‘GRExit’ gains momentum as Ph.D. Programs Drop Exam Requirement Amid Pandemic | science | Rare Techy


The University of Michigan’s biomedical Ph.D. The program was a lone outlier in 2017 when it announced it would stop requiring applicants to submit scores for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test. At that time, the standardized test was a universal requirement for the Ph.D. programs at US universities. But the Michigan program now has plenty of company. The vast majority of STEM Ph.D. Programs have stopped requiring GRE scores, according to research scienceAnd the number of tests taken each year has dropped sharply.

The COVID-19 pandemic, unease about whether the test could harm students from privileged backgrounds, and doubts about how well GRE scores predict grad school success all helped drive the changes. But it remains to be seen whether they will be permanent and how they affect the applicant pool or incoming class composition.

To calculate the trend, science Checked application requirements for Ph.D. programs in eight disciplines at 50 top-ranked US universities. Only 3% of prospective students are currently required to submit GRE General Test scores, compared to 84% 4 years ago. An additional 5% strongly recommend that prospective students submit scores. Others make it optional; One program’s website reads, “In some cases, a strong GRE score submitted with your application will improve your chances.” But 36% of programs clearly state that they do not accept or review GRE scores as part of the admissions process.

Initially, the so-called “GRExit” movement was mostly limited to the life sciences. But the shift from GRE now touches all subjects. “It really spiraled” quickly, says Sarah Ledford, assistant professor of geosciences at Georgia State University, who maintains a list of earth science programs that don’t require GRE scores. In 2018, Geology was the only discipline in all departments science GRE is required when verified; No one does now.

A few tests were taken

The number of Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) tests administered in the United States has declined in recent years.

Graph showing the decrease in GRE tests taken in the United States
(Graphic) c. Bikal/science; (Data) Educational Testing Service

Ledford attributes much of the shift to “a reckoning” around diversity. She and other scientists argue that the cost—$220 per attempt plus travel costs and training materials—disadvantages students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and dissuades them from pursuing graduate degrees. As the move to online testing led to concerns about whether some students had access to an appropriate testing environment, COVID-19 provided another reason to drop the test requirement. “It was the low-hanging fruit for places to give it a shot during Covid,” says Ledford.

Those logistical concerns came on top of research indicating that the GRE does not predict whether a student will succeed in graduate school. “Data – they must be relevant. … Or it’s just noise,” says Jennifer Gomez, an assistant professor of social work at Boston University who has studied the use of GRE scores in psychology admissions. “The GRE … predicts no substance beyond grades.” What’s more, the test “unfairly privileges certain groups—especially white people,” she says.

But not everyone is sold on the transition. “I think it would be a mistake to completely remove the GRE,” says Sang Yoon Woo, a professor of psychology at Purdue University. Wu is quick to acknowledge that the GRE isn’t perfect, and doesn’t think test scores should be used to rank and disqualify prospective students—an approach many programs have used in the past. But they and others consider the GRE to be a useful component of comprehensive reviews, considered alongside qualitative components such as letters of recommendation, personal statements, and CVs. “We’re not saying that the exam is the only thing that graduate programs should care about,” she says. “It’s more, why not keep the information out there, because more information is better than less information, right?”

Removing test scores from consideration can harm students, argues Alberto Acereda, associate vice president of global higher education at Educational Testing Services, the company that runs the GRE. “Many students from lower backgrounds often don’t have the benefit of attending prestigious programs or taking unpaid internships, so using their GRE scores helps. [as a] A way to supplement their application, making them more competitive compared to their peers.


As of 2018, most STEM Ph.D. Programs at the top 50 US universities have moved away from requiring the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Graph showing programs that require GRE scores
C. BICKEL/science

There’s no surefire way to “assess people’s ability to do original research,” says Danny Caballero, an associate professor of physics education at Michigan State University who has studied undergraduate admissions in physics. “That’s because it’s such a complicated thing.” Like Wu, he advocates the use of rubrics that ask reviewers to evaluate prospective students holistically, based on the strengths of their academic preparation, research track record, initiative, persistence, and adaptability to the program. Before the pandemic, his program included GRE scores in its rubric—giving them 10% weight—but when the program made the GRE optional, it dropped those scores from the rubric. He has no regrets. “The work of science does not take standardized tests. The work of science is fascinating,” he says.

At Cornell University, the geological sciences graduate program also switched to a rubric-based holistic review shortly before announcing that it would no longer accept GRE scores in 2020. says Matt Pritchard, the program’s graduate director. The program has no plans to reinstate the GRE. “It’s a new system to learn, but once you get into the thick of it … it doesn’t take long,” he says. Pritchard hopes the shift will result in a more diverse applicant pool. He says it’s too early to say for sure because there’s so much variation in applicant demographics from year to year. But after the change, “we have more applicants, more diverse applicants, and I would say the quality is as strong as ever.”

In the long term, many GRExit advocates see the new entry requirements as a policy shift that will be difficult to reverse. “I hear from students that this is something they look for in considering where to apply,” Ledford says. “They don’t want to take [the test].”

Joshua Hall, an early advocate of eliminating the GRE when he worked in undergraduate admissions to the biological and biomedical science program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, agrees that a return to the GRE in the life sciences is unlikely. “Admissions committees seem to have adapted to the no-GRE format,” says Hall, now a senior program officer at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “I haven’t heard any rumblings of going back.”

But in other subjects, it may not be so. Dartmouth College’s computer science program has returned to requiring the GRE in 2020 and 2021 after waiving the requirement. Carnegie Mellon University’s psychology program made a similar change earlier this year. But later it backtracked and raised the demand again. When asked about the change in policy, Vicki Helgeson, the program’s graduate director, wrote in an email. science“Everything is in a state of flux.”


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