GRE scores:your opinion

Evan W. Steeg steeg at
Fri Feb 4 16:35:58 EST 1994

  Frankly, it continues to amaze me how much weight is given to the
results of the GRE and similar standardized tests.  Either there is
remarkably compelling empirical evidence, of which I am unaware despite
some study of this issue, of the GRE as a good predictor of true long-term
academic success, or a big mistake is perpetuated through institutional 
inertia and bureaucratic laziness.  

  The GRE-type tests quite obviously measure one's ability to answer
large numbers of fairly shallow questions under extreme time pressure
and associated nervous tension.  While such a measure of intellectual
reflex under pressure might be a great way to test future jet fighter
pilots, it wouldn't seem to be a good way to test someone's ability to
pursue deep questions, theorize, devise clever experiments, write
thoughtful and engaging papers, etc., over a career of 30 or more years.

  This common-sense assessment is in accord with my (admittedly limited
and "anecdotal") observations.  Having spent some time in and around
some very good graduate departments (Computer Science and Biochemistry
at Cornell, Computer Science at Toronto), I have encountered very few
students who did not do exceedingly well on GREs (and SATs, etc.).
I have likewise known very few who had any real intellectual difficulty
with the standard first- and second-year graduate courses.  However,
I have known *many* who ran into serious trouble when asked to do
original research, and many who eventually dropped out of graduate
school for essentially this reason.

  Perhaps the kind of "success" for which GREs are such a good predictor
is not the most important kind of success in postgraduate science

  Just $0.02 worth, from a student's point of view.



Evan W. Steeg (416) 978-5182              steeg at 
Dept of Computer Science                  steeg at 
University of Toronto,           
Toronto, Canada M5S 1A4         

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