WASHINGTON: The Graduate Record Examination (GRE — a standardised test for admissions in most graduate schools in the US — fails to identify students that are likely to finish college and hurt the growth of racial and gender diversity, a study has found.
Based on the findings published in the journal Science Advances, researchers are urging universities across the US to find a new way to identify the next generation of scientists.
The study, led by researchers from Rochester Institute of Technology in the US, showed that traditional admissions metrics for physics PhD programmes such as the GRE do not predict completion and hurt the growth of diversity in physics, which is already the least diverse of the sciences.
Researchers completed an analysis of about one in eight physics PhD students from 2000 to 2010.
They discovered that while women and underrepresented minorities tend to perform worse on the GRE Physics Subject Test, students’ performance had no bearing on PhD completion.
Undergraduate GPA was the most robust predictor of PhD completion, researchers said.
According to Casey Miller, Associate Dean for Research at Rochester Institute of Technology, this the largest study that has ever been done in physics specifically looking at the correlations between admissions data and outcomes at the graduate level.
“What we show here is that there is no correlation with the physics GRE test and graduation,” said Miller.
“That’s a big deal because the test is used in a large fraction of the PhD programmes in the US and they use it with a minimum acceptable score. First off, if it’s meaningless then it doesn’t make any sense to use it that way,” said Miller.
“The second problem is that the test, like all standardised tests, shows significant gender and race-based differences,” she said.
“When you use a minimum acceptable score on a tool that has race and gender-based differences, the outcome is fewer women of all races and under-represented minorities of all gender identities get into PhD programmes, despite the tool being ineffective at telling us who will finish,” she added.
“If you ask faculty, the most important things that make a great student are non-cognitive things like perseverance and grit that we don’t measure right now,” said Miller.
“One of my goals is to develop an assessment of such competencies for the front end of the admissions process,” she said.