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Should I be worried by low analytical writing score on GRE?

rmaguirrmaguir Posts: 70Registered User Junior Member
edited December 2012 in Graduate School
I'm planning on applying for a program in International Affairs at Columbia, Tufts, Johns Hopkins, UCSD, and American this coming January.

I took the GRE two weeks ago, and my verbal/quantitative were at or above average for these schools, but, very surprisingly, my analytical writing score was a 4. The funny thing is that I was an english major, and I've worked as a journalist for most of the time since I finished my undergrad. I write analytical pieces on a regular basis.

Needless to say, I wasn't even worried about the analytical writing section, and I felt confident about my scores upon finishing.

For the schools listed above, should I consider retaking the GRE? Is the analytical writing section important enough to risk getting a lower quant/verbal score, or should I have confidence that my writing samples and personal statement will speak louder than my GRE score?
Post edited by rmaguir on
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Replies to: Should I be worried by low analytical writing score on GRE?

  • decidedfactordecidedfactor Posts: 62Registered User Junior Member
    I feel like the GRE for these schools is more of a screener. Personal statement, letters of recommendation, work experience, and GPA far outweigh the GRE for IR schools. As well, the most important component of the GRE for IR is typically the quantitative score.

    That said, a 4 is fairly low when the averages for these schools is 5 or 5.5. But if the rest of your application is strong, you should be fine. Most admission officers seem to say that if you illustrate competency in at least one area, they won't hold a low score against you. For example, if your verbal is high, you majored in English as an undergrad, and you've worked as a journalist (your case), a low AW score on the GRE won't be as damning as if you got a C in the one English course you took as an undergrad, scored a 500 on Verbal despite being a native English speaker, and had no other writing experience.

    Also, no need to worry about "risking" a lower quant/verbal score...from what I know, most of these schools take your highest score from each section.
  • l3monkidl3monkid Posts: 84Registered User Junior Member
    I think that depends on how "above average" your V and Q scores are. If they are above 700, then no, don't retake it. If you think retaking it will risk that score then you don't want to do that. IMO the V/Q score is more important than the AW score, especially because you can "outweigh" your AW score with awesome personal statements and writing samples.

    But if your V/Q is simply "above average" but not stellar, you may want to think about retaking the GRE to boost your AW score, if doing so will not hinder your abilities to pad up other areas of your resume (eg. if you are going to be spending the next 8 months working day and night on a project that will play a central role in your CV, then don't risk that just for an extra point or two in your AW score)

    I'm not saying your AW score is bad. But getting a higher score would stay on the safe side. You don't want to regret not retaking it AFTER you get rejected.
  • RacinReaverRacinReaver Posts: 6,598Registered User Senior Member
    I wound up with a 5.5 on my AW and I'm a terrible writer (got a 510 on my SAT II Writing way back when, never really excelled in English; I'm pretty much your typical engineer/scientist), but I know I got my score because I read in one of the review books exactly what it is they're looking for on the GRE. That let me direct my essay towards those criteria and I'm sure boosted me from a 3-4 to my 5.5.
  • aibarraibarr Posts: 4,248Registered User Senior Member
    Also keep in mind that the AW section of the GRE is only about five or so years old. Most grad programs don't put a lot of weight on it. If your personal statements indicate that you can write and argue your point persuasively, I wouldn't worry too much about it.

    For engineering and science and math grad prospectives, the precursor to the analytical writing section was essentially a logic section, which was very helpful to grad programs in the more science/engineering/math-based arenas. You can imagine how much it irritated them when the GRE folks took away a nice, usable metric and replaced it with this ambiguous six-point writing thing... Most grad programs in those fields don't really give a hoot about what you got on the AW part.
  • l3monkidl3monkid Posts: 84Registered User Junior Member
    yeah, but the OP is in IR...from what I've seen on this forum the GRE/GPAs of IR applicants have been pretty high...and the admissions process seems to put a lot more emphasis on those things than in math/science/engineering
  • aibarraibarr Posts: 4,248Registered User Senior Member
    Even with the AW? It just seems so arbitrary to me. You're sending in personal statements and writing samples, so the programs can see whether or not you can write.

    Despite my college engineering background, I went to a private girls' school where the entire focus of the curriculum was to teach us how to write. I had thirteen years' worth of thesis statements and analytical writing under my belt, so I figured that on the GRE, I'd have it down cold. I walked out with a 4.5 and was a little surprised.

    I figured there was a trick to it, so before I took the GRE the second time, I bought books and practiced my essays, nailing each and every one of the points that they were supposedly looking for, having the few liberal arts professors look over a couple of my essays, and I though, "Well, I screwed up the first one, but now I really know what I'm doing," and I took the exam again.

    Another 4.5!!

    I've talked to other people who are really excellent writers, far better than I, and they've had similar experiences. I've seen people with abysmal AW scores get into good programs. The essay isn't provided to the schools, so you've just got this very nebulously-determined score range of one to six to go on... Granted, I'm just working off of personal experience, and I'd love to hear from some admissions people in grad programs... but I really haven't seen anything that says to me that the AW score is anything other than something-that-comes-with-your-other-GRE-scores.

    Anybody? =\
  • l3monkidl3monkid Posts: 84Registered User Junior Member
    Sure, there are also many students who are excellent biologists/chemists/mathematicians who also do bad on the Verbal or the Quantitative...and still get into excellent schools because the rest of their application shows that they're capable.

    While the AW is less important than the V/Q, and probably contains a weaker correlation with student writing ability, it is neverless a score that is part of a major examination that is required by ALL graduate schools. While a 4 will not kill your application, I also don't think admission committees disregard it.

    As I said previously, if the OP has excellent V/Q scores and a stellar CV, the the AW score won't hurt him/her a bit. But most likely, the OP is highly qualified, but not overly qualified, just like 60% of the applicant pool. In this case, there may be a chance that there are 20 applicants with similar qualifications as the OP, all with good personal statements, and the admissions committee has to sit there and choose the top 5. In this case, there may be a chance that the AW score could make a tiny effect, just enough to cross the line between waitlist/accepted or rejected/waitlisted.

    The AW obviously plays a small role in the application, but it plays a role nonetheless. If the OP does not have to sacrifice too much to rewrite the exam, I think he/she should consider it.
  • rmaguirrmaguir Posts: 70Registered User Junior Member
    I appreciate the responses.

    The truth is, as 13monkid said, I'm quite confident in my CV and my experience, but I'm not a shoo-in for these programs. So, I think I'm going to take the GRE again, which just makes my heart sink because this all seems so trifling. Then again, it won't seem so trivial if I get rejected from my top choices just because someone else has the same qualifications I do, with a slightly better GRE score.

    As several have mentioned, I too read the books, though I didn't pay too much attention to the AW part. Sure, I read that section, but I didn't give it as much weight as the other two sections because I, much like airbarr, assumed I had it in the bag since I had gone to good private schools and written a million term papers and reports.

    Moreover, though, I think I can boost my verbal score more. In fact, I feel like I could get both scores above 700.
  • mcimmcim Posts: 202Registered User Junior Member
    I got a 790Q/480V/4AW, and the thought has crossed my mind to retake the GRE for the verbal and AW. I'm shooting for engineering grad school, so I'm not going to bother to throw $150 at it. The only reason why I got a mediocre(55% for V) was because I didn't study at all for it, instead working on the math so I could nail it on the head. AW I find difficult to write, and the whole reason I bothered posting this is, I was wondering, do grad schools really care about the AW? To me, it seems like something of an after-thought, but then again my only previous experience was the SAT.
  • RacinReaverRacinReaver Posts: 6,598Registered User Senior Member
    From what I've heard, it's a lot more of a filter for foreign students, as they know American students are fluent in English and can presumably write a decent paper (after all, they've gotten through college). However, with foreign students, they can always have personal statements and everything else looked and at modified by many other people, but they can't fake a knowledge of English on the AW section.
  • snowcapksnowcapk Posts: 338Registered User Member
    OP, I think you've made the right choice. There is no reason to risk the possibility that grad schools will dismiss you out based on your AW score. You are obviously competent to get a great AW score, and will do so once you have learned what ETS expects and how they grade. (BTW, as a journalist you probably aim to use concise sentence structure and vocabulary at a ~10th grade reading comprehension level. Complex sentence structure and rich vocabulary words are considered signs of strong writing skills by ETS, so retrain yourself.) Don't let yourself wonder whether a test got between you and graduate school. Retake the GREs and get a great score that can offset some other "weakness" in your application.
  • xnormajeanxxnormajeanx Posts: 93Registered User Junior Member
    i really wouldn't take it again. i don't get the feeling that schools really take the score seriously, especially if you have a good writing sample and essays, and possibly LORs that attest to your experience as a writer.

    i am also a journalist and got 4.5. i got accepted to master's programs at chicago, berkeley and georgetown. i didn't get into princeton or harvard but that really had to do with other factors and can't imagine my writing score was a factor.
  • hh725hh725 Posts: 8Registered User New Member
    I, too, was surprised by a low writing score, but I didn't have time to retake it before the deadlines. I managed to get into one of my top choice schools (top 10 for program), but I'm still waiting on another, lower ranked school. It's hard to say whether the AW score has something to do with my assumed waitlist status. Also, I applied for quant-focused Masters programs, so perhaps AW carried less weight. If I had had the extra time, I would've definitely retaken the test. I'm kind of glad I didn't have the time, though :)
  • rmaguirrmaguir Posts: 70Registered User Junior Member
    I retook the GRE. The good news is that I raised my verbal scores by 70 points, which gives me a 690V and 690Q. I'm pretty happy with that.

    Yet, after busting my butt to learn just what they were looking for in the AW section, I raised my score from a 4 to a 4.5. Not horrible, but less than stellar.
  • Steven McGrawSteven McGraw Posts: 20Registered User New Member
    Hi,

    I'm yet another with very high Q and V scores and a surprisingly low writing score of 4.5. Teachers and professors routinely praised my writing ability when I was in school, I've always aced essay-based exams, and I've even done some freelance writing here and there for extra money. That's not to say that I'm a particularly gifted writer, indeed my writing at times suffers from an excessively academic style burdened by long miltonic sentences that, while entirely correct in their construction, do make higher than usual demands on the intelligence and attention of the reader. If you were to accuse me of occasional pomposity and self-indulgence, I wouldn't argue with you. But still...4.5? Come on!

    I talked the situation over with a friend, and he suggested that harried ETS employees who might not have the time or patience to wade through one of my typically difficult compositions would likely be tempted to ding me for lack of clarity and move on to the next essay without a second thought. I am not sure how likely that is, but I do occasionally use obscure or slightly archaic turns of phrase and old-fashioned syntax that even an educated reader might consider "incorrect" if he didn't know any better.

    This is one explanation for why "good writers" might get low scores, and I realize it is pretty self-serving, but the time I spent as an undergrad grading appallingly incompetent student papers has me convinced that I am at least an above average writer.

    I guess the problem here is that the AW section is pretty damned arbitrary and we don't really know what ETS wants from us. If anyone here can offer any insight or speculation re: the AW grading process I would appreciate hearing from you.
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