COVID-19 and The GRE


By Claire Jennings, Assistant Editor

Photos from Google

My fall semester of my senior year at McKendree was meant to be spent preparing for and taking the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), but COVID-19 had derailed that plan as well as all the others I had made for my final year. At the beginning of the semester, I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Should I take the exam anyway? Would my program still require it? How could I take the test safely? The stress of applying to graduate school became heightened by my confusion and concern. After carefully scrutinizing application requirements for over 50 programs in my field, I realized every one I had come across amended their applications not to include GRE scores. While some of the more prestigious universities invited applicants to submit their scores if they deemed it beneficial, others claimed they would not be reviewing scores sent to them at all. 

There are two portions of the GRE depending on the program an applicant applies to–the general test and the subject test. The GRE website officially describes the general test as a measurement of “verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills — skills that have been developed over a long period of time and are not related to a specific field of study but are important for all.” The subject test, on the other hand, directly relates to an applicant’s field of study. Many graduate programs require scores from both the general and subject tests although the subject test score matters most. 

After COVID-19 became our new reality, the GRE quickly adapted to (supposedly) accommodate test-takers. Many graduate programs, however, were not impressed. The new format of the test is administered virtually with a proctor viewing the screen to ensure validity of the exam. The requirements for the virtual test may give some students an unfair disadvantage. According to ScienceMag.org, Students are required to test in a private room where they will not be interrupted, have stable internet connection, and a chair that is “not overstuffed.” Some GRE testing locations have remained open with precautions such as frequent cleaning and surgical masks, but many of those sessions are canceled within a month of the test date. Due to the frequent canceling of sessions, GRE rescheduling fees have been waived.

The chaos surrounding the new test-taking format has allowed graduate programs to drop the GRE as a requirement for future years as well. According to ScienceMag, science programs across the United States have elected to erase the GRE for good. They’ve long been looking for an excuse to waive the requirement; ScienceMag claims that in 2018 alone, 44% of the country’s top molecular biology programs dropped the GRE as a requirement because it “doesn’t predict student success.” 

My biggest question after my research was whether or not I should still take the exam. Many schools that still accept the scores seem to treat the scores as supplementary material and not as a priority. One English program I researched, at Washington University in St. Louis, provided a good way to determine whether or not to take the GRE: “results of the GRE subject test Literature in English. A high score may provide further evidence of literary background.  Not taking this test will not adversely affect the evaluation of your application.” The overall answer to students questioning taking the GRE is that if you do take it and score highly, it may benefit your application; if you don’t feel ready to take it, don’t!