How important are GRE scores for a Master’s in Biology?

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What is the GRE?

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). It is one step in the application process for admission used by many graduate schools. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and four universities introduced the test in 1936. The University of Wisconsin in 1938 was the first to require students to take the GRE.

A 2017 article published in PLOS, a non-profit Open Access research journal, concluded that the general GRE is ineffective as a predictive tool for assessing graduate students.

Initially, the GRE consisted of verbal and quantitative sections; analytics and logic were later additions. In 2002, the analytical writing assessment replaced these two. Later modifications occurred in 2007, 2008, and 2011, with the current score scale of 130-170 for the verbal and quantification segments. The analytical writing section has a 0-6 score in half-point increments.

Students with an undergraduate major in one of the following may need to take one of the GRE Subject Tests. The six disciplines are:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Literature in English
  • Physics
  • Psychology

Students considering applying to a graduate program in biology should check the school’s admission requirements. According to Varsity Tutors, the biology subject test covers genetics, DNA replication, cell biology, plant and animal biology, and molecular biology. Other topics include ecology, which tests your knowledge of community and population ecology, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and more. Expect questions on lab techniques, namely chromatography, microscopy, DNA analysis, and immunochemistry. (See the Varsity Tutor site for free practice tests in biology)

Will I need the GRE?

Perhaps not! A May 2019 article in Science magazine stated that fewer graduate schools use the GRE. The main reason is that studies show that impressive GRE scores are not a valid indicator of success in master’s programs. The University of Michigan’s biomedical sciences graduate program dropped the GRE in 2018. As other schools joined Michigan, peer pressure accelerated the cancellation of the test requirement. Some colleges and universities were concerned that the test requirement may eliminate potential candidates for admission.

The Science article provides a link to a list of biomedical programs not requiring the GRE – compliments of the University of North Carolina biological science programs.

In 2020, Princeton University made the GRE optional for fourteen graduate programs. Two of these are Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Molecular Biology. Some of the school’s reasons are bias, the tests’ cost, and lack of validity.

The University of Central Florida’s Master of Science in Biology does not require the GRE for application. You need to submit one official transcript of your undergraduate grades, three letters of recommendation, a CV, and a personal statement. However, students applying for a UCF fellowship are encouraged to provide the GRE scores. There are annual stipends for master’s students.

Uncertain Times

As of this writing (February 2021), we are amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some schools have temporarily suspended the GRE test to facilitate the admission process by eliminating extraneous requirements. The University of Louisiana (UL) at Lafayette is one example of the GRE being eliminated for many graduate programs. The Master of Science in Biology is one. But these suspensions might be reinstituted at a later date (post-pandemic).

UL Lafayette stipulates that eight of its graduate programs still require GRE scores. These include business, accounting, computer science, education, informatics, and environmental resource science.

Entrance Requirement

Missouri State’s Master of Science in Biology states that the GRE General Test scores are mandatory, in addition to the other admission documents (GPA, three recommendation letters, and personal statement). Both the traditional master’s and the accelerated format require the GRE results. The school specifies that the GRE score must be commensurate with the advanced program.

It appears that the number of schools not requiring the GRE exceeds those needing it for admission consideration. Students who intend to apply to the Master of Science in Biology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, will need official GRE scores. The school uses a formula ( {[( 200*GPA) Averaged % ranking] > 300 ]}) that includes your GPA and GRE when considering graduate applicants. Those falling below the threshold of 300 have the possibility of admission on a probationary basis.

How Important?

As elaborated above, you need not stress about the desire to excel on the GRE tests. There are innumerable opportunities to find graduate programs in biology with no GRE requirement. At Skoolville, you can find a directory of universities in the United States that do not require the GRE. Peruse these and others, which support the premise that the GRE is waning in its necessity.

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