Test: Skill :: MAT : ?
July 28, 2008 1:21 PM   Subscribe

MAT vs. GRE: Does it matter?

The graduate program I'm applying to [American Studies with a certificate in Public Culture and History] requires either the GRE -or- the MAT.

I don't want to take both and won't have time to take either more than once between now and the application deadline. I'm inclined to take the MAT because it's shorter, cheaper, and I think I have good skills at logical analysis. Evidence suggests I would probably do very well on the GRE verbal, but low-mediocre-to-very-poor on the mathematics.

My question is this: is there any reason to think one is a better choice than another? Funding? Strength on the application? Fit with field? Just want to make sure I don't create a detriment. Thanks for anything you can offer.
posted by Miko to Education (8 answers total)
My only concern with the MAT option would be what if you wanted to transfer to another program that did not accept the MAT? Otherwise it would be a good option, I think.

By "evidence suggests" do you mean how you have scored on GRE practice tests? Or are you making assumptions based on how you did in math and humanities classes in school? I ask because the math on the GRE is not high-level math, and that part of the test is particularly easy to study for, while being good with words is no guarantee of a perfect score on the verbal section.

If you haven't taken any practice tests, I would suggest trying them for both the MAT and the GRE and then pick strategically.
posted by Forktine at 1:29 PM on July 28, 2008

Response by poster: It's been a long time since I took the GRE practice test. I remember that it bore out my experience with the SAT: in that I got a perfect verbal but 640 in math. Since the time I took the practice GRE in college, I've forgotten all but the most rudimentary household math. I'm definitely scared of it. But your advice is good - taking both practice tests and comparing results.
posted by Miko at 1:37 PM on July 28, 2008

One thing to consider is that I took a GRE math practice test and did relatively terribly. I think my score was lower than 700 on the practice test. When I took the real GRE, I got an 800 on the math section. If it's simply fear of a low score that is preventing you from taking the GRE, it may be misplaced.
posted by rrenaud at 1:39 PM on July 28, 2008

I'd vote for the GRE (disclaimer: I work in test prep books) because the MAT is very unpredictable and requires you to know some trivia, whereas the GRE is more general and tests (or at least tries to test) aptitude.

GRE math will be easier than you think. Just pick up a practice book and do some exercises.
Also, don't worry too much about the math because the degree you want doesn't involve math so they don't look at that as much. If you were applying to a writing program and only scoring in the 500s for writing, I'd tell you to reconsider, but that isn't the case here.
posted by rmless at 1:49 PM on July 28, 2008

my girlfriend took the MAT instead of the GRE for social work school. she did very well and was offered fantastic aid packages at great schools. I suspect that as long as a school accepts either they weigh the scores equally. of course this is all anecdotal based on my gf's experience in a different field than you're getting into, bur it would be quite unfair for a merit-based admissions process to accept either without telling you one is worth more.
posted by jk252b at 2:47 PM on July 28, 2008

I've taken both, one for each (different) graduate degree. Like you, I have much better verbal than math skills. I scored higher on the MAT, the test was a lot less nerve-racking than the GRE. My high verbal GRE score was (obviously) negatively impacted by my low mathematics score. As rmless stated, the low math score didn't matter so much since I was applying to a program where my math skills weren't an issue.

If you do decide on the MAT, I would definitely purchase a test-prep book. This was an immense help to me in understanding the types of questions the MAT asks, the usual types of analogies, and how to recognize and answer correctly the more obscure analogies you will sometimes come across.
posted by Mimzy at 2:48 PM on July 28, 2008

Best answer: For what it's worth, the math portion of the GRE is REALLY EASY to improve on -- I used to teach the math portion of the test prep class at one of the big national test prep companies, and I was always able to raise scores, often significantly. It doesn't test your knowledge of math, it tests your ability to take the test, which is a different thing. If you're able to learn easily from a book, then get a test prep book for the GRE and focus on the math portion. A huge portion of doing well depends on knowing tricks and understanding the test format (especially now that it's computerized). For example, you don't have to come up with the answer yourself, you know that one of the answers is correct. And if the answer is a number, the choices are in ascending order, so you can work backwards, plug in the middle choice (i.e. C), and if that's too high, pick A or B, etc. If you want to go beyond a book but not commit to an entire course, there's another lesser-known option which is individual tutoring, which is offered by most of the big test prep industry players (I used to tutor for one of them along with teaching the courses). This is obviously more expensive per hour, but I think it's a better value because you can focus on exactly the parts you're weak on, and you can easily fit it into your schedule.

There's a lot more you can learn from the test prep industry, even if you're afraid of/"not good at" math, in fact so much so that I started to feel queasy about working for an industry that gives what amounts to a huge advantage to those who can afford to pay for it. But that's another story.

Given that you probably can improve your math score quite a bit more than you realize, I think you should not worry about the math portion (especially since it's not likely to be a huge factor to an admissions committee in your program) and make the decision on which you think you'll do better on (the GRE minus math or the MAT), modulo of course the cost.
posted by tractorfeed at 3:08 PM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

The GRE math is basically the same as SAT math, but GRE verbal is harder than SAT verbal. This is borne out in the GRE score distributions: 99th percentile in verbal is ~730, but an 800 math is only only ~92nd percentile. A stellar verbal score (esp combined with other evidence of good writing skills) is thus a way to stand out in any field, and it sounds like that could work for you. Math is kind of useless because if the program you're applying to requires math skills, all good applicants' will be similar (very high), and if it doesn't, they won't care much (generally speaking). However, the school might have a minimum combined score for admission, the same way that it might have a minimum undergrad GPA -- this is probably online under graduate school admissions. The department's website might list average GRE scores of last year's accepted applicants, but if not, you could email them and compare your scores from practice tests.

If you'll have a chance to see your scores before submitting them to the school, you could take both and choose. GRE scores (except the analytical writing section) are displayed immediately on the screen if you take the computerized version. I know absolutely nothing about the MAT. Best wishes.
posted by ecsh at 5:49 PM on July 28, 2008

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