The GRE: A booming business

Alan Duff

There’s a business for everything in the United States. This phenomenon can be observed everywhere from love and marriage to dieting pills and fitness programs. If someone wants to do anything, chances are there is a business there to facilitate our needs, or in some cases, obstruct. This model has never been more apparent than at the nation’s colleges.

From the second students plan on entering college they are forced into a system that promotes standardized testing. Entering college, most students have to pay hundreds of dollars to take the ACT, SAT, and maybe a few subject tests. Sometimes all three are required for a single application, and one can only ask why?

For students who plan to complete a master’s, Ph.D., or other graduate program, the horror of standardized tests is far from over if they wish to enter a competitive graduate school. Tests like the Graduate Record Examination, Law School Admission Test or Medical College Admission Test still lurk in the future eager to take a hefty sum out of any student’s wallet and test to see if they really are “ready” for graduate school.

A whole business has evolved around standardized tests in colleges that companies are eager to cash in on. So while any of these exams alone wouldn’t cost much, tests takers have ensured that the preparation for most of these tests is both necessary and expensive in order to ensure success. For tests like the LSAT, the initial test is $132. Add the price of study guides, which cost in some cases $100 or more, and then on top of that a student’s score will be sent to only one law school for free. Any additional score reports would cost $16 per law school.

Fortunately, the GRE doesn’t have such ridiculous overall prices, with tests costing $160. According to the GRE website, “about 675,000 prospective graduate and business school applicants from 230 countries/regions take the test.” Consequently, most of their test preparation guides are free online or only five dollars.

The purpose of these tests is supposedly to create a standardized predictive measurement for a student’s success in its specific graduate program. However, the GRE isn’t really that predicative of any student’s success in a graduate program, with a relatively low success rate at predicting how well a student will do in their program. Really, the only thing the GRE is good at is telling schools how good an individual student is at taking the GRE.

In response to this move, some graduate programs have claimed they don’t use the GRE as the primary means of deciding whether or not a student will be admitted — so why even have the test? If it doesn’t measure success, costs the student and isn’t really looked at in the application process, what is the point? Other programs claim that an individual’s score weighs heavily in their admission process and I feel sorry for students that apply to such programs.

It all comes down to profits. As long as test makers offer a slice of the profits to the graduate programs, I’m sure the tests will continue. Why we have an education system that encourages standardized tests with scores based solely on how much money a person spends on preparation is depressing.

But hey, as Newton once said, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” — and so for every action an American takes there is an equal and profitable capitalist business venture.