International student with bad general GRE scores

borelius
Posts: 10
Joined: Mon Nov 07, 2011 9:33 am

International student with bad general GRE scores

Postby borelius » Mon Nov 07, 2011 10:47 am

I just got my scores of the revised general GRE and did REALLY badly. :( Here are my scores and percentiles :oops: (notice they're in the NEW 130-170 SCALE):

V-GRE: 146 / 170 (31%)
Q-GRE: 159 / 170 (82%)
W-GRE: 3.0 / 6 (11%)

I got too nervous on the test day and besides, I didn't get myself prepared for it, but I know this is not an excuse for such a poor performance. Honestly, the one score that frustrated me the most was the quantitative. I'm pretty sure I could definitely get an 800 easily, but I screwed up one of the sections. I did three quantitative sections, two of which I'm pretty sure I got everything correct (they were ridiculously easy), but the third one was unusually "difficult", mostly because of bad wording and some confusing tables in which I got stuck (although two or three questions were particularly challenging for a 35' time limit test), so that I ran out of time and had to guess around 8 answers. I was hoping that this section would be experimental, but unfortunately I guess it wasn't (I hate computer adaptative tests!), as my score is relatively low (at least for a physics student without any trouble at all with basic math). However, I'm pretty confident that I did great in the PGRE (hoping for a 950 or so) and I also have a very good GPA and one publication (2nd author in a Physical Review E article). I think I can also get reasonable letters of recommendation.

Taking into account that I'm an international student aiming to do research in theoretical physics, do you guys think it's still worth to apply for grad school with such credentials (in particular, for some of the top 20/30 programs), or should I definitely retake the general GRE test? What are my chances if I do get a high PGRE score? In case I apply, should I mention in my SoP the reason I did poorly in the general test?

This decision is really important to me, as I'm considering seriously to give up an academic career in physics if I don't get accepted by a reasonably good American grad school (in which case I would enter an engineering undergraduate school in my home country to have a better job perspective). BTW, I'm considering to apply only twice if necessary (if I'm rejected a second time I'll definitely say goodbye to my physics career and get into an engineering school).

It would also be great to hear admissionprof's opinion on how to resolve this dilemma.

admissionprof
Posts: 364
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2008 7:50 pm

Re: International student with bad general GRE scores

Postby admissionprof » Mon Nov 07, 2011 9:15 pm

Why not just take it again? Yes, it'll hurt at the top 20 places, although with the rest of your record being so strong, it shouldn't hurt at the next tier. Depends on the details, but taking it again isn't too difficult, and if you do much better, then most admission committees would ignore the first one.

borelius
Posts: 10
Joined: Mon Nov 07, 2011 9:33 am

Re: International student with bad general GRE scores

Postby borelius » Mon Nov 07, 2011 10:50 pm

The problem is that ETS doesn't allow anyone to retake the general test within a 60-day period after the test date, which in my case means that I'll only be able to do it again in December. Maybe there'll be enough time to do another test for some programs with deadlines in Jan 1st or 15th, but I still think it'd be too risky to retake the test without any preparation (I won't have time to study, as I'm too busy working on my Master's thesis).

I have to say that IMHO the verbal section of the general GRE is extremely difficult for an international student whose first language is not English, not only for the vocabulary, but also (and mainly) for the very tight time constraints. As for the writing section, in my case the problem was definitely the length of my essays (I've heard that it matters a lot), which can be a serious problem for not very skillful typists like me. Besides, I've also heard that ETS graders spend no more than two minutes reading an essay, no matter how long it is (that is, the essays should only look fine at first glance, which is something quite subjective). As you can see, I don't have any serious trouble with writing in English, otherwise I would't be able to write this very post decently (formal English is in fact even easier to me, because my mother language is latin-based). Unfortunately, this simply isn't reflected by my AW score.

In brief, the focus of my question was to know whether or not it's still worth to apply for any top 20 / 30 school with my credentials. Or, to rephrase it, how much would the low general GRE scores hurt my application? If I am to retake the test, I'll probably have to wait a whole year for the next admission processes, which will be a lot of time loss only because of a non-specific standardized test. Yet I will run the risk of ending up with a bunch of rejections anyway.

As I had already said, I'm willing to retake the test if necessary, but probably not for as soon as the 2012 fall admission. However, I really need to know if there's still a chance that a high score in the PGRE would make up for the extremely low verbal / AW scores plus the not-so-good quant score.
Last edited by borelius on Mon Dec 12, 2011 8:59 am, edited 3 times in total.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: International student with bad general GRE scores

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Nov 08, 2011 11:55 am

The opportunity cost of an application is fairly low, but that said the chance of you getting in is probably dampened fairly sharply for top 15 schools. As an international, you're competing against a much larger set of students, almost all of which do well on the PGRE/GPA. The admissions committee has to make a choice somehow. Your publication helps--why not contact professors who work in the same field that you wrote your paper in at the universities you want to apply, and measure their enthusiasm?

If I had to say one way or the other, though, try to bring up the score. December really isn't too late though--they don't look at applications until February for the most part, and so your new GRE score should be in the file before anyone throws it out.

borelius
Posts: 10
Joined: Mon Nov 07, 2011 9:33 am

Re: International student with bad general GRE scores

Postby borelius » Sun Nov 13, 2011 4:23 pm

My PGRE is 900 (86%). :( What are my chances now in a top 20 or top 30 school?

vasilis
Posts: 7
Joined: Fri Nov 18, 2011 12:56 pm

Re: International student with bad general GRE scores

Postby vasilis » Sat Jan 07, 2012 11:15 pm

Man, relax... I dont know if it's too late but anyhow, I am in the same position with you; i.e. I am an international student who pursues a PhD in theoretical physics. I got 910 (87%) and Q:160, V:141, A/W:4.0 and I did apply to some of the top 10 - 30 uni's. I realize that the competition is high but the way I see it, is that you have nothing else to do but to try your luck (+ some bucks).

If you really wanna become a physicist then you shouldn't care so much about the ranking but instead you should seek for active researchers... in fact, if you do some research you might be surprised of how many brilliant people are out there! Anw, the deadlines for the "other" universities are in midJan - 1st-Feb...

Good luck

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: International student with bad general GRE scores

Postby bfollinprm » Sun Jan 08, 2012 1:06 am

Agreed. Just as an example of how life isn't over for aspiring theorists without the top 10s, at my university we have Andy Albrecht (co-inventor of slow-roll inflation) and Steve Carlip (of 2+1 quantum gravity models). That's (at least*) two top-notch and active theorists, and this is at a top 30 school.

*I'm not familiar with everyone in the department, only those close to my interests.




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