Eliminating the GRE® Test in Graduate Admissions Increases Barriers for Students

Students lose their opportunity to choose with the elimination of the GRE test in graduate admissions.

Eliminating the GRE® test from graduate education admissions removes a student’s ability to choose how they show up: to admissions committees, program directors, faculty and other critical decision-makers. How can a student stand out when the only objective measure of what they know and can do is taken out of the admissions equation? Removing the GRE test from consideration eliminates the very resource students across the globe depend upon to demonstrate their readiness for graduate-level education. For millions of students, eliminating the test doesn’t break down barriers for them, it only increases them.

Every year, nearly half a million people from almost every country in the world take the GRE test. This includes those from diverse backgrounds with varying educational and life experiences. For many, graduate education is the key that unlocks opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Further, the invaluable data provided by the GRE test helps applicants portray a full, evidence-based picture of themselves, providing a well-established avenue for students to demonstrate their readiness for graduate school. While decisions to eliminate the GRE test are often made with the very best of intentions, it can ultimately have unintended, long-term consequences.

For many GRE test takers, a strong score is a well-justified point of pride and gives them the option to present themselves in their best light. The score can help an applicant whose undergraduate experience is less familiar to reviewers put themselves on firmer footing in the admissions process.  It can also reaffirm the performance of someone with a stellar undergraduate record. The data provided by the GRE helps provide insightful, contextual information that cannot always be drawn from other elements of an admissions application. Without these scores, there is little else to rely on aside from biased and globally inconsistent materials that provide a blurry picture of a student’s potential.

Consistently cited research critical of the use of the GRE test in admissions is often flawed. In some cases, sample sizes are not adequate enough to draw meaningful conclusions. Many other studies typically only examine data from students who were admitted to selective graduate programs – and admitted partially based on their GRE test scores. As a result, the range of scores evaluated tend to be restricted, with average GRE test scores used being very high, and those with low GRE test scores not well-represented. Few, if any, accurate conclusions can be drawn about how students with lower scores may have performed in graduate school as they are often not present in the data. Without that information, it limits the ability of these studies to draw meaningful conclusions about how GRE test scores can predict preparedness for graduate-level education.

This does not mean the GRE test is a poor predictor of graduate program completion– it’s simply that none of the elements used in admissions are guaranteed predictors of any kind of program completion in graduate school and were never intended to be. The same could be said of letters of recommendation or any other element of an applicant’s admissions portfolio.

Higher education should be committed to removing the right barriers to entry for students, and the GRE test is not one of them.

The GRE test has helped graduate programs achieve their enrollment goals – including increasing diversity – for decades. And decades of research – including the largest GRE studies that have ever been conducted – support its validity. The case for the test’s validity is so strong and clear that in November, the American Bar Association® (ABA) publicly endorsed the test’s use in law school admissions. This decision gave official permission to more than 200 ABA-accredited law schools across the country to accept the GRE test in lieu of the LSAT® because the association and its leadership believed that much in the use of the test for bringing diversity to the legal education field. Today, nearly 90 law schools use the GRE as part of their admissions process and that number is on the rise.

Law students have also been championing the decision as showcased in a recent interview published by Law.com where University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law graduate, Christina Rinnert, spoke to how the GRE test “changed her life.” On what the GRE test has done for her and her peers, Rinnert explained, “If not for the GRE, none of us would have been there. There were three women, some Native people, older students, people changing careers and the majority of us had families. It [the GRE test] offers opportunities to people who may not otherwise be given the opportunity.”

The same can also be said for business school use of the GRE test, where the test opens the door for diverse and underrepresented students. A recent interview by Poets & Quants with Yale School of Management Assistant Dean for Admissions, Bruce DelMonico underscores the value of standardized test scores in helping students present themselves to admissions committees as a piece of evidence that provides a standard measure which demonstrates what they know and can do. DelMonico validated the importance of these scores in Yale’s admissions process, explaining that, “The downside of reducing the emphasis on grades and test scores—which were meant to create a consistent yardstick across applicants—is that admissions officers then tend to rely more heavily on even more subjective measures such as essays and interviews.” GRE scores are an important element for students to have access to, that cannot and should not be ignored.

ETS stands ready to continue to defend the value the GRE test provides to higher education. The value of a holistic admissions process that includes the GRE test cannot be understated. Every day we see the impact the test has on changing lives of students across the globe as they take steps to further their education and pursue their dreams. Higher education should be committed to removing the right barriers to entry for students, and the GRE test is not one of them. It is critical that students remain the focal point of everything we do and eliminating the use of the GRE test in admissions takes away their ability to make the right choices for themselves and their future.

Alberto Acereda is the associate vice president of Global Higher Education at ETS, where he has been leading the expansion of the assessments, tools and services available to learners as they embark on their educational and career journeys.

This content was paid for and written by ETS. The editorial staff of Inside Higher Ed had no role in its preparation.