Archive for the 'Admissions' Category

GRE Subject Tests: To Take, or Not To Take

Wait. There are subject tests, too?!

Wait. There are subject tests, too?!

Remember when you took the SAT for the first time? You were so anxious because it was the SAT AND IT WAS THE BIGGEST TEST YOU WERE EVER GOING TO TAKE! And just as you got up to the front of the line to check-in, they asked you if you were taking an SAT II. A WHAT?!

And, indeed, it turned out that on top of the SAT reasoning tests there were other subject tests that were “optional.” Perhaps if you’re a strange Martian who is immune to the horrors of standardized testing, you were excited for another chance to show what you know, but more likely, your heart sank with the realization that “subject tests” meant that more future Saturdays would begin with your stomach in knots at 8 AM in a cold testing center.

You may have thought applying to graduate school would be more straightforward, but if you’re taking the GRE, you’re likely to find yourself at the same crossroads. Yes, luckily for you, if you’re applying to graduate school in the field of Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Literature (in English), Mathematics, Physics, or Psychology, you have the option to take a GRE Subject Test to support your graduate school application. The tests are administered in April, September, and October and scored on a scale of 200-990 in ten point increments. The Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology; Biology; and Psychology Tests all have subsections scored on a scale of 20-99 in one point increments. The question is, do you need to give up $150 and a weekend? Continue reading “GRE Subject Tests: To Take, or Not To Take” »

What is GRE Score Select?

What is a good score on the GRE?

GRE Score Select gives students who take the GRE multiple times the option of selecting which score reports are submitted to the graduate schools to which they will apply. This means that if you take the GRE more than once, when you go through the process of finalizing your application, you can choose to only share your highest GRE score. The option to utilize GRE Score Select is automatically included with your GRE registration, so beyond actually registering for the GRE you will not have to take any additional steps in order to have access to the GRE Score Select option.

How does GRE Score Select work?

After taking the official GRE you will be allowed to view an unofficial score report. After viewing this score report you will be given the option to share or not share your score(s). At this time, you will have three options. They are as follows:

1) You may choose to NOT share your scores.

2) You may choose to share ALL of your scores.

3) You may choose to share only your MOST RECENT score (this will be the score report from the exam you will have just completed).

The most significant benefit of choosing to share your scores immediately after the test is, at that time, it is free. Your registration for the GRE includes the option to share up to four free score reports immediately after the exam. If you choose not to share your score(s) immediately after the test, you will be charged a fee of $27 per Additional Score Report (ASR).

What’s the catch?

The catch here is two-fold: first, if you do not send out your scores per the options listed above, after the test, there is a cost associated with sending out past GRE score reports; likewise, there is a cost of $195 to register for the GRE. Score Select is really only valuable in the context of choosing between multiple score reports. This logic is, of course, what precipitated the creation of GRE Score Select. The ETS now markets GRE Score Select as an assurance to students that if they don’t score well enough the first or second time they take the GRE, they can always just take the exam again and again, and use their highest score for admission purposes. Naturally, this encourages students to take the GRE multiple times, putting more money, in the form of registration and ASR fees, in ETS’ non-profit pockets. That said, Score Select is still a very useful score reporting option.

To more fully explain: the value of GRE Score Select really comes into play in a scenario where you have previously completed the GRE, taken it again, and did not score as well as you expected on the second administration of this exam. Say, for example, that you take the GRE a second time and your score goes down! Say again, for the purposes of this dramatic hypothetical, that you elected NOT to cancel your scores (assuming you had scored better, not worse) and thus now have a bad GRE score on your permanent (or at  least, 5-year) score record. In this case, for a small fee of $27, you can choose to only share your best GRE score report to the institution to which you are applying.

While GRE Score Select is a great option for students who have taken the GRE previously and are now attempting to improve their scores, the best method to taking the GRE is to thoroughly prepare for the exam the first time you take it so that you can avoid the complications associated with retaking the GRE.

 

Reminder — Application Deadlines

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It’s time to start checking items off your ‘to-do’ list.

It’s that time of year again! No, not Arbor Day. Application deadlines!

Just a friendly reminder from us here at Test Masters that it’s already the end of October, and application deadlines are fast approaching. Deadlines are obviously different for every program, but many of you who are hoping to find yourself enrolled in school next fall should be polishing up your resumes, fleshing out those essays, and requesting those letters of recommendation! Hopefully you’ve already taken your GREs and are satisfied with your results – if not, we’re always happy to help out in whatever way we can!

Here’s a quick, very general checklist of items you will most likely need to complete an application:

1. A resume
2. Transcript from your undergraduate institution
3. GRE scores
4. Letters of recommendation
5. Essays
6. A completed application
7. An application fee
8. A TOEFL score for international students

Be sure to check you program’s website to make sure you have everything you need to apply. Best of luck to everyone!

Ask Test Masters – Admission to a Top 10 Graduate School

Information technology

The Information Technology logo (according to Wiki Commons).

Ask Test Masters is a free information service offered by the GRE and graduate school admission experts at Test Masters. Reader MSAspirant asks,

“Dear Test Masters, I have a score of 319 (160 Q, 159 V, 4.5 AWA) on my second attempt. On my first attempt I had a 314(159 Q, 155 V, 4.0 AWA). I have an experience of 7.5 years in Information Technology and was looking to get into a top 10 school for MS. I am a bit worried about my Quant scores. Can you please throw some light as to whether they are good enough? Should I reattempt [the] GRE or can I just focus on my SOP and Recommendation Letters.”

Dear MSAspirant,

I would first recommend consulting this article: What is a good score on the GRE? Pay close attention to the second table listed in this article. This table (reproduced below) shows the average Verbal and Quantitative scores by intended graduate school program.

Data taken from Tables 6 & 7 of GRE Snapshot Report.

Without more information, based what you’ve provided in your question, we assume that by MS you are referring to obtaining a Master of Science in Information Technology. Information Technology degrees typically include a core curriculum of business and computer science courses; however, for the purpose of answering your question (i.e. is your score good enough for a top 10 graduate school), we can categorize your intended graduate program under “engineering” (because the average scores for engineering students most closely resemble the average scores for computer science graduate students).

If you review the article linked above, there is a fairly thorough explanation as to what constitutes a “good” score on the GRE. Essentially, whether a GRE score is good or not is entirely relative to the goals of the individual. You have clear goals – be accepted into a top 10 graduate program and earn an MS; for just a moment though, let’s set your stated goals aside.

Objectively, you have an excellent GRE score. Can it be improved upon? Certainly, but it is a very good score nonetheless. For the purpose of comparison, the average GRE score is a 302.8 (152.2 Q, 150.6 V, 3.5 AWA). Your score is well above this average. Also, in case you are unaware, you may also utilize something known as ScoreSelect to ensure that the graduate institution(s) you apply to sees only the higher of your two scores, or three scores should you decide to take the GRE again.

Returning to your stated goal – admission to a top 10 university – there is no better institution to use for comparison than Harvard University. Please take a moment to review the table below, which outlines several important averages for both Master’s and PH.D. students admitted to Harvard. (Note: Data taken from Harvard Grad Data Page.)

Quant. Verbal AWA Cumulative GPA
Master’s 163 160 4.5 3.60
PH.D. 165 161 4.3 3.84

You can see that the average GRE scores for Master’s students accepted to Harvard are (163 Q, 160 V, 4.5 AWA). This puts you just at, but slightly below, the average scores of students accepted to Harvard. That is very good! Is it good enough? Maybe. Keep in mind these are average scores; some students were accepted with higher scores and others were probably accepted with lower scores.

If you really are targeting a top 10 university then you are correct to be slightly concerned with your quantitative score as it is several points below the average; however, this won’t immediately disqualify you from admission. Whether you should take the GRE again should revolve around several factors, but the two most important questions you should ask yourself are:

1)      Do I feel like I can improve my score?

2)      How would retaking the GRE fit into my current timetable?

You were able to improve your quantitative score by only one point the last time you took the GRE. Did you do any test preparation between your first exam and your second exam? If you did not, it might be worth taking the exam again as proper preparation could lead to significant score gains. If you did prepare in what you consider a sufficient amount and only achieved a marginal score increase, then it might be less worthwhile to put in the time, energy, and cost associated with preparing for and taking the GRE again.

You should also be mindful of how taking the GRE again might fit into your overall admission timetable. If you do decide to take the GRE again, you should certainly prepare for it. This means that you will have that much less time to devote towards the other aspects of your application, which (as you mentioned) include your Statement of Purpose and Letters of Recommendation, among other things. Take a look at the application deadlines of the various institutions you plan on applying to, and keep those deadlines in mind.

Your scores are good and your previous experience in the field should help as well; all of this combined should make you a competitive applicant, as is, to any university (provided you have the corresponding GPA as well). My advice is, unless you feel like you can really improve your quantitative score with preparation, to begin focusing on the other aspects of your application.

Hope this helps!

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What is a good score on the GRE?

One of the most common questions on this blog is, “What is a good score on the GRE?” Invariably, the answer is “it depends,” and it does. Generally speaking, whether a GRE score is good (or not) is relative to the goals of the individual test taker. Please keep this in mind as we explore the question, what is a good score on the GRE?

The ETS, the makers and administrators of the GRE, recently released a report entitled A Snapshot of the Individuals Who Took the GRE revised General Test. This report is primarily intended “to provide score users with the most relevant information” possible about the GRE test taking population (‘score users’ means admission officers, university administrators and faculty, etc.). Much of the information within this report will not be particularly useful to you as an individual test taker; however, this report does give us a great deal of insight into what constitutes a good GRE score in terms of means and averages and (more importantly) field of study. Let us take a look.

Note: This is not an exact reproduction of Table 1 as it appears in the GRE Snapshot Report. The author has edited this info-graph for space and relevance.

The table above doesn’t quite answer the question what is a good score on the GRE?, but it does tell us what is an average score on the GRE. This table shows us that the mean Verbal Reasoning score is a 150.6 and the mean Quantitative Reasoning score is a 152.2. For those of you not familiar with Standard Deviation, in this case, it simply tells us how close to the mean most students scored. This indicates that the majority of GRE test takers scored between 142.3 to 158.9 on Verbal Reasoning and between 143.4 to 160.4 on Quantitative Reasoning.

This gives us a basic understanding of what constitutes a “good” score: if you are scoring below the standard deviations you have a bad score, if you are scoring above the standard deviations you have a good score, and if you are scoring in between, then you have a relatively average score.

This information is useful in understanding how GRE scores are broadly evaluated; however, as many university admission officers will be quick to point out, every applicant is evaluated individually. For example, you would not expect a person applying to a Masters of Fine Arts program to have a better Quantitative Reasoning score than somebody pursuing a Doctorate in Engineering. This means that when you are trying to determine whether your GRE score is good or not, you should consider it within the context of your application.

Luckily, the GRE Snapshot Report contains information relevant to this endeavor. Consider the following chart:

Data taken from Tables 6 & 7 of GRE Snapshot Report.

This spreadsheet shows the average Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning scores by intended graduate major; this shows how you compare to students who plan on pursuing a degree in the same field as you. For example, say you score a 155 on the Quantitative Reasoning section. This score is several standard deviations above the aggregate mean of 152.2, and so could be considered a relatively good score, unless, of course, you intend to apply to an Engineering program, in which case it would be several deviations below the mean of 159, and a relatively bad score. The above information should give you a good grasp of what constitutes a good GRE score by field of interest.

As many of this blog’s readers are international students, it is worth noting that your international status will be taken into account when you apply for a graduate program in the United States. For example, admission officers do not expect a potential graduate student from South Korea or India to score as well on the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE as a native English speaker. If you are an international student, refer to pages 40-45 in the GRE Snapshot Report to get an idea of how you compare to other international students.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that whether a GRE score is good (or not) is ultimately relative to your own personal goals. If you are planning on applying to an elite university or program, then you will need a correspondingly higher score; conversely, if you are targeting a less prestigious institution or degree plan, then a good GRE score for you may be slightly lower than what is traditionally considered an exemplary score. On this note, let me remind you how important it is that you research the institutions you are planning on applying to so that you know what GRE score will be good for you.

ETS’ GRE Snapshot report attempts to break down the GRE scores of the global test taking population into more distinguishable categories. This means they examine average GRE scores by gender, race, nationality, educational objectives and fields of interest, among other categories. By and large the specific sub-categories and cross categorization of these breakdowns are of no interest to most of us; however, knowing the average GRE score for students planning on pursuing a graduate degree in your field gives you the significant advantage of having a score to compare your own to. Hopefully the information above has helped you determine whether you have a good GRE score (or not); of course, if you need more help or have additional questions, please feel free to comment below or Ask Test Masters!

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How to Write Your Statement of Purpose (Part I. What do I Write About?)

What Should I Write AboutHow to Write Your Statement of Purpose

One of the most daunting tasks of applying to graduate school is writing and submitting your statement of purpose. This is one of the few times throughout the entire admission process that the objective aspects of your application are momentarily set aside so that admission officers can really get to know you. You should view your statement of purpose as an opportunity, not an obstacle. This article is one of a series dedicated to unraveling the challenges of writing your statement of purpose.

Part I. What do I write about?

Deciding what to write may seem like the most difficult part of the entire endeavor, so you might be surprised to discover that the opposite is often the case. Prospective students are usually provided with clear instructions on what to write about and why. Most universities want you to use your personal statement to tell them the following things:

  • Why do you want to pursue a graduate education in this field?
  • What have you done to prepare yourself for a graduate education in this field?
  • What are your academic goals?
  • What are your professional goals?

We will address each of these topics individually. As you read on, note that many of these topics interrelate. For example, your reasons for attending graduate school could stem from your professional experiences post-college, or, if you are considering a research-heavy program, perhaps your professional goals are academic in nature. This is okay! The point of this post is to help you figure out what you want to write about, not how you will structure all of this information into a coherent essay (we will cover that in a future post).

Why do you want to pursue a graduate education in this field?

Your reasons for choosing a particular field are important. Your explanation should be succinct, avoid platitudes, and be unique but relatable. Also, do not turn your answer into an autobiography; only share a personal story if it is pertinent to your application. Good reasons to pursue a graduate education in a particular field include:

  • Talent and interest in a particular field.
  • The opportunities available from an advanced degree in a particular field.
  • The skill-set obtained from an education in this field will help in another.

What have you done to prepare yourself for a graduate education in this field?

This part of your essay should convince admission officers that you are not only capable of doing well in their program but that you have taken steps toward improving your chance of success. This would also be a good time to discuss how you plan to utilize your experiences in a way that would benefit the campus community and classroom.

Do not be mistaken – this is not the same thing as ticking off all the points on your résumé. They already have your résumé; don’t waste their and your time retyping it in essay format! This is not to say you should disregard your achievements or be afraid to discuss them; rather, elaborate on those accomplishments that actually pertain to the field you are applying to, and avoid going into great length about those things that do not.

What are your academic goals?

Academic goals will vary from field to field, but everyone’s personal statement should share a few characteristics. Good things to talk about here include:

  • The knowledge and skills you would like to acquire and develop in your time with this program.
  • The aspects of the program that impress you.
  • Research or papers you find interesting that have been published by current or past faculty members.

You should also use this part of your essay to demonstrate knowledge about the field you are interested in studying. You are more likely to impress admission officers if you can show them you are already competent in the field and have done an appropriate amount of research regarding their program.

What are your professional goals?

Consider this the “What is your five-year plan?” question. Specificity is good here, but it’s more important that your goals and plans be believable and realistic. Your answer should emphasize the importance of attending graduate school, but in the context of hoping to attain something greater.

This should be enough to start you on the journey to writing a good personal statement. As you begin the brainstorming process, remember who you are writing this essay for. The person reading your essay will have read dozens, if not hundreds of these statements. Think about it from his or her perspective, and ask yourself, “What is the point of including this in my application?” After reading your personal statement, admission officers should be firmly convinced that you:

  • Know how to write.
  • Know how present yourself.
  • Will not drop out of their program.
  • Have ambition and will be a credit to the program.

Ask Test Masters or comment if you have questions; otherwise, return soon for the second installment of It’s Not GREek’s How to Write Your Statement of Purpose.

 

 

 

Ask Test Masters – United Nations Application Pt. 1

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Reader Devan Taylor asks,

“I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from the University of Houston, and I am interested in working for the United Nations one day. What graduate school programs would give me an edge when I do apply to work for the United Nations? One program I am interested in is the M.A. in Humanities program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Are there other programs similar to this in Houston, TX, Austin, TX, or other cities in general?”

Dear Devan,

Great questions all around; let’s start at the beginning – “What graduate school programs would give me an edge when I do apply to work for the United Nations?”

If you are asking “Is there any single graduate program that will give me an edge regardless of what position I apply for?” the answer is foreign languages or linguistics, and to a lesser degree cultural studies. Fluency in two or three (or more) foreign languages will absolutely make a huge difference in the strength of your application, as will a demonstrable ability to pick up languages quickly. Among the many tests United Nations applicants must take is a “Language Examination.” Learn about the different exams you will have to take here.

The general occupational career groups employed by the UN include administration, conference services, human rights, jurists, legal affairs, logistics, political affairs, transport work, program management, and security, among other more specific career niches. Ideally, you want to present yourself as a candidate who could potentially contribute in several of these capacities. Combined with a fluency in one or more foreign languages, degree programs focused on international law, international business (the GRE can be used for graduate admission to business school as well – check out this article, “The New GRE – GMAT Killer?”), and political science would best serve to make you a viable candidate for a position with the UN; other, perhaps less obviously significant, fields of study might involve history, statistics, geography, or even sociology.

It’s a challenging task, but our advice is to identify the position you most desire and then do everything you can to mold yourself into the perfect candidate for that position, all while crafting a resume that presents you as someone who can function capably at multiple levels within the UN bureaucracy.

Something else to keep in mind is that obtaining a position with the United Nations is extremely competitive; you could apply and be turned down multiple times before being hired. One way to gain an advantage in the application process is to have related work experience. Did you know that you can volunteer or intern with the United Nations? If you excel at this sort of entry level work, it could potentially lead to a more permanent position. Another more tertiary option to being hired at the UN is to pursue a similar career path within the US government (the CIA is always hiring); this gives you the option of gaining valuable experience without spending months or summers suffering as an unpaid helper. If you have more questions about the actual process of applying to the United Nations, consult this Frequently Asked Questions guide provided by the UN’s Human Resources department.

This concludes part one of a two-part answer to our most recent “Ask Test Masters” submission. Join us next time as we discuss the specifics regarding admission to the university mentioned above and review other potential colleges and universities that might help you craft an excellent resume to work at the United Nations.

Test Masters offers the most comprehensive and successful GRE course available; every Test Masters GRE course, whether it is online or in-class, comes with a 10 point Score Increase Guarantee.

GRE Scores May be Down, but Competition is UP!

Our mantra at “It’s Not GREek” is “The score you want is the score that will get you into your graduate school of choice.” Though every student has different goals and ambitions, this means that you do not need to get a perfect score on the GRE to get into a good graduate program; you do, however, generally need to score above average to have a chance at being admitted to your program of choice. This self-evident, sagacious wisdom has come under scrutiny recently as the average GRE score for American test-takers has dropped to, well, below average. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the GRE, recently released data outlining the average scores of domestic and international test takers.

*Source: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/02/21/ets-releases-data-gre-averages-country

 

It is apparent that a truly significant number of undergraduate students and undergraduate degree holders in the United States are considering applying to graduate school; as Bachelor’s degrees are now the workplace standard rather than the exception, people are seeking to stand out from the crowd by pursuing advanced degrees.  The most important consequence of this is, though the average GRE score is down, competition for admission into graduate school is up.

The sheer volume of potential applicants is staggering; simply put, there are not enough spots available for the number of interested or potential graduate school applicants. This is true without even mentioning the challenge competing for spots at prestigious universities with well qualified international students poses to prospective American graduate students. Given the new GRE average score for US test takers, suffice it to say, it is no longer enough to score ‘above average’ on the GRE.

It might be tempting to look at these scores and breathe a sigh of relief, thinking, “Well, look … my score is above average.” Well, suck in that sigh and let out a groan, because the admission standards for prestigious universities have not been lowered to accommodate the drop in GRE scores for the average American test taker. Quite the opposite, in fact; competition for a spot in an excellent graduate program has never been fiercer (as evidenced by the exponential growth of potential applicants).

The simple fact of the matter is ‘above average’ no longer means what it used to; at least when it comes to the GRE. With nearly 320,000 annual GRE test takers in the United States, averages may be down but competition is UP! 

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Test Masters is an industry leader in test preparation innovation; every Test Masters GRE course, whether it is online or in-class, comes with a 10 point Score Increase Guarantee. You can learn more about Test Masters here.