Dear Fact Finders:

In our intelligence/GRE episode, we briefly mentioned our personal experiences with standardized testing, but I wanted to give you some more detail about my personal experience with standardized test scores and why in my opinion it is a flawed testing method.

If I remember correctly I did fairly alright on the SAT and took a few subject tests which were also decent to fairly good. Perhaps the funniest part, however, is that since a young age I have consistently scored the highest in the reading comprehension/English vocab sections of these standardized tests, and the worst in the math sections. Despite being a scientist, I have never had an easy time with math.

The GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) is the general exam many graduate students who wish to apply to graduate school in the United States must take. Students who take this exam may be hoping to pursue their graduate studies literature or economics. Because it’s such an umbrella exam it can’t test applicants on their specific knowledge that relates to their proposed field of study, which means that performance on these exams is simply how good you are at taking/preparing for standardized tests.

Personally, I knew I would have the most difficulty with the math section, so I purchased a GRE test prep book and only worked through the math sections with the little free time I had working 60 hours a week.

And despite my studying I still scored the lowest in math. The way you are scored compares your performance to that of everyone else who took that same version of the GRE and so you get a “percentile” score or where you fell in the score distribution. A percentile close to 100 means you scored better than the vast majority of people taking the test, around the 50 percentile is average and close to 0 is below the average.

I received a percentile score for the math/quantitative section of 59.

I still got into a PhD program of my choice.

Last quarter I was Teaching Assistant for Mathematics for Life Science majors.

Many people perform below their expectations/desires for the GRE but your GRE score doesn’t count for much in the long run. Many programs view these scores with less and less importance, so study as best you can but don’t panic if you don’t do well. You’ve got this. It’ll work out.