a specific intended purpose that adds value to the admissions decision-making process. Understanding what the tests were designed to measure and predict can help administrators and faculty assign an appropriate role for the use of test scores, without over-relying upon them to accomplish more than they can.
Value of Using GRE Scores
Scores Support Institutions' Efforts to Identify Which Applicants Are Academically Prepared for Graduate-level Study.
The GRE General Test measures skills that graduate and professional schools, including business and law, have identified as necessary for academic success: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing. Institutions receive separate scores for each of the test's three sections, which allows graduate programs to place greater weight on some skills than others, if desired. Scores identify which potential students are likely to struggle academically in a particular skill, which can help programs prepare to offer extra support to help those students be successful.
The GRE Subject Tests measure achievement in a particular field of study and help departments evaluate applicants' readiness for graduate school. Some GRE Subject Tests also yield sub-scores that provide additional information about strengths and weaknesses, which can be useful for guidance and placement purposes.
Scores Provide a Common, Objective Measure to Help Programs Compare Applicants from Different Backgrounds.
Of all of the pieces of evidence institutions collect from applicants, only GRE® scores are standardized and objective, giving faculty committees a way to directly compare applicants with different backgrounds and experiences. The GRE tests are also the only measures that are research based — developed in accordance with standards set by reputable institutions such as the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME) and the American Psychological Association (APA) — and subject to extensive fairness guidelines, processes and reviews.
Other components submitted as part of an application package can be useful for the unique information they provide about a person's skills, experiences and attributes, but they are not standardized or objective, do not undergo a rigorous fairness review process and do not yield comparative data. Used alone, these measures can heighten the role that implicit bias plays in the review and selection processes and result in other unintended consequences that are potentially harmful to applicants and institutions. The clearest picture of an applicant — and the fairest admissions program — may be achieved by considering both standardized and non-standardized measures.
The Scores Do Not and Cannot Offer Insight Into All of the Qualities that Are Important In Predicting Academic Success or In Confirming Undergraduate Achievement.
The GRE tests are an important measure of academic readiness, but cannot measure everything that an admissions committee would like to know about an applicant. Logically, it makes sense that a test designed to measure verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills would not be the best indicator of how long it will take a student to graduate or how often that student will publish new research. A better place to find indicators of those types of outcomes might be in personal statements and letters of recommendation, which give applicants a platform for showing attributes like creativity, conscientiousness and perseverance, and to discuss their academic and work experiences. See Using GRE Scores as Part of Holistic Admissions for more information.
The Scores Need to Be Interpreted Carefully Because, Like All Tests, They Are Not Exact Measures.
All assessments have limitations that affect their ability to exactly measure a person's knowledge, skills and abilities. See guideline #3 of the GRE Guidelines for the Use of Scores for more information.