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Skipping the Analytical Writing part on the GRE.

  1. Sep 29, 2013 #1
    I haven't seen it asked on this forum before, so here goes:

    I am coming up on a third official attempt on the general (computer based) GRE soon. In my first two attempts I have not been able to break 50th percentile on the quant section, which is embarrassing. I have discovered that I do much, much better on sample exams at home when I do them by skipping the two AW sections at the beginning, which I do since obviously have no way of having them graded.

    I think I can attribute my poor performance on my the real exam to exhaustion from composing the AW answers and looking at a screen for an hour before starting the first quant and verbal sections, which is usually the one that is weighed the highest in your quant and verbal scores. I'm not convinced that I'm graduating from a rigorous school without knowing geometry, algebra and arithmetic/word problem solving and neither is my senior adviser ("there is no way you don't know this" were his words upon hearing about my first quant score(45th percentile)).

    I have seen a large disparity of opinion in this idea, but if skipping the AW section drastically improves my quant and verbal scores, is it worth skipping it on an official test? Do graduate departments in physics and astronomy pay any attention to the AW score or do they solely consider verbal and quant scores? I've heard the latter more often than not, but I would feel uneasy about skipping it on an official test unless it is not going to be a deal-breaker for a grad department.

    Both AW scores I've obtained were a 3.5, despite changing my approach drastically. Grading here seems to be highly arbitrary. Also, 4 of my chosen schools will already be getting my last AW score, so should I just send all of my prior GRE scores along with the new quant-and-verbal-only attempt so they can at least have a measure of what I typically get on AW-sections? Or send strictly my last quant and verbal attempt?

    For all the money I'm pouring into them, ETS could at least send me a t-shirt...
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 29, 2013 #2


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    I had the same problem. I scored ~660 on quant and a 4.0 on AW the first two times I took it. I decided to skip the AW section the third time and my quant score was 760. I get bad headaches when looking at those screens by the time I get to the quant section which doesn't help.

    I basically am now wondering if the fact that I didn't take the AW section the third time is going to work against me. Remember that to be a truly fair comparison, everyone should probably have to take the AW section each time. Someone that scores a 780 on quantitative after taking a difficult AW section is not the same as someone that got a 780 on quant without taking the AW section. It says something about your mental endurance.
  4. Sep 29, 2013 #3


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    I have decided that I will not take the GRE again though. I may focus on the pgre now.
  5. Sep 29, 2013 #4
    More like eyesight endurance. My eyesight is not completely terrible, but I have strabismus which is exacerbated when I spend too much time staring at a computer screen with no breaks/when I am exhausted. I close one eye when this starts to happen in order to be able to focus properly. Certainly doesn't help as the exam goes on.

    If I had a testing center in my country that administered the paper-based test I'd certainly take that, but I don't.

    Do any academics here/people who have been on grad admissions panels have any opinion on the matter? Do you look/care about AW scores or have any qualms about an otherwise decent applicant who doesn't submit one (or submits one from another exam, as you can select "send all GRE scores", which would include prior attempts with a 3.5 on AW).
  6. Sep 29, 2013 #5


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    the monitors they make you use at the testing center are ancient and have horrible refresh rates. I can't stare at them for long.
    I have been told by a chairperson of a physics PhD program that they only care about the quant section though.
  7. Sep 29, 2013 #6
    So have I, and if you look at the stats of admitted grad students over at thegradcafe and physicsgre forums, I found quite a lot of them did not submit AW scores, but everything else and got into grad programs all across the rankings. But I'm a little concerned that some departments may be subject to University-wide admissions policies.

    As an example, for foreigners such as myself, even if you clearly meet the TOEFL score requirement and can in fact speak English, you're not eligible for TA-ships if you don't meet a certain score on the TOEFL speaking section (which consists of two or three 1 minute self-recordings in front of a computer screen, even a bilingual like me could bomb this if you start stuttering) as a university policy at a few institutions (not a problem for me fortunately).

    I've heard statements of being above 50th percentile in verbal in quant on the GRE but I have not been able to confirm this with any departmental page of the universities I'm looking at so far.
  8. Sep 29, 2013 #7


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    Is the writing section really that taxing? One option you probably have is to write the essay on paper before typing it up, you'll be using pen and paper for the majority of the time so it'll be more natural, and typing it up will not need a lot of thought, thus refreshing you for whatever comes next.
  9. Sep 29, 2013 #8

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    Note that while the department might not care, the school might - and might do its own filtering first.
  10. Sep 29, 2013 #9


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    Have you seen an optician to get that fixed?

    It may just be a short term problem. I needed to wear glasses from about age 15 to 21, but I've never worn them since.

    Learning to type properly might also help (and not just for this exam).
  11. Sep 30, 2013 #10
    I have used glasses for 13 years initially because of strabismus and it has improved substantially, but it still comes back when I am sleep deprived, tired/drowsy or spend too much time on a screen without regular breaks (the "focus at infinity for 10-15 minutes" every hour rule works just right for me). I absolutely need them now for reading so it's moot.

    This is what I am mainly concerned about, I raised the issue in my previous post. I guess the only thing I can do is to ask the Graduate Schools directly if they have any specific policies for GRE scores to be sure.

    Would it still be an issue if I sent ALL of my prior GRE scores along with my last scores, in order to show some AW scores? Would they nitpick about having the AW scores from a prior examination separate from V/Q scores from a more recent attempt? Or would they automatically only look at the most recent, complete exam? I hope they use common sense in this regard rather than interpret it as being "non-conformist".
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2013
  12. Sep 30, 2013 #11
    Totally skipping it sends a strong signal you are a very, very non-conformist person. This seems unlikely to be a good idea for getting admitted. But possibly some people would look on it favorably (I would for example).
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2013
  13. Sep 30, 2013 #12
    If I am sending my last attempt without AW + 2 prior attempts with AW, would it not be interpreted that my intentions were to show V/Q scores that more accurately represented my ability rather than be interpreted as playing "maverick"?

    Grad school policies aside, they're also getting near-perfect/acceptably high toefl scores (which include writing components) and a SOP which shows my writing ability (which could have been done by someone else, but I think you'd have to be really mistrustful to consider that).
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2013
  14. Sep 30, 2013 #13
    I think it's hard for anyone to give you really good insight here. Every school could be different. While a reasonable person might be fine with you not taking the AW section a third time, i.e. "he's just taking the GRE a third time to improve the quant section," who knows what an individual program might think.

    I can tell you that at my old program, I was informed that the Physics GRE was pretty important in admissions. I suspect all of the regular GRE scores of the admitted students were high enough not to be a concern. The GRE was different back then (several revisions ago) so this information might not be all that useful.
  15. Oct 1, 2013 #14
    So I fired off an email to most/all of the graduate departments and/or general graduate school divisions of the universities I am interested in applying to. So far the responses say they do not consider AW. Lesson learned: ask directly.
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