Exams Know-how

A Step Against The GRE Standardized Test

Vineel Chandra

Why I got a bad score on the GRE? -on purpose: says Dan Marion. Taking a stand for real education, he adds.

Recently I took the GRE and failed the Argument Essay section purposefully.

Many—including my parents after learning about this—will ask why. I don’t like standardized tests. Not just because I’ve had to take so many of them, but of what they stand for. How they downgrade people into scores. How they’ve transformed classrooms into test preparation centers. How they’ve undermined art, music, and the inspiration of learning.

More than 7 lakh students take the GRE every year. They pay $185 to the ETS—whose revenue in 2011 was over $1 billion—to be subjected to trap answers (ones that are half right but considered entirely wrong), dull vocabulary, and an entire unnecessary section that does not count towards one's score but assists ETS with company research. It all felt wrong and I wanted to prove it.

I found that the best place to make my stand was the "Argument Essay," which tests if one can insightfully evaluate the argument in a piece of writing called a "task" and communicate one's evaluation in writing. I studied plenty samples of good responses. I decided that I would do exactly what they wanted, but would create my own prompt that would allow me to criticize the GRE itself. I wanted to test whether I would be truly evaluated for the quality of my thinking and writing, or punished for not following their rules.

When the GRE gave me the prompt, I began like this:-

Dear ETS Grader,

I think the better way to prepare myself for critical graduate-level work is by attempting to analyze the type of survey we as students have been forced to take our whole lives. In order to call attention to the inadequacy of the GRE as a measure of a student’s quality of thinking and writing, I will risk my own grade and make an argument I actually believe in. Like Malcolm X once said, "A person who stands for nothing will fall for anything."

Then I gave them the "task" I created and would examine:

The ETS argues that the GRE tests individuals on verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing, and provides a common measure for comparing candidates’ qualifications. Therefore, graduate schools use those scores to determine who should be qualified for their programs.

Then I responded:

The argument assumes that the GRE demonstrates that one is ready for graduate-level work. However, it does not explain how a four hour test shows that one is capable of the in-depth research, multitasking, and focused attention over long periods of study. Research suggests there is widespread disagreement about the correlation between GRE scores and graduate achievement.

It assumes that verbal and quantitative reasoning and analytical writing are the only requirements for success in graduate school. It ignores other skills necessary to navigate today’s increasingly technological, globalizing, and complex world, such as creativity, passion, and the ability to negotiate conflicts and form meaningful working relationships with others.

It also assumes that GRE scores and admittance into graduate schools are correlative. However, a student may get a high score on the GRE, but not be accepted into selective schools if he/she has no relevant experience on résumé, comes off exceedingly bombastic in personal essay, or has failed classes during undergraduate experience.

After writing this, I also responded to ETS’s original prompt.

My score was not exactly terrible, but it also wasn't very good. My average score is due to the "Argument Essay" and one other section, probably the ETS gave me a low score on my essay.

I will use my score to apply to master’s programs in Education policy and management. Once I get selected, will work against standardized tests to accomplish my mission!


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