Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 18, 2020

Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences votes against GRE

By AMANDA MALDONADO | August 5, 2020

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Like several other institutions, the EPS department has decided not to require the GRE. 

Number two pencils. Calculator. Water bottle. Watch.

This is the supply mantra running through the minds of thousands of students as they prepare to take standardized exams that can determine their next step in life. The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is one of many standardized exams used to consider applicants for graduate schools. Despite the decades-old reign of the GRE, its use in evaluating graduate school applicants has undergone scrutiny by many institutions, including the University’s own Earth & Planetary Sciences (EPS) department until it decided to waived its GRE requirement on June 15th.

Waiving the GRE was initially brought up three years ago by EPS faculty members Sarah Hörst and Sabine Stanley, and after many intradepartmental conversations, the department reached a collective decision to no longer require the test in its application process. However, there is a fair amount of controversy regarding whether GRE scores are a fair and necessary way to evaluate applicants. 

One argument is that the GRE is unfairly advantageous to applicants who possess more resources than others. While one student may be able to afford private tutoring and expensive crash courses, another may struggle to even pay for the cost of taking the test itself. Opponents of the GRE argue that the test may also act as a barrier or discouragement for students coming from different backgrounds, such as students from outside the U.S., first-generation students or underrepresented minorities.

In addition to these limitations, a large part of the discussion for the EPS department was whether or not the GRE is necessary to properly find and evaluate talented applicants. 

In an email to The News-Letter, Anand Gnanadesikan, the department chair of EPS, described how the GRE could pose a barrier to identifying strong applicants. 

“When I looked at our own data, I was surprised to see that the GRE wasn’t helping us find ‘diamonds in the rough’,” Gnanadesikan wrote. “In fact, it was potentially excluding some of our strongest performers.”

He further questioned whether the GRE could reveal applicant strengths that would not be otherwise revealed via recommendations and undergraduate performance.

Current EPS graduate student Sarah Moran agreed with the decision to remove the GRE requirement. 

“There’s so much research that has been done that shows the test does not correlate with either successful completion of a PhD or career outcomes,” Moran wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Instead, scores correlate more with gender, race, and socioeconomic status.”

Educational Testing Service (ETS), the organization that runs GRE testing, argues otherwise. David Payne, vice president of the global higher education division of ETS, issued a statement in response to Brown University’s decision to waive their GRE requirement. 

In the statement, Payne argued that removing the requirement would take away another method of evaluating a student on a holistic basis. 

“Eliminating the GRE score requirement — the only common, objective and research-based measure in the admissions process — will leave only subjective measures for review and selection, heightening the role that implicit bias plays,” he wrote. 

An argument in favor of the GRE claims that the error lies in the subjectivity and biases of faculty members. Proponents of the GRE believe it is a valuable piece of standardized data that, when taken in the context of the individual, can be used to understand the potential of a student. If it is used as a cut-off point or limiting factor, that is the fault of the faculty, not of the exam.

Despite differing perspectives, there is a general consensus that predicting the success of an applicant is a multifaceted feat. As more departments begin waiving the GRE requirement, faculty must continue to analyze their admissions process and evaluate what kinds of students they want in their programs. Until a consensus can be reached, many students across the country will continue to prepare for their GRE exam, coming to test day with that same supply mantra running on replay. 

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