English literature has a reputation of being one of the easiest online master’s degrees, even though anyone who has ever written a complex literary analysis would beg to differ. One factor that makes an English literature degree seem relatively easy is the lack of mathematics skills necessary – that is, until you learn that many universities look at Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores as part of your application for admission to the program. If you’re worrying about whether the math component of the GRE will wreck your application, you can relax. An unimpressive score on the math section of the GRE is unlikely to be a deciding factor in your candidacy for an English literature degree.
How the GRE Factors Into Your Application to an English Program
Before you get worked up about the math portion of the GRE test, it’s important to look at what the overall test entails to understand why some graduate literature programs require it. The content of the GRE falls into three categories: verbal reasoning, analytical writing and quantitative reasoning. Although your math and quantitative reasoning skills may not matter for studying English, your verbal reasoning and analytical writing skills are important for success in graduate-level coursework. When GRE scores are part of the admissions process for an English literature degree program, the decision-makers typically focus on your scores on verbal reasoning and analytical writing specifically.
While we’re not advising you not to study for the quantitative reasoning component of the test, we are encouraging you to make sure you are particularly well prepared for the sections of the exam that most closely relate to your intended field of study. The verbal reasoning portion of the GRE exam contains reading comprehension questions, text completion (fill-in-the-blank) questions and sentence equivalence questions. In the analytical writing part of the GRE, you will be asked to complete two writing tasks, with 30 minutes for each task.
Besides the GRE General Test, there is also a GRE Subject Literature in English Test. Some graduate English literature programs consider your scores in this GRE Subject Test, either as a requirement to apply or as an optional factor in your application. The GRE Literature in English Test consists of questions on literary analysis, identification of an author or literary work, the cultural and historical contexts that shape literature and the history and theory of literary criticism.
Not all graduate literature degree programs require students to submit GRE scores as part of their application, and universities are increasingly removing the requirement even for doctoral-level programs, according to Inside Higher Ed.
What Are Graduate English Literature Programs Really Looking For?
What’s more important to getting into a graduate English literature program than your scores on the math section of the GRE? For one thing, you should expect any writing samples you submit to be thoroughly critiqued for the content of your ideas and the skill with which you express them. You should strive to make any writing portion of your application insightful and engaging, as appropriate to the task and content. Aim for perfection when it comes to proofreading, and don’t be afraid to ask someone you trust to take a look at the piece, since even the most competent writers can have trouble catching their own typos and mistakes.
Graduate English departments also look at the traditional aspects of a student’s application package. Your undergraduate GPA matters, both overall and as it pertains to your writing and literature coursework. Admissions personnel will evaluate your letters of recommendation – particularly those written by former English literature professors or that address your skills in writing and analysis of the written word.
In graduate programs in English literature, as in most college degree programs, admissions personnel look at the whole picture rather than one particular aspect of your application. That means other aspects of your life and background can also help you get into a graduate program in English literature. If you have a personal blog that you post to regularly, participate in a book club or literacy organization, wrote for your school newspaper as an undergraduate or serve as an editorial reader for a literary publication, these experiences can demonstrate both your commitment to the field and your character.
The one time your math score on the GRE may matter is if certain fellowships or scholarship programs in your university require a minimum GRE score. If your GRE score is poor, you may not qualify for these programs and will miss out on the funding.