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07/22/2020

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anonymous admissions committee member

Good post! I just want to point out that a good number of PhD programs in the US (including my own) had already dropped the GRE requirement pre-pandemic. And I think that while the pandemic might prompt other programs to reconsider it temporarily, the reasons given in this post (among others) should make them reconsider it as a matter of permanent policy.

Also, I would just add that I think it is important (when possible--some places need scores from some students in order to nominate them for university-wide fellowships, etc.) to make a commitment to not make GRE score submission voluntary, but instead simply insist that applicants not submit GRE scores at all. Otherwise, we run the risk as admissions committees of favoring people with that little *extra* bonus: voluntarily submitted high scores. If the GRE is unfair, and basically useless--both of which I think are true--then the norm should be to ban it in considering applicants in general. I don't think "it's voluntary" policies manage to do this effectively.

Christopher Stephens

We have never (pre-pandemic or now) required the GRE (for Philosophy graduate programs) at the University of British Columbia.

Peter

I think Phillip raises some important points, but I do want to raise a worry. Standardized tests in some disciplines allows for weight to be taken off of pedigree. In principle, I think, this is a good thing, especially since pedigree often also correlates with socioeconomic status. If these tests are ignored or not required, then it would not be surprising for pedigree to become even more important (especially since the value of high grades likely depends upon what school gave the grades, and the value of letters of rec goes up roughly in keeping with the fanciness of the undergraduate institution). I know people disagree about whether we care too much about pedigree in philosophy, but I think it is at least something to think about.

ehz

One counter point is that the GRE is a potential equalizer. Graduate admissions suffer from prestige bias, and the GRE gives those from lower-prestige schools a chance to stand out. Of course, not every department places significant weight on GRE scores, but it's still something. Without GRE scores, more weight is placed on the reputation of one's school and letter writers -- factors one cannot do much about.

DS

In my mind it is not enough for a department to do away with the use of GREs--the whole university needs to do so. I was the recipient of a university wide fellowship from two different universities when I went through the graduate application process, and I believe that being awarded these things was based in part on my GRE scores. Receiving a fellowship (which provided additional funding over above the usual TA stipend) is what induced me to attend one particular institution over another (a state R1). Admittingly, this was over ten years ago. Not sure how it works everywhere/anymore, but you could be potentially hurting yourself by not submitting scores.

Maybe people who know more about this kind of thing could say something about this.

Frederick Choo

Hi Peter, could you explain what you mean by pedigree?
Side note: I'm Frederick, the one who wrote up the post and raised the points. Philip posted the list of schools that have suspended GREs for the fall 2021 admissions.

Hi ehz, I have a few worries about your point, but I’ll just raise two major concerns.
First, from what I know, most colleges and universities in the US require standardized testing for undergraduate admissions. Those who are admitted to prestigious schools tend to fare better on such standardized tests than those who are admitted to lower-prestige schools. Given this, it is highly plausible that those from prestigious schools would tend to fare better at the GREs compared to those from less-prestigious schools. This is because of the similarities between the different standardized tests for undergraduate admissions (eg. SAT, ACT) and the GREs (eg. these tests involve being good at mathematics and English, requires the same kind of test-taking skills, has similar scoring metrics, privilege wealthier applicants, etc). If this is right, requiring GREs would give those at prestigious schools an advantage. So, instead of countering prestige bias, the GREs would further disadvantage those at lower-prestige schools (and also international students).
Second, even if the GREs could be a potential equalizer, it is still objectionable to require it. For suppose a school requires applicants to learn how to solve the Rubik’s cube, and sit for a test which will record their solve time. Applicants can spend lots of time learning from online resources (since they are all free), and can train every day. These factors are within their control. So, this requirement gives those from lower-prestige schools a chance to stand out based on their solve time. Still, it seems that requiring Rubik’s cube scores is objectionable. This is because such scores lack predictive success for graduate school, and is irrelevant to philosophy. Similarly, if my points in the post are correct, then GREs are objectionable.

MA student

Thanks for the post. I'm also an applicant this year, and for similar reasons I hope grad schools/ departments would consider relaxing TOEFL requirements for international students. By "relaxing" I do not mean waiving the requirement completely, but rather something like this: TOEFL test scores are only valid for two years, so even if a student's score was well enough two years ago, she would have to take the test again. Two years is also exactly the typical time to finish an MA degree in philosophy, so international students who study in the US/Canada for an MA degree are forced to take the TOEFL test again, while their English can only be expected to improve during the time in their MA program. It would be good to provide waivers for these students. (Some schools already provide waivers for them, but to my knowledge some schools don't, including Harvard, Yale and USC.)

Peter

Hi Frederick,

Sorry for the mix up about your name.

As for my point about pedigree, I basically meant having come from a prestigious undergraduate institution. In other words, my point was very similar to that of ehz. You raise two concerns about ehz's claims, but I am not sure I am fully convinced by either. First, you suggest that requiring the GRE might "further disadvantage those at lower-prestige schools." (You also suggest it would have problematic consequences for international students--I left this out because I grant your point here.) The reason you give is that those at better schools are likely to have better scores, so it provides them with another advantage. I have two worries about this. First, to further disadvantage students from less prestigious schools, the absence of the GRE would need to provide space for other markers, which are not themselves associated with prestige, to play a larger role. I doubt (but perhaps I am wrong?) that any such markers would take on a larger role. My second worry is that although the average test scores of students from less prestigious schools are lower than those of students from more prestigious schools, average students are unlikely to have a serious chance of being admitted anyway. The hypothetical equalizing value would be as a way for the best students from less prestigious schools to have a chance when competing with students from more prestigious schools. In such a case, the test scores of the former might be every bit as good or even better than those of the latter.

Your example of the Rubik's cube is a good one. Still, it might be that the way we evaluate applicants in general is a bit like this--that is, lacking much predictive value. If this is so, then removing one problematic element while leaving the others might still be objectionable if the one being removed had a beneficial effect.

Now, from what I understand the GRE doesn't tend to be given much weight anyway, at least at most philosophy departments, so I doubt it can have much of an equalizing affect anyway. Given this, it seems that either it should be given more weight or it shouldn't be required. Requiring it of students, given the financial burden it represents, but then largely ignoring it is, I think, objectionable.

Kamal Uddin

Good post & I strongly support the author cause. My GRE was scheduled on 25th June but due to COVID identification in my family I missed it & couldn't appeared due to confinement by the government officials. Upon emailing the ETS official with COVID reports, I received responses stating "Sorry this is not in our policy your fees is fortified". I tried to sum up the situation I faced but they didn't show up and repeatedly said this is not in our policy you could have informed before four days. I respond and ask, during such pandemic corporations, organisations & governments entities are updating and relaxing their policies to support the public but ETS despite keeping his mission and goal nonprofit is not willing to relax its policies in special cases. I request every university to permanently suspend GRE tests. We(all affecties) must campaign online petition to realize ETS the situation.

Alexander Guerrero

Rutgers Philosophy has also decided to make the GRE optional for the 2020-2021 application cycle, due to the pandemic.

Simon Evnine

University of Miami philosophy dept has dropped the GRE requirement, independently of the pandemic.

Hille Paakkunainen

Syracuse Philosophy has also dropped the GRE requirement for 2020-2021. We will discuss in the coming year whether to make the change permanent.

Frederick Choo

Update

Schools which do not require GRE for Fall 2021 admissions:
NYU
Rutgers
Princeton
UMichigan
Pittsburgh
Yale
MIT
Harvard
Stanford
CUNY
UNC (North Carolina)
UArizona
UC San Diego
UC Irvine
UC Berkeley
UC Santa Barbara
UChicago
UWisconsin Madison
Washington University
Cornell
UPennsylvania
UBritish Columbia
UColorado Boulder
Syracuse
Northwestern University
UVirginia
UIllinois, Chicago
Boston University
UMinnesota
UMissouri
Rice
UKansas
UOklahoma
UMiami
UMaryland
Calgary
York

See the "Philosophy Graduate Applicants" Facebook group for the latest updates and more info.

Theodore

Is this only for Philosophy PhDs? Are other disciplines similarly affected?

Frederick Choo

Sorry Theodore. The info is only for philosophy PhD programmes.

Frederick Choo

Update (6 Aug)

Schools which do not require GRE for Fall 2021 admissions:
NYU
Rutgers
Princeton
UMichigan
Pittsburgh
Yale
MIT
Harvard
Stanford
CUNY
UNC (North Carolina)
UArizona
UC Los Angeles
UC San Diego
UC Irvine
UC Berkeley
UC Santa Barbara
UChicago
UNotre Dame - website to be updated
UWisconsin Madison
Washington University
Cornell
UPennsylvania
UBritish Columbia
UColorado Boulder
Syracuse – website to be updated
UConnecticut - website to be update
Johns Hopkins
Northwestern University
UVirginia
UIllinois, Chicago
Boston University
UMinnesota
UMissouri
Rice
Michigan State
UKansas
UOklahoma
UMiami
UMaryland – website to be updated
Emory
Calgary
York

See the "Philosophy Graduate Applicants" Facebook group for the latest updates and more info.

Nir Ben-Moshe

The Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign no longer requires applicants to our PhD program to submit GRE scores.

Frederick Choo

Update:
Rather than updating the comments section at the philosopherscocoon, I've moved the list of schools to my website:
https://frederick-choo.weebly.com/gre-philosophy-2021-admission.html

It includes alot more info, including schools that are pending, waivers, etc.

Timothy G.

Hi Frederick,

I think you raise some good and by now pretty well-established points about the GRE, in particular regarding the questionable correlation between high GRE scores and success in graduate school.

While I agree with you that graduate schools should drop the requirement, and I also think that studying for the GRE meant a lot of wasted time for me, I just wanted to clear up some misconceptions you seem to have about the GRE.

"Let me turn to the quantitative reasoning section. This section tests mathematics and data analysis topics. [...] Furthermore, applicants who lack the relevant mathematical foundations are heavily disadvantaged. Take me as an example. Even though GRE tests topics from high school algebra courses or introductory statistics courses [...]"

The QR section is not really a math test at all, if by "math" you mean what most lay people mean by math -- the sort of stuff you do in primary and secondary school (if by "math" you mean reasoning more generally, then I suppose it would qualify as a math test -- but then your argument would no longer apply, given that it mentions mathematical training and acumen). The amount of actual math (understood again in the limited sense above) you need to know for the GRE is very limited. You can revisit that material within a fairly short time. Similarly, the test doesn't test your ability to compute numbers quickly (which has nothing to do with math in my view). It's rare one actually needs to use a calculator on the test. Most questions are written such that one can make intelligent guesses and arrive at the answer by using shortcuts. In fact, one probably does worse on the GRE if one approaches it with an overly rigid formula-based mindset. Besides, the QR questions are also pretty predictable and repetitive once one has done a few sets of them. So, while I don't dispute your points in general, I just wanted to point out that in my experience the GRE has almost nothing to do with actual math and requires very little background knowledge (what it does require can easily be acquired). To speak of data analysis or statistics or algebra is simply misleading...

"the kind of sound reasoning and examples that examiners look for in "Analyze an Issue" are a posteriori justifications and empirical facts (eg. historical examples). This disadvantages applicants who are used to providing a priori justifications in philosophical arguments (and who have not been widely exposed to the relevant empirical data)."

The "Analyze an Issue" prompts are very (ridiculously) broad that you can come up with almost any example you can think of. The GRE does definitely not test your knowledge of history or empirical facts.

"Let me turn to the verbal reasoning section. To score well, test-takers must memorize the meanings and usage of hundreds of words." I personally found that memorizing thousands of words is super time-intensive and probably doesn't increase your score by all that much. You'd probably be better off just focusing on other parts of the test. My friend scored 169 on the VR section and didn't review any vocab at all. (Obviously that's just one person and that, by itself, carries almost no weight at all.) But I think you might overemphasize the importance of memorizing vocab.

Would I rather not have studied for the GRE? Absolutely. Do I think the GRE has anything to do with what philosophers do on a daily basis? Absolutely not. Are other parts of your application a better indicator of your philosophical abilities? Most definitely, probably by a factor of 100+. But is the GRE such a daunting test? No. It's really not all that bad! So while one can be an idealist and fight the honorable fight against the GRE (again, I'm 100% with you on that one), one can also be pragmatic and take 20-30 mins out of one's day every once in a while or on weekends and prepare for the GRE.

Besides, not that this necessarily undermines your arguments, but I thought I would mention this: when you look at how far above average students are scoring on each section, i.e. how many standard deviations above the mean for all students is the mean score for each major, and take the average number of standard deviations from the mean for all three sections, philosophy majors actually come out on top! (http://dailynous.com/2019/10/11/philosophy-majors-gre-updated-data/) Again, this doesn't mean that the GRE is a good indicator of philosophical ability at all. But maybe philosophy undergraduates aren't in such a bad position after all.

Anyway, best of luck with your cause!

Frederick Choo

Hi Timothy. Thanks for sharing your view! Let me address where I disagree.

Let me start with the idea that the quantitative reasoning section is not really a math test. Perhaps it’s not a math test in the sense of the kind of math tests one goes through in primary and secondary school. I guess I intend to use the term math test more broadly. But here’s some things to note:
First, if we look at the mean GRE quantitative reasoning scores by major, you’ll notice that mathematics majors do the best constantly. If the quantitative reasoning section is not a math test, then we must wonder why they score the best. This is especially so given your claim that “one probably does worse on the GRE if one approaches it with an overly rigid formula-based mindset” is true. To also note, the other majors who do well are banking, and finance, economics, engineering and the sciences. These are majors which tend to have math in their modules.
Second, while you claim that “The amount of actual math (understood again in the limited sense above) you need to know for the GRE is very limited. You can revisit that material within a fairly short time.” This won’t be true for everyone. In my experience, a lot of mathematical knowledge is required, and a lot of time is required to learn the material. Perhaps this is due to me taking an alternative educational path. But even my friends who went through the traditional educational track think that a lot of mathematical knowledge is required, and a lot of time is spent to revisit the material. So, I have some skepticism about your claim. Perhaps we are just not as familiar with math as you are.
Third, you claim that “To speak of data analysis or statistics or algebra is simply misleading...” I’m not sure how misleading it is. After all, the GRE prep book (and other prep material) itself uses these as chapter headings and talks about this all the time.

Now let me move to the “Analyze an Issue” section. You say that the prompts are broad such that “you can come up with almost any example you can think of. The GRE does definitely not test your knowledge of history or empirical facts.”
I’m skeptical about this. Having read through responses which score 6 vs those which score lower, it seems that those which score 6 uses specific examples that reference specific historical or empirical facts (or general knowledge). See for example the official GRE prep book, or Magoosh, or any other prep book.

Now let me address the verbal reasoning section. My claim was that “To score well, test-takers must memorize the meanings and usage of hundreds of words.” You say that I overemphasize the importance of memorizing vocab, and cite an example of a friend who didn’t review any vocab.
I now think that my original claim of ‘memorizing’ is wrong. Instead I think, ‘To score well, test-takers must know the meanings and usage of hundreds of words.’ Perhaps your friend already has an extensive amount of vocab knowledge, and hence didn’t really need to review. If you’re like me, then most of all the words on the different lists (eg. Baron, Magoosh, etc) will be entirely foreign to you, and you’ll struggle to answer the questions without memorizing any vocab. For example, when I first tried the test questions prior to memorizing any vocab, I couldn’t even get one question correct. (To note: Although I’m an international student, my first and only language is English).

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