GRE Role in Application
The importance of the GRE score can vary from being a mere formality, to being one of the most important pieces of an application, depending on the student and the graduate programs they are applying to. Some graduate programs may also look at students' scores on individual sections of the test, and prioritize some section scores over others. The ETS emphasizes the importance of treating each section score as a separate assessment. Generally, undergraduate grades are more important than GRE scores, and letters of recommendation are about equally important. If you have an otherwise weak application, then achieving a high score on the GRE could help compensate for deficiencies in your application.
ETS has a detailed list of policies and guidelines to ensure the proper use of GRE scores. Regardless of the program or institution, ETS recommends the use of multiple sources of information and evaluation criteria be used to judge each candidate, in order to ensure fairness and to balance the limitations of any individual measurement. ETS also recommends avoiding consequential decisions based on small score differences, using appropriate percentile ranks when comparing candidates, and not comparing scores from different subject tests, as they are not equivalent. ETS lists score comparison tables for the scoring system used before the 2011 GRE revision, as well as a chart for comparing GRE scores to GMAT scores. In addition to being required for admission to most graduate schools, the GRE is now also used for admission to an increasing number of business schools.
The GRE test has two primary limitations: it cannot measure all the qualities that are important to graduate success or confirming undergraduate achievement, and it is an ineact measure with a standard error of measurement. Beyond the standard error of measurement, however, differences in section scores should serve as a reliable indication of real differences in applicants' academic knowledge and ability.
Because the GRE is used differently by different graduate schools and programs, you should research your desired programs to evaluate whether they require specific GRE scores, or whether they will use your GRE results to tailor your graduate study. Some programs may use the GRE General Test or GRE Subject Tests as metrics to determine what graduate coursework you must take as part of your education.
Your GRE score is useful to get a "foot in the door" at graduate schools by showing them that you are a knowledgable and well-rounded applicant. If your application has particular deficiencies, the GRE score can help by giving you a quantifiable benchmark of your aptitude for specific subjects. If you are using your GRE to get into business school, then your score will likely be essentially meaningless once you have gained admission and chosen a program. Although it is possible to compare GRE scores to GMAT scores, the GRE is a much less specific test than the GMAT and therefore less useful at predicting success in specific topics. As long as you get a score that is high enough to be competitive at your program of choice, then you can stop worrying about it. If you are using your GRE score for graduate school in a field other than business, then your score may have additional uses within your academic department, for example by indicating areas where remedial or preparatory coursework may be necessary. GRE scores can be especially useful if they are combined with GRE Subject Test scores, which indicate accomplishment and knowledge in specific content areas. If you are having trouble reaching your target score, getting a private tutor or using a preparatory course can help you understand the language of the exam and focus on studying the right material, so that you can study more efficiently by using your time wisely.
The GRE is deliberately designed to be a "general" test – it measures academic and professional fields that can be attained in a variety of ways, and that have a broad variety of applications. While this is beneficial to students with diverse or unusual backgrounds, by giveng them a standardized metric to demonstrate their achievement, it also limits the test's usefulness as a diagnostic or educational device. While it measures linguistic, mathematical, and writing aptitude, it provides little direction to students who are unsure of what professional career to pursue. Students who have specific professional aspirations may use the GRE as a mere tool in their plan; students who are less sure about their plans for the future may consider also taking GRE subject tests, if they have studied a subject that is covered. Students who are planning to go to business school may be unsure of whether the GRE or the GMAT is more appropriate for them, as many schools accept either test score. The GMAT is generally considered to have more difficult quantitative sections, and has content that is specifically limited to business relevance. The GRE, on the other hand, has easier quantitative sections but more challenging verbal sections, and has content from a wide variety of professional and academic disciplines. If you are debating which test to take, consider sitting for practice tests of each tests to evaluate which you prefer. Admissions counselors can also help you choose a graduate test, and use your scores to form and achieve your academic and professional goals.