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Extremely low verbal GRE score, what should I do?

  1. Aug 16, 2015 #1
    Hey guys,

    I know this maybe a question that reappears all the time, but I really get frustrated due to this.

    I want to apply for the graduate physics program. Most recently, I took GRE and the score is 143V/165Q with 3 at writing. It is extremely poor on the verbal section due to the lack of English skill of me, since my first language is not English. However, I do not condenser as an international student on the academic wise.
    My GPA is 3.8/4.0 and PGRE is 730 (going to retake).

    So, I just wonder how much will this verbal score hurt me on the application for graduate school? Should I retake it and hope for a better score?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 16, 2015 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    I would not retake a test without some reason to expect the score would be higher next time.
  4. Aug 16, 2015 #3
    From what I understand, the GRE is pretty consistent in that one's scores tend not to vary too much if they take two without studying a lot in between. If I were you, I'd take a practice test where you can see what questions you miss. If reading comprehension is your weakness, that can be worked on. If it is vocabulary, that will be more difficult, if not impossible.
  5. Aug 16, 2015 #4


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    You seemed to write a fairly literate post until this statement:
    I'm not going to pretend I understand what you are trying to say here.

    You also don't say what part or parts of the GRE verbal exam you think gave you the most trouble. It's pretty hard then to suggest what would be the best way to get a better score.

    Writing in whatever language, including your native language, is a skill which must be practiced and honed. It's also the one thing which you can't do alone. You should show your writing to someone else and ask them to critique it and give you suggestions for improvement.
  6. Aug 16, 2015 #5
    Not sure this would help. OP did okay on the writing section.
  7. Aug 17, 2015 #6


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    In most cases, the GRE is not going to matter, but if you do not improve your score it will definitely count against you since it calls into questions your reading and writing skills in English. The quantitative score is completely fine.

    I would suggest you study a lot and retake. Think about it this way, today the language of science seems to be English. This means wherever you are if you want to publish in top journals, you will need to be able to write papers in English. So spending time on writing and reading comprehension could be very productive for you, even beyond the PGRE.

    Where are you doing your undergrad?
  8. Aug 17, 2015 #7

    Sorry I did not make it clear. Basically, it was about the background of me and I did not want to give into details about it.

    Anyway, what I was trying to say is that English is not my first language, but I have done most of my academic works in US (MS, HS, and undergraduate) and I have the citizenship of US. So, I don't think I will be considered as an international student at all.

    On the GRE wise, I am pretty sure it was about everything on the verbal exam. (I know this sound horrible) I am extremely bad at vocab and reading comprehension. I fact, I think that my reading skill in my first language is even worse than in English.
  9. Aug 17, 2015 #8

    I would if the time is allowed. However, the course load I have this semester (17 hours of classes + research + 10 hours job) and the studies for PGRE is way too much than what I am able to handle (I just start to take QM and I am going to retake PGRE at Sept). So, I am not really sure it would be worth for me to put verbal in front of PGRE, since I am really aim for 80% or higher. (I know it sound crazy)

    Also, I am doing my undergrad at a college in Alabama.
  10. Aug 17, 2015 #9


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    The GRE is like any standardized test in that a lot of it is about learning how to take the test. There are tons of books about this. Vocab is easy, you just look at the lists of words in the book. However, when it comes to reading comprehension, your ability to improve your score depends on your current abilities. If your reading comprehension is as bad as suggested by your score (you are in the bottom 5th of test takers), it may not be that simple to improve your score. Reading comprehension is something you develop over time so if your skills are that weak at this point, it probably is going to take a lot of work.

    I am a bit puzzled however, that you managed to earn a 3.8 GPA if your reading and writing skills are as bad as you are saying. If you did your undergrad in the U.S. you almost certainly had to take some distribution requirements outside of science.

    The PGRE is very important, much more important than the GRE. However that is if you get a reasonable verbal score. Your verbal score will definitely raise eyebrows.
  11. Aug 17, 2015 #10
    Have you also performed poorly on the English sections of the ACT/SATs? Or on other standardized tests?
  12. Aug 18, 2015 #11


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    I have a few questions for you. Do you read a lot of books in English (not just for studies, but for pleasure)? One of the best ways of improving your vocabulary and reading comprehension is to read, a lot! It takes time, but I can guarantee that such skills, taken over time will improve your comprehension.

    Also, have you not taken any humanities or social science classes? In most colleges/universities in Canada and the US, you are required to take courses outside of your major -- perhaps these courses would also provide you a chance at practicing your reading comprehension/vocabulary.

    Also, just out of curiosity, you said English is not your first language. What is your first language?
  13. Aug 18, 2015 #12

    Personally, I never like reading books. I guess it just I never have enough concentration on finish a book, or I am just too lazy to do it.

    I have finished all of my humanities and social sciences beside eco, here is the list if you are interested:

    English Comp I&II
    American Lit
    World Hist I&II
    Music Appreciation
    Public Speaking

    My first language is Chinese.
  14. Aug 18, 2015 #13
    I did not do really well on ACT. I did get enough point on the English section of ACT to be considered as suitable for college level or something I remember (on the ACT website), but my reading section was way too bad.
  15. Aug 19, 2015 #14


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    If you want to improve your reading comprehension and vocabulary, I would suggest you start reading more books, magazines (particularly news magazines like the Economist, or even science magazines like Scientific American), etc. My suggestion would to be to choose a book (any book or interest) and write a personal essay about the book, or choose a magazine article and write a summary of the basic content of the article.

    Another tactic which is helpful, and which I suggested to my friends who are not first language speakers and which I myself have done while younger (English is not my first language either), is to choose a certain set of pages in the dictionary, read over them, choose a few set of words, and then really understand and memorize the meaning of those words.

    Keep practicing at it over a period of months and your reading comprehension and vocabulary will gradually improve. If you do this in addition practicing GRE preparation material and I would expect you would do better on the GREs if you decide to retake it.
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