Archive for the 'Graduate School' Category

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.




GRE Math – Fun with Averages!

grumpy catStudying for the GRE can be tough. In the mean time, let’s make sure your math score is above average by reviewing averages! Consider the following problem:

The average (arithmetic mean) of six numbers is 14. After one of the numbers is removed, the average (arithmetic mean) of the remaining numbers is 16. What number has been removed?

To solve this problem, all you need to remember is the definition of an average:

average = (sum of terms)/(number of terms)

Multiplying both sides by the number of terms, we get:

average(number of terms) = sum of terms

First, let’s figure out the sum of the terms when the average was 14:

14(6) = 84

Next, let’s do the same for the situation in which the average is 16:

16(5) = 80

The difference between the two sums must be the number that was taken out:

84 – 80 = 4

Thus, the answer is 4. That’s all there is to it! Now, try the following problem and post the answer in the comments below:

The average (arithmetic mean) of four numbers is 23. After one of the numbers is removed, the average (arithmetic mean) of the remaining numbers is 15. What number has been removed?

Good luck, and happy studying!

Program Profile – Philosophy PhD

Cogito Ergo Sum - I Think Therefore I Am.

Cogito Ergo Sum – I Think Therefore I Am.

A PhD philosophy professor of mine began every semester with the following story-

“A friend of mine is a ditch-digger; he digs ditches for a living. One day he got bored of digging ditches, so he went to school and got a Bachelor’s in philosophy; then he went right back to digging ditches. He got bored again, so he went back to school and got a Master’s in philosophy. Then he went right back to digging ditches. Finally, he went and got a Ph.D. in philosophy. He then went right back to digging ditches. I asked him, ‘Why would you spend so much time and effort getting a Doctorate in Philosophy if you were just going to dig ditches for a living?’ He responded, ‘So I’d have something to think about while I was digging ditches.’”

The moral of this story is if you want to make a lot of money don’t major in philosophy.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a professor of philosophy or religious studies is $71,210. While this salary figure is certainly nothing to scoff at or dismiss offhandedly, it is comparatively miniscule when viewed beside the earning power offered by other doctoral programs. Add in the fact that you will have to suffer through years of ignominy as a Teacher’s Assistant and Associate Professor ( all while your epistemological defense of Descartes languishes and your genius goes unrecognized) before you are even qualified to earn the median salary, and it is no wonder my old professor started every semester with the same cautionary anecdote. Additional information regarding the employment of philosophy PhD holders can be found here.

That is not to say that a PhD in philosophy could not provide you with the means for significant earning power; respected academics can supplement their incomes as private advisors, guest speakers, and even as published authors. Admittedly though, work as a private advisor and lecturer are going to be extremely difficult to obtain, and any published works of philosophy are likely to have a readership in the dozens, not thousands.

Before ranking the Top 5 Philosophy PhD Programs, in the interest of clarity, let’s briefly discuss how these programs were ranked. The rankings below were determined (from most important to least important)by the rate of employment for graduates, the institution’s ‘Quality’ rating by the National Research Council, students’ access to additional resources, and the research productivity of university faculty. If you have a different opinion about what factors are most important to you in a graduate program (size? cost? expediency?), I suggest you visit this graduate school ranking website.

Now that you have a better idea of the prospects a PhD in philosophy might qualify you for, let’s take a look at some of the top Philosophy PhD programs:

#1) Carnegie Mellon University

One of the premiere universities in the country, the Carnegie Mellon philosophy PhD program provides full tuition, along with health benefits and an additional stipend for teaching assistance, to all of its students. Among the Philosophy Department’s many areas of emphasis are Logic and Philosophy of Mathematics, Philosophy of Psychology and Philosophy of the Social Science, and the Philosophy of Science and Methodology and Formal Epistemology. Though Carnegie Mellon explicitly states that “no quantitative thresholds” are placed on candidates (meaning there are minimum scores required to be accepted), admission is extremely competitive.

#2) Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT’s Department of Linguistics and Philosophy is a PhD program only, meaning they do not offer a Master’s program. Interestingly, MIT does not require applicants to submit a GRE score in order to be considered for admission. For those of you who are well qualified enough and interested in expediency, MIT’s philosophy PhD program is only five years long.

#3) Princeton University

Princeton offers four PhD philosophy degree programs – the Standard Program, Logic and the Philosophy of Science Track, Classical Philosophy, and Political Philosophy. Like other elite universities, Princeton’s Department of Philosophy only admits candidates pursuing a Doctorate in Philosophy. Princeton requires students to submit a GRE score and a written work no longer than ten thousand words in order to be considered for acceptance. Aside from the more obvious benefits of attending a university like Princeton, the post-graduation employment statistics of their students are (not surprisingly) astounding.

#4) University of California – Berkeley

The University of California – Berkeley has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best countries in the nation, and their philosophy department is no exception. With a focus on Ancient Philosophy, Logic, and the History and Philosophy of Science, Berkeley’ philosophy PhD program is one of the most competitive in the country. As with many top tier universities, Berkeley reviews candidates on a case by case basis. Writing samples submitted for the purposes of admission are expected to be between 15-20 pages (double-spaced). Candidates applying for the Ancient Philosophy and History and Philosophy of Science programs will require special consideration.

#5 New York University

Standing tall among these other nationally One of the most intriguing aspects of NYU’s Philosophy Department is that they offer a dual degree Doctor of Philosophy and Juris Doctor. Though reluctant to share many details regarding the PhD application process, NYU says an average GRE score and coming from a lesser known undergraduate school will not exclude a candidate from being accepted, provided other aspects of their application are strong. As a matter of policy, the university is hesitant to discuss how they review candidates, it seems that they place the most emphasis on students’ recommendations (preferably from philosophers or other, related areas of study) and writing samples.

There were not many surprises among the nation’s top PhD philosophy programs, but keep in mind the factors that we used to determine the rankings of these universities may differ from your own personal preferences; we certainly encourage you to research on your own, and ask us if you have questions!

Come back soon for a Top Philosophy PhD Programs – Honorable Mention article! Find more Program Profiles here.

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.



Ask Test Masters – Is the GRE Okay for Business School?


Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!

Ethan recently asked Test Masters’ Twitter, “More B-schools are accepting GRE scores in lieu of GMAT now. For top schools, do you think it’s safe to go GRE?”


“Is the GRE okay for business school?” is a great question; the short answer is yes. The revisions to the GRE were done with the specific intention of making the GRE a test that can be used for a wider range of graduate admissions, with particular attention given to MBA admissions. As of 2006, GMAC (makers and administrators of the GMAT) severed their non-compete contract with ETS; in turn, ETS redesigned the GRE so that the GRE could compete for a larger share of the graduate school admission exam market, and they have succeeded admirably in that purpose.

In 2009 Harvard became the first really prestigious university to begin accepting GRE scores in place of GMAT scores, and most universities have since followed suit. There are a few hold-outs, but more and more of US News’ Top 100 Business Schools are accepting the GRE as well as the GMAT. You can learn more about it in this article, “The New GRE- GMAT Killer?”

Hope this helps!

The Test Masters Team

GRE Math – Angles You Should Be Familiar With!

The GRE Quantitative Reasoning section (aka GRE Math) is foundational in the sense that many of the questions can be answered with the creative use of basic mathematics; this means you will be asked a lot of different questions types that are ultimately foundational in nature. Getting back to the basics is an important part of the concepts and strategies employed in the Test Masters GRE Online course. Check out this sample clip below, in which a Test Masters instructor explains some of the basic properties of angles you should be familiar with.

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.

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.



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! 


Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!


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.