We’ve been writing about PA school admissions for more than fouryears now, and we were a little embarrassed to realize the other day that we’ve never written specifically about the importance of the Graduate Requisite Exam.  So just how important is the GRE?  First, it’s important to have a little background.

What is the GRE?

The GRE is a computerized exam that was developed by a private company called the Educational Testing Service (ETS).  ETS created the test to sell to graduate schools as an equalizing factor in their admissions process.  Interestingly, though it was sold to graduate schools as the standard, it is paid for by the test takers.  The idea is that from school to school, the quality and difficulty of college education varies widely.  This is no surprise, as we all know that an A from an Ivy League school is worth much more than an A from a lesser school.  In fact, the GRE was originally introduced to reduce the effects of grade inflation, the tendency for grades for comparable work to increase over time.

The test is supposed to evaluate test-takers’ ability to perform verbal and mathematical reasoning and to write in essay format.

Does the GRE Matter in PA School Admissions?

The answer here is easy.  “It depends.”

Think of the GRE as a data point that PA schools have for each student.  They can’t really compare students directly based on that one data point alone – that would be too arbitrary to be useful.  So GRE scores become part of a list of factors on which applicants are judged.  So the question becomes: how highly is the GRE valued in the admissions process?

In most cases, not that much.

Here’s why:

  • The GRE is a measurement of a student’s performance at one point in time on a very specific set of criteria.
  • The skills measured by the GRE (verbal and mathematical reasoning), though very general, are very artificial.  As a PA, you don’t sit around answering questions on a computer all day.  Research has shown that it is a poor measure of an applicant’s intelligence, study skills, persistence, graduate school performance or completion, subject knowledge, or eventual clinical skill.
  • With practice, anyone can improve their GRE scores.  ETS now lets you take the test every 30 days if you choose to.  Remember that ETS is a business?  You pay them $185+ every time, and that doesn’t include the money they make on study materials for their own test.  Why would you evaluate a group of people using a method that didn’t assure that everyone had the same amount of practice at the task?
  • Students can now select which score(s) to send to graduate programs, so there is a huge incentive for students to repeat the test until they are happy with their scores.  This means more money for ETS, and less validity to GRE scores.

When you put all these together, in our opinion, the GRE is rarely, if ever, make-or-break for any PA school applicant.

computerized testWhen the GRE Matters Most

  • When you have consistently low grades in either math and/or English.  Here, good scores show that despite your weak grades, you are still capable in these areas.
  • When you apply to a program that has a huge number of applicants.  Here the GRE is a time saver for schools; it’s a quick way to reduce volume of applications to consider for interviews.
  • When you have particularly low scores.  This can call your academic ability into question with admissions committees.

What to do about the GRE

  1. Think ahead.  Plan to take the exam well in advance of when you will submit your application.  This will give you time to prepare and time to retake it if you choose to.
  2. Take a practice test.  Make sure it’s as close to the real thing as you can.  Time it for 3 hours and 45 minutes and take breaks when you would if you were taking it for real.
  3. Assess your areas of weakness based on your practice test results.
  4. If you are scoring below the 50th percentile, you have work to do.  Get a good GRE test prep book and start practicing on your weak areas.  If you’re well below the 50th percentile, consider a test prep course, such as Kaplan, Princeton Review, or Magoosh.
  5. For most PA school applicants, being somewhat better than 55th percentile (310 total) is good enough.  Once you’re there, be done with the GRE.  Busting your hump for 60% is probably not going to move you into the accept pile if you aren’t there already.


The GRE isn’t a great indicator of anything.  It’s yet another hoop you need to jump through to get into PA school.  Once you can show that you’re somewhat better than average, you’ve completed the hoop and you can pour your time into more important application factors, such as your CASPA essay and your health care experience hours.

We’ll be writing more on the GRE – let us know what you what to know about it…