The GRE Causes More Harm Than Good to Women of Color
How one test enforces unfair academic gatekeeping
Some time ago, a world-famous White male economist did something unprecedented: He shared his GRE scores publicly — scores that, in his words, would have resulted in him being screened out by the top programs that now swear by his textbooks and resources today. (In the field of economics, the quantitative score must be nearly perfect for competitive programs that yield the best academic career outcomes.) In the tweets that followed, he shared that while he didn’t know if the GRE was useful and that it could be a nontrivial predictor, he ultimately wanted to normalize the fact that not everyone aces the GRE. And he’s right.
As encouraged as I was by his vulnerability, I couldn’t help but note that any Black woman with a score like that today would have not been granted admission because of double standards. There would have been debate about whether she could handle the rigor of a program or if she were adequately prepared by her institution. All of this reminded me of Koritha Mitchell’s words: “I’ve spent my career watching white people use job-performance standards to judge everyone but themselves and each other.” And that’s when it dawned on me: Academic gatekeeping starts early, beginning with how the GRE is used.
The GRE, or the Graduate Readiness Examination, is a standardized exam used to “assess” one’s readiness in reading comprehension, writing, and mathematics for graduate school.
For all intents and purposes, the GRE, like any other standardized test, is meant to be the great equalizer in admissions. The College Board, which administers the GRE through ETS, states that scores “are standardized and objective, giving faculty committees a way to directly compare applicants with different backgrounds and experiences.” In some cases, scores may even serve as another mechanism to assist in a holistic review of an application, especially in the absence of strong letters of recommendation from academic giants or stellar grades.
But here’s the thing: While the GRE may be standardized, the way the test is used is not. Put another way, the test can be used to gatekeep the academy before you even arrive at the gate. As Neil Lewis Jr., an assistant…