If you’re pursuing a master’s in civil engineering, one of the highest paying master’s degrees, you will likely need to submit standardized test scores. The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) General Test consists of three sections that measure your quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning and analytical writing abilities. You might think that, as an engineering student, only your math-related GRE scores really matter. Although engineering schools often place more priority on the quantitative reasoning scores, they still do care about your verbal reasoning and analytical writing proficiency, as well.
An Emphasis on Quantitative Reasoning Scores
Math skills are essential for performing the complex calculations used in various branches of engineering. It’s no surprise, then, that graduate schools are particularly interested in applicants’ performance on the Quantitative Reasoning component of the GRE. The questions posed in the Quantitative Reasoning section of the standardized test assess your ability to analyze numerical information and use it to solve problems. To reach the solutions to these questions, test-takers have to tap into the skills and concepts found in algebra, basic arithmetic, data analysis, geometry and mathematical modeling.
As a prospective graduate student in chemical engineering, you are more likely to encounter a minimum GRE score requirement specific to the Quantitative Reasoning section of the exam than other sections. In programs that set minimum GRE score requirements for both of the two main portions of the exam, the score required for the Quantitative Reasoning portion of the test is usually higher than what is required for the Verbal Reasoning component.
Few civil engineering master’s degree programs specify a minimum score requirement for the Analytical Writing portion of the GRE test, which is graded on a scale of 0 to 6, rather than 130 to 170. Programs may or may not include this score in your total GRE score.
Why Verbal Reasoning and Analytical Writing Scores Still Matter
You definitely want your Quantitative Reasoning GRE scores to be as high as possible, but you shouldn’t neglect to study for the other areas of the test, as well. One reason the rest of the test also matters is because some master’s in civil engineering programs use what’s called a composite or combined GRE score to make admissions decisions. Instead of looking at the Quantitative Reasoning score specifically, these programs look at the total score of the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning exam sections or all three sections of the test. Doing poorly on the Verbal Reasoning component of the GRE could hurt your application to one of these schools or completely prevent you from being eligible to apply.
Even at engineering graduate schools that don’t set a minimum requirement for your combined GRE score or your Verbal Reasoning score, students are still encouraged to become proficient in verbal reasoning and analytical writing. These soft skills may not be as important as your technical skills, but they still have a valuable place in the work of a professional engineer. You need to be able to communicate effectively and to understand all challenges that could arise in an engineering project, not only the ones that have an obvious number component. In some instances, you may even need to determine ways to quantify and test a problem that presents as qualitative in nature, like usability problems. If you work in academic research, your analytical writing abilities are important not only for getting research published but also for securing the research grant funding that allows you to move forward with your work.
Of course, no matter what engineering work you do, you will need to communicate with someone: clients, project managers, fellow industry or research collaborators, and employees in public entities and organizations. Many of the people with you will interact with professionally won’t necessarily have the same civil engineering background you have. You must be able to understand problems others voice to you in a verbal capacity and clearly and succinctly express your thoughts in writing. Having strong quantitative skills can help you succeed in the technical aspects of engineering, but you need good verbal and writing skills to do well in the business aspects of the field.
At some of the most prestigious engineering schools, admitted students often have near-perfect Quantitative Reasoning GRE scores (167 out of 170) and almost as high (161 out of 170) scores on the Verbal Reasoning section, according to U.S. News & World Report.