Are requiring GREs helping or hurting our admissions?

Many PA programs require the GRE as part of the admission requirements.  Recently, I entered into a conversation with a member of leadership that challenged the value of requiring a GRE.  So I went to the literature to better educate myself.  What I learned may be helpful to you.

According to the vice president of global education for the Educational Testing Services (ETS), the organization that administers the GRE, the test was designed to identify candidates with the academic ability needed for graduate school (Halford, 2019).  The GRE has been used in higher education to determine applicants’ preparedness for graduate school and their potential success in completing the graduate program (Nuniz, 2017).  Graduate education has historically required the GRE to help the admission department quantitatively compare applicants when making admission decisions.  This is especially true for programs with large numbers of applicants.  It is important to note that GRE scores can be helpful for particular programs where the knowledge and skills assessed by the GRE are critical to success in the given field.  However, many institutions require them regardless.

There are three components the GRE evaluates; verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing.  Verbal reasoning assesses vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension, the ability to analyze and draw conclusions from the information or incomplete data, and one’s skill at selecting and distinguishing major from minor or irrelevant points.  Quantitative reasoning evaluates problem-solving, interpretation, and analysis of quantitative information in the form of mathematical concepts or models.  Finally, analytical writing measures the ability to articulate and support complex ideas through examples, discern evidence and claims, and write a focused, coherent position (ETS, 2022a).

Two recent studies add to growing evidence that the GRE has very little predictability in graduate school success (Hall, O’Connell & Cook, 2017; Moneta-Koehler, Brown, Petrie, Evans & Chalkey, 2017).  These studies occurred at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and Vanderbilt University.  Their research found GRE scores were only moderate predictors of graduate GPA, and there was no evidence supporting a relationship between GRE scores and student success (Hall, O’Connell & Cook, 2017; Monet-Koehler, Brown, Petrie, Evans, & Chalkley, 2017).

So, if these scores don’t work, what does?  Two studies found that subjective information from individuals who knew the applicant well, such as letters of recommendation, were the most powerful predictors of success (Benderly, (2017; Hall, O’Connell & Cook, 2017; Weiner, 2017). In addition, the information from individuals who knew the applicant and could speak to their characteristics, attributes, and abilities as a learner provided valuable information that had better predictability of success (Hall, O’Connell & Cook, 2017; Weiner, 2017).

Another compelling reason to reconsider the role or requirement of the GRE for admission to PA programs is whether the playing field is truly level.  The debate as to whether the GRE is culturally biased and creates barriers for particular populations remains (Jaschik, 2018).  Although the ETS firmly states the examination is not biased, universities have been individually looking at the data relative to admission, GREs, diversity, and inclusion.  Like many other higher education programs, we must continue making significant strides toward diversity and inclusion in our profession.  The GRE requirement comes at the cost of just over $200.  In addition, if there is a cutoff score threshold, the applicants we seek may get excluded due to lower GRE scores due to factors such as different educational and social system supports that lead to inequitable opportunities.  Although this question remains definitively unanswered, when combined with the growing research about the GREs limited ability to predict success, many top universities in the country are dropping the requirement, such as Princeton, Penn State, and the University of California, San Francisco (Jaschik, 2018; Spike 2019).

The goal of the admissions process is to offer spots to individuals who are likely to finish the program and be successful (Halford, 2019).  Institutions are moving to a more holistic approach to include factors besides the GRE that will help select those students most likely to succeed.  If GRE scores are used, they are only one factor in the admission process.  Some suggest that programs and institutions do their own research to discover the factors most predictive of success in their programs.  The Tetrad (biochemistry, genetics, biology) graduate program at the University of California San Francisco did precisely this and found that the GRE analytical, verbal, and quantitative scores, GPA average, and undergraduate school ranking showed no correlations with graduate performance (Weimer, 2014).

How do GREs factor into your program’s admission process?  Is there evidence student performance on the GRE predicts success?


Benderly, B. L. (2017).  GREs don’t predict grad school success.  What does?

Educational Testing Service [ETS]. (2022a)Test content

Educational Testing Service [ETS]. (2022b) Test takers from underrepresented groups.

Halford, B. (2019).  Is there a future for the GRE?  Chemical & Engineering News, 97(5),

Hall, J.D., O’Connell, A. B., & Cook, J. G.(2017).  Predictors of student productivity in biomedical graduate school applications.  PLOS ONE 12(1),

Jaschik, S. (2019).  Renewed debate about GRE.  Inside Higher Ed.

Monet-Koehler, L., Brown, A.M., Petrie, K. A., Evans, B. J. & Chalkley, R. (2017). The limitations of the GRE in predicting success in biomedical graduate school.  PLOS ONE

Nuniz, H. (2017).  Expert guide: Why take the GREs. PrepScholar GREPrep.

Spike, C. (2019).  Rethinking the GRE.  Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Weiner, O. D. (2014).  How should we select our graduate students?  Molecular Biology of the Cell, 25(4),


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