Saturday, February 7, 2009

Retaking the GRE

This fun story from the Chronicle of Higher Education - I nearly typed Insider Higher Ed by mistake so it is a good thing I checked - tells the story of an English professor who retakes the English subject area GRE.

There is also a subject area test in economics, though my sense is that the top departments do not use it. When I took it, I remember thinking how little of it was very familiar to me. Much of it was textbook old style hydraulic Keynesianism, which I have never really had an intuitive understanding of and which I had very little exposure to as an undergraduate because our honors macroeconomics course used photocopies from the just-about-to-be-released text by Robert Barro, which, at least then, was almost entirely new classical in its presentation. That stuff I understood, as it is largely "micro with summation signs", but it was not on the subject exam at that point. My recollection is that I did pretty poorily on the subject exam, maybe the 60th percentile or something like that.

I tend to agree with the Chronicle writer in the sense that I think the GRE math test is much more useful for economics admissions than the subject area test. These days, given the relative size and quality of the applicant pool and of the top programs, a GRE math score of 750 (if not 780 or 800) is almost a necessary condition for admission. This is both good and bad. It is good because it allows a low-cost pre-screening and so reduces the time cost of admissions for faculty. It is bad because for some students the difference between 740 and 780 may be whether they got laid the night before or had a noisy person sitting next to them.

Hat tip: