Over the past ten months, colleges and universities across the nation have rapidly transformed and adapted to the shifting landscape of higher education in the midst of a pandemic. One of the more notable changes within the College of Sciences, however, centers on a standardized test that began raising questions on campuses beyond Georgia Tech long before Covid-19 first dominated headlines and the college experience.
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test was established in 1936 as a way to measure reasoning and critical thinking skills for students entering graduate collegiate programs.
Georgia Tech College of Sciences is waiving the GRE (subject and general test) and will not require the exam for fall 2021 applications into any of the College’s graduate programs. Information on requirements across campus for fall 2021 applications can be found at the Degree Programs page of the Georgia Tech Graduate Studies section of the Institute’s website.
Several College of Sciences programs have also opted to permanently drop the requirement, joining a movement coined throughout academic circles as “GRExit.”
The GRE is permanently no longer required for entrance into Georgia Tech’s Schools of Biological Sciences, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and Chemistry and Biochemistry. The Quantitative Biosciences Ph.D. Program and Ph.D. in Applied Physiology program, as well as the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) in the College of Engineering, have also permanently dropped the exam as a graduate admissions requirement.
Boosting diversity and equity in graduate admissions
Jennifer Glass, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS), who also holds a courtesy appointment in the School of Biological Sciences, has been active in asking programs across the Institute and beyond to take a closer look at whether the GRE makes sense in their individual admissions processes.
“The impetus for our efforts came largely from conversations with graduate students, who told us that removing the GRE requirement was an essential step towards boosting diversity and equity in graduate programs,” Glass says, noting that recent data also represented that the GRE can be “biased against underrepresented groups — and that it is not a good predictor of graduate school success.”
Glass joined fellow EAS professor Kim Cobb, who also serves as an ADVANCE Professor and Georgia Power Chair; EAS graduate student Minda Monteagudo; and faculty from Georgia State University and Boise State University in writing a summer 2020 op-ed about the GRE for Eos Magazine, which is published by the American Geophysical Union. The op-ed, “#GeoGRExit: Why Geosciences Programs Are Dropping the GRE,” refers to the social media hashtags #GRExit and #GeoGRExit that have surfaced as academics and students around the country discuss their personal experiences and research related to how the standardized test can narrow and stymie inclusivity efforts and representation related to science, technology, engineering, and math-based (STEM) professions — with a particular focus on bio- and geosciences.
During a fall presentation on #GRExit to Georgia Tech graduate admissions leaders, Cobb shared that 340 biology/EEB (ecology/evolutionary biology) graduate programs in the U.S. have dropped their GRE requirements, as have 75 geosciences graduate programs. (That biology graduate program number has increased to 370 programs since then, according to that database’s keeper, Joshua Hall, Director of Admissions for the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Sarah Ledford, an assistant professor at Georgia State University who co-authored the Eos op-ed, publishes the geosciences database.)
Two years ago, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE examined the efficacy of the GRE in predicting Ph.D. completion related to STEM fields. The study analyzed the academic performance of 1,805 students from four flagship universities. Its lead researcher told Inside Higher Education that although the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which owns and administers the GRE, explicitly discourages the use of cutoff scores on any part of the GRE, "this is a common practice ... our study shows convincingly that the scores [were] not useful for identifying students most likely to finish STEM doctoral programs. In fact, the scores [were] negative predictors of completion rates for men."
The researcher added that “one reason given for using GRE scores to compare students is to ‘level the playing field’ for students coming from undergraduate institutions differing in prestige. It has been suggested that without these scores, admissions committees may show implicit bias that could hurt the chances of admitting students from underrepresented groups who often come from lesser-known institutions. However, for undetermined reasons women and non-Asian minorities continue to score less well than white males and Asian Americans and, therefore, the pool of ‘acceptable’ women and minority candidates is reduced substantially.”
ETS responded, sharing that “The GRE test does not predict graduate or doctoral completion rates ... Rather, the test provides a measure of graduate school readiness by assessing skills that are necessary to handle graduate-level work: verbal and quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing.”
Breaking down the barriers
Beyond concerns with cutoff scores and true readiness assessment, students and faculty alike have noted other barriers that the exam can add to the process of applying for grad school. "The issue of cost, for example ($205 to take it and $27 per report) is a major barrier for many students," notes Cobb. "This entire initiative (at Georgia Tech) was really the brainchild of the CoS Graduate Student Diversity Council, on which Minda (Monteagudo) sat."
“It's exciting to see the College of Science remove the GRE requirement in some programs temporarily, and in other cases more permanently,” Monteagudo adds. “I'm grateful to the CoS Graduate Student Diversity Council for their leadership on this issue, as well as the faculty and administrative support that made this change possible. I'm hopeful that removing the GRE requirement is an important first step towards making the graduate admissions process more equitable.”
The following links are for the individual degree program requirements for the College of Sciences graduate programs:
More information on testing and graduate admissions at Georgia Tech, including the latest on testing delays due to Covid-19, can be found at this link in the Graduate Studies section.