How to deal with having failed the GRE?
December 1, 2019 4:30 PM   Subscribe

So I took the GRE for the third time yesterday. I got the same grade on math, a 149. As a computer science graduate this is really disheartening, more importantly as someone who spent an inordinate amount of time and money($2000+) on this thing, I just don't know what to do. I had to put almost everything on hold because of this test. I stopped going to the gym, I stopped programming in my free time, I stopped learning about finance, I stopped going to events I cared about. I did all of this so that I would have time to study.

Well I can't retake it anymore. There's not enough time anymore and even if there was I don't know that I have it in me to do it. If I had known that I would still have the same grade that I had when I first took it, I would have not bothered. It's as if nothing I did mattered. I put this much effort into this because the school I care about the most in Canada, Waterloo, asked for it, at least it is needed for international students. I'm applying to other places too, they don't require the GRE, but I still want Waterloo more than the others. From what it says on there requirements it doesn't seem to be a very important factor, it's only needed if you did not graduate from an institution that taught in English. Nevertheless, I always do my best and I wasn't about to send some mediocre score.

I guess I just don't know anymore. This whole process has left me drained, I've spent most of this year working on this whole ordeal. I wish it would have gone differently. I've always had my issues with math, especially in the past when I'd pay far too much attention to what my classmates in school said about math. They'd say it was for losers and nerds, that I studied too much, I foolishly listened to that nonsense and I subsequently spent years fighting with math. I wonder if things would have gone differently with this test if I hadn't done those things. Now, I'm interested in math more than anything, and I was never bad at it, always went to the advanced classes in school.

On the plus side, after having studied so much, I solidified my knowledge of basic high school maths.

I still don't know what to do though, I don't know whether I should still apply to Waterloo. I'm not sure how to deal with this. I'm not used to failing like this. Normally whenever I put this much effort things work out.
posted by Tarsonis10 to Education (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My impression is the GRE score is not nearly as important to grad school admissions as the SAT is to college. A lot of schools don't even ask for it.

Are you applying for a Master's or a PhD?

Do you have a personal connection at Waterloo? The most important thing in a CS PhD is your choice of advisor and what you want to study. If you've got that figured out already, that advisor's personal opinion of you is going to matter much more than the one score. Similarly if you come from a very solid undergraduate program (even one outside Canada) or have other qualifications like an interesting resume or publication history, you will be fine.

In other words: focus your application on you, yourself, and what you will bring to Waterloo. Not the number you got on the GRE exam.
posted by Nelson at 4:38 PM on December 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

Masters, no personal connection, I did email a potential advisor, he didn't answer, I assume he was busy . No publications, have some strong recommendations, three PhDs from reputable universities, they all know me well and one of them used to be my country's director of public education.

I would say my school's program is solid, it's the best in technology in my country and one of the best in the region. I haven't been betting on that alone however.

Got a solid GPA as well, plus work experience, though I don't know if I'd say it is relevant to research.

Should I keep contacting this professor? His research in computational finance is just what I'm looking for.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 4:42 PM on December 1, 2019

If I've found the correct admissions page, the GRE requirement is listed:

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General test is required of all applicants to the School of Computer Science, who have not completed a 4 year undergraduate degree at a North American University where English is the primary language of instruction.

This, to me, means that you do not need to submit your GRE scores if your bachelor's was from a North American University taught in English. The only thing I find confusing is that comma. Reach out to admissions to clarify.

Edited to add: for some reason I thought you were Canadian. If i'm wrong about where you got your Bachelor's, then I apologize for my error.
posted by acidnova at 4:46 PM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Everyone's busy. If the potential advisor did not respond, they are most likely not interested.

However, considering that Waterloo CS only requires the GRE for non-English taught undergraduate degrees, how were your other two scores? They're likely not only looking at the quantitative score. You could very well be fine, even with that score.

Suggestion: email the program's graduate coordinator.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 4:48 PM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also reconsider your desire to go to Waterloo. In that region, consider U of T and McGill—both strong programs (I am unsure of the GRE requirements, if any, however).
posted by Ahmad Khani at 4:50 PM on December 1, 2019

Most graduate programs have grade cut-offs but not GRE cut-offs, meaning they can overlook a bad GRE score as long as you are eligible for funding based on your academic transcript.
Professors like to see the GRE but if you have a solid GPA and some good references that could make up for the low quantitative GRE score in your application.

You should apply everywhere if you can afford it, success rates vary from year to year so you don't want to limit yourself or cut yourself off before you even apply. If you don't get in but really want to continue, you could consider getting a research assistant type position in the program you want to get into and that can bolster your application in the future, and you'll end up a step ahead when you do go into the program.
posted by lafemma at 4:58 PM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I applied to mcgill and u of t as well. Mcgill asks for the GRE for the same reasons that Waterloo asks for it. U of T does not and as a matter of fact they made it very clear that they don't care about that test either.

The other 2 schools I applied to, UBC and U of Alberta, don't seem to care about either.

Everything is great other than my low quant score. My GPA is solid, my IELTS is good, my recommenders are good as well.

As for my verbal an writing scores, I got 155 in verbal, 4.0 on writing. The funny thing is I barely put in any effort into those areas.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 5:02 PM on December 1, 2019

I think it bears reminding yourself that this wasn't wasted time. It was time spent studying math, which will be very helpful in your field. Even if it didn't end up raising your test score, that extra time spent studying will almost certainly pay dividends in terms of feeling very comfortable with concepts you might have been shaky on before.

Not wasted time.

Also, definitely still apply to Waterloo, but also bear in mind that all of the schools you named are very well respected schools and you'll be very well-served attending any of them.
posted by 256 at 5:36 PM on December 1, 2019 [29 favorites]

I had a math GRE score good enough for the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon, but not on my first try. When I wasn't sure if my initial score was good enough I called admissions and asked where they would want me to be. An admissions officer gave me the details and it was enough to prompt me to retake it.

So, I'd ask. The faculty likely aren't reviewing all applications, just the ones that get past the initial screening, so it's worth getting that information.
posted by Alison at 7:17 PM on December 1, 2019

I am a professional test prep instructor; hopefully I can say a couple things that will help you, future test-takers, or both.
I stopped going to the gym, I stopped programming in my free time, I stopped learning about finance, I stopped going to events I cared about. I did all of this so that I would have time to study.
This might have seemed like a good idea, but it was not. Your brain needs those activities in order to stay capable of learning. I have seen the effects of this firsthand and it is one of the first things I warn my students against. Just find 15 minutes a day to study; that's enough. Attach it to something you already do every day (i.e. right after I go to the gym, I will study.)
Well I can't retake it anymore. There's not enough time anymore and even if there was I don't know that I have it in me to do it.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but do you really mean "there's not enough time to meet this year's deadline?" Just wait a year. That way, you can study for the test without the stress of an unrealistic timeframe.

Finally: the $2000 you spent was not wasted; you learned the math you need for the test. If you do decide to retake the GRE, you now need to figure out how to stop sabotaging your own mind. There's a great book called "Beyond the Content" by Logan Thompson, about how mindfulness practice can help fight the effects you're describing. It's $10 on Amazon and I think it might be really helpful for you; it's short enough to read in one week.

Good luck!
posted by rjacobs at 10:01 PM on December 1, 2019 [12 favorites]

Everyone's busy. If the potential advisor did not respond, they are most likely not interested.

I get far more unsolicited applications sent directly to me than I have time to read. So I wouldn't necessarily assume the adviser isn't interested in you as a student, but maybe he isn't interested in reviewing and responding to a lot of applications from people who want to go around the processes organized for those purposes.
posted by grouse at 6:25 AM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think not applying to Waterloo is cutting off your nose to spite your face. Apply. The worst thing that can happen is that you won't be going to Waterloo, which is what will definitely happen if you don't apply.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:25 AM on December 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for your comments. I guess I did what I could with that test. I don't know what else I could have done differently, I followed all the advice that I was given.

To those who suggested a retake, I can't. There's no more time this year, applications are due soon, as a matter of fact one of them is due today, this one doesn't ask for the GRE, but you get my point. I'm not waiting until next year because of the GRE. I mean yes, I'd love to get a better grade, but I cannot put everything on hold because of the GRE. I have a job as well, and I pretty much stopped doing all the other things I used to do in my free time. I cannot go through that again.

I will work with what I have and I will apply to Waterloo regardless. I'm hoping they're that serious about the test. Every other part of my application has been tailored to meet every one of their expectations. I hope that is reflected on my application, and that they realize what I have to offer.

Once again, thank you all for your support.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 10:07 AM on December 2, 2019

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