“There’s nothing like the thrill of beating your high score,” boasts a colorful 2011 infographic from the Educational Testing Service encouraging students to retake their GRE before applying to graduate schools.
Coming from the largest standardized test administrator in the world, the message is a bitter slap in the face to many of us who, unable to afford the high repeat fees for tests like the GRE and LSAT, will never be able to take them more than once.
In a world where issues of access are being brought to light, standardized tests loom like dark shadows.
While many graduate schools are beginning to de-emphasize the test scores in some cases (certain programs at UNT, for example, no longer require a test score as long as your undergraduate GPA was over 3.5) the overwhelming number of them still require at least one score on record for a student to be considered for admission, and even schools that no longer emphasize standardized test scores may still require a test, whether or not it has a heavy bearing on acceptance.
It is a disturbing reality to face when so many academic voices nationwide have called into question the efficacy of standardized test scores in determining eventual graduate success, but it is especially heartbreaking for low-income students who can barely afford the tests themselves, never mind the retakes.
Even if a student here at UTA is lucky enough to get a fee reduction waiver, the GRE alone will still cost $102.50. The fee only includes sending the received scores to four universities.
Each additional university recipient will cost $27. This presents itself not only as a money grab but as an additional barrier to access in terms of the number of schools a low-income student will be able to apply to.
Even if every university offered them application fee waivers, even if they had limitless promise, there are some students for whom $27 is simply too much.
$27 could be dinner for the week, part of a child’s dental appointment or the cost of necessary medicine; all for a score the student has already earned on a test that is arguably either too expensive for what it is or completely unnecessary to the schools it gates access to.
If these capable, but low-income students are unable to even pay for one additional score report, in what world would they be able to pay for the exam retake?
In their too-cheerful infographic, ETS refers to paying for a retake exam as “the power of confidence.”
Given that many universities are either relying less on or completely abolishing the testing requirement, this statement seems unequivocally insensitive both to the actual importance of their tests and the burden they inflict on low-income students.
What an implication: confidence is only for those who can afford it.
It is my hope that those of us who are fortunate enough to go on to graduate studies (or who are perhaps in graduate studies at UTA now) will do our best to urge our respective departments to evaluate whether these test scores are accurately predicting individual departmental success or if they are simply another financial hurdle to admittance.
In the meantime, low-income prospective graduate students will have to settle for one test attempt… if they can afford it.