Should I retake the GREs?
October 27, 2009 7:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm applying to grad school for a Masters in Library Science, and I'm unsure if I should re-take the GREs. I did very well on the Verbal and Quantitative sections - both scores were above the averages of accepted students for the MLS programs I'm looking at. But I only got a 4 on the writing section (putting me in the 41st percentile). The average for admitted students is around a 5. Will my admittedly poor showing on the writing section hurt me enough that I should take the GREs again?

Other info that may affect this: I'm applying to some of the top ranked MLS programs (at least according to US News & World Report). I graduated from undergrad in '08 with a 3.7 GPA and a BA in History and English from a generally well-regarded liberal arts college, so I'm a capable writer - just not so much on the GREs. This should be more important than my GRE writing score, right?

Sorry for being a flipped out grad school applicant - I've over-thought the whole thing and need some outside input. Email at
posted by anonymous to Education (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't worry about it. I had about the same GRE experience and I got into a top ranked program in my field (religious studies). Apparently many people try to write too well for the GRE and it ends up hurting them, and most grad programs probably know this and don't take the score too seriously. Plus I assume you'll be submitting a writing sample, which is a much better indicator of your writing skills.
posted by farishta at 7:38 PM on October 27, 2009

I was of the impression that grad programs don't really look at the AWA, but I could be mistaken. For what it's worth, my AWA score was horrible, but then again, I was applying for a quantitative master's.
posted by pravit at 7:40 PM on October 27, 2009

Also, I just looked at the US N&WR rankings and I happen to be at UNC Chapel Hill. If you're applying here and you have any questions feel free to mefi mail me!
posted by farishta at 7:40 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can't speak to what Library Science admissions officers are looking for specifically, but in the Kaplan book I'm studying from they mention that many (and I just went to my book and looked this up and they used the word "many") graduate school admissions departments average the two scores that an applicant submits in their application. So assuming you do as well or better on the verbal and quantitative sections, and do significantly better on the writing section, there shouldn't be a problem in retaking the exam.
posted by pwally at 7:41 PM on October 27, 2009

As usual, I'd suggest posting this to LiveJournal's Applytograd community. Lots more people with lots more expertise.

Personally, I'd study and retake. How above average were your other scores? Like 100+ points above average or 10 points above average? If you're only slightly above average, retake.
posted by k8t at 7:53 PM on October 27, 2009

It is really not a good idea to retake the GRE unless you think you will do significantly better than previously. You'd be better off putting that time and effort into a kickass application packet, where the persons who actually matter will be reading your writing and judge for themselves.

The GRE is a joke. And an insult to standardized testing.

FWIW, I'm in very similar shoes. I was shocked when I received my score of 4 on the writing. I also didn't do so hot on the other sections. After meeting with several advisors about this, and they really assured me that this won't impact me negatively. I even asked if it would be a deciding factor between two very like candidates. They all said 'no'. Your college may vary, but I would recommend playing to your strengths.

Good luck!
posted by iamkimiam at 8:04 PM on October 27, 2009

I can speak to the library side of things.

I just got my MLIS ('09) and I graduated from college in '07 with a 3.8 GPA. I took the new, computerized GRE and I got a horrible math score (18th percentile!), great verbal score (99th? percentile), and a 6 on the stupid writing test (don't ask me how).

I can say that my quantitative score shut me out of UNC-Chapel Hill (they want the scores to be balanced) and looking at their admissions policies, it looks like your writing score might be a deal breaker for them and then again it might not be.

It's worth mentioning that my grad school (it's The Other One in California) was swamped with applicants this year and turned down a record number of people, and I would expect this to be typical for schools across the nation. Thus, you may be shut out of (some) more places than you normally would be based on your scores.

Is it worth taking the GRE again? I really doubt it. UNC-Chapel Hill is probably the most stringent I-school in the nation, and you could very well have a decent chance even there. UIUC doesn't even require the GRE (see here.)
posted by librarylis at 8:17 PM on October 27, 2009

This will not matter. The GRE is not even required at most MLIS schools unless your college GPA is below a 3.0. Work on your admissions essay instead of re-taking the GREs. Focus on writing a good essay, making sure that you have solid recommendations, and on your resume/CV. The GRE writing scores don't really apply to real life and the faculty that deal with admissions at good programs know this. The rules for grading are insane: you must differ the lengths of your sentences in order to get more points, using more transition words boosts your score, and complicated vocabulary is frowned upon because "you might be hiding your weak argument under big words." These are things that I was told in my Kaplan class for the GRE and I (and hopefully most professors) strongly disagree with these ideas when you're writing a normal analytical essay or critical thinking piece. The GRE does not test how well you write, it tests how well you write an inane essay based on arbitrary rules that you are not aware of for the purposes of the test.
posted by k8lin at 8:24 PM on October 27, 2009

Like you I did well on the two multiple choice sections and got a 4 on the writing and got into the University of Washington's MLIS program without a problem.
posted by kbuxton at 9:01 PM on October 27, 2009

Drexel Grad here. Their policy states the GRE may not be required if your undergrad grades and recommendations are exemplary. I got my acceptance letter before my GRE scores were shipped, and my GPA was about 3.5. I think retaking would depend on your top school's policy.
posted by itsonreserve at 9:51 PM on October 27, 2009

MLS from one of those top-ranked LS programs here.

I suspect a well-written essay will balance out your writing score. (Please don't say, "I love books.")

I'm also wondering what else you've been doing over the past few years. Have you been doing some interesting work that's all all relevant to librarianship in any way? Because that would also make your application more compelling to the committee.

Finally, if you are near any of the programs, make an appointment to stop by and meet a few profs, especially those who are on the graduate admissions committee.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:34 PM on October 27, 2009

I got my MLIS in 2008. I had a good GPA, high verbal and quantitative scores, and also got a 4 on the writing section. I got into UNC-Chapel Hill, UT Austin, and UCLA and did not get into UBC (though I don't remember if they even took GRE scores...). I think you'll be fine, especially if your statement of purpose is strong.
posted by wsquared at 10:36 PM on October 27, 2009

I did very well on the Verbal and Quantitative sections - both scores were above the averages of accepted students for the MLS programs I'm looking at. But I only got a 4 on the writing section (putting me in the 41st percentile).

I graduated from undergrad in '08 with a 3.7 GPA and a BA in History and English from a generally well-regarded liberal arts college

This describes me almost exactly, except my GPA was a little bit below 3.68 and I majored in Philosophy. Last year I got into University of Washington, UIUC and University of Michigan - every school I applied to.

I would not worry at all.
posted by puffin at 4:07 AM on October 28, 2009

a little bit below 3.68
Oops, I meant a little bit below 3.7. My GPA was 3.68.
posted by puffin at 4:10 AM on October 28, 2009

GPAs and GREs tend to take a back seat to work experience and application packet. My library school asked me to take the GREs and I said I wouldn't as I thought they were a waste of time. They balked, but I turned in my application packet complete with a decade-long history of library experience (yay for shelving books at 14!), a strong statement of purpose, multiple glowing recommendations from current librarian coworkers and past professors, and a picture of myself naked on top of a pile of tuition money.

Well, maybe not the last one, but you get the idea.

Library schools are desperate for students. They impose these standards more because they want to legitimatize the degree than a need to screen applicants. A bit of persistence, decent application, and a flattering interview can get you in the door. More and more, schools are looking at applicants' chances of employment post-graduation and are actively looking to recruit students who they know will have library jobs once they have their MLS.

I don't mean to add to your dread, but once you are in library school, seeking out paraprofessional employment or internships should be your top priority. You will be competing with every single member of your class for relatively few entry-level jobs. What's worse, you will also be competing with librarians with years of experience for those same jobs. I was in the market for a part-time paraprofessional a few months ago - I received at least a half-dozen resumes from librarians with MLSes and years of experience for a $16/hour gig. I went with an internal candidate. So while in school, build your network of contacts* as they will be the key to your first job, not your GREs or GPAs.

*You can even join some organizations like ALA or whatever. I don't have much use for them, but you should court any possible advantage you can.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:47 AM on October 28, 2009

Seconding bluedaisy, a well-written application essay / statement of purpose will count more than the GRE writing score. The essay is an actual piece of writing from you, the applicant, while the GRE writing score is an assessment by GRE evaluators of an arbitrary piece of writing. Which do you think better represents your writing skills?

It may sound obvious, but when writing your statement, try to tailor it to the school you are applying. There's a certain self-image each school projects, which is usually apparent in their web page, and in your statement you should sound clued in to that. And absolutely do not say "I love books" in your statement. Especially for schools that emphasize the role of technology in their presentation materials.
posted by needled at 7:46 AM on October 28, 2009

I don't think the top-ranked programs are hurting for students. And while I love the Annoyed Librarian, her rants shouldn't be one's only source for information on the field.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:09 PM on October 28, 2009

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