With all the hoopla and the stress of an impending test day, it's not surprising that so many students often find themselves wondering why this test matters so much in the first place. From a practical standpoint it may not be particularly relevant—it DOES matter and there’s really no getting around it—however we feel that asking this question can help you refocus why you're spending so much time studying for, and worrying about, this test in the first place. So, let's ask (and answer) it: Why exactly is the GRE so important?
It Is The Great Comparison Tool
Much like the SAT and ACT are used in college admissions, the GRE is used as a standardized measure in graduate school admissions. Why? Because it is likely the only across-the-board numerical indicator that graduate schools have when comparing applicants. Admissions officers have no way of really knowing how one major in one college stacks up in difficulty to the same major in another college, or how a 4.0 GPA from one school compares to a 4.0 GPA from another (sure, they’ll be able to hazard a guess, but it’s still not an exact science).
It Is The Great Equalizer
When it comes to the GRE, they know that everyone was given the more or less the same test content (at least initially), and thus the same potential to achieve a given score. This makes the GRE the single most important number on your application, even more important than your undergraduate GPA. In fact, some schools weigh your GRE several times more than your undergraduate GPA—which means that a test of only a few hours can weigh much more than four years of college!
It Is The Great Predictor
The GRE is also considered to be a reasonably accurate predictor of first-year graduate school performance–which means, essentially, that if you do well on the GRE, you’re telling schools that you’ll do well during your first (and arguably most difficult) year of graduate school.
The Bottom Line
Use this information to your advantage. Think of it this way—even if your GPA is below the median for the school of your choice, you can significantly improve your chances by thoroughly preparing for the GRE and scoring in a high percentile. And, if your GPA is well above the median for your dream school, you can make yourself a virtual shoo-in by getting a high GRE score and making sure everything else in your application is well taken care of. No matter which category you fall into, you can play the GRE score game to your advantage.