A note on removing the GRE from graduate admissions

May 23, 2019
In April 2019, the faculty of the Yale Department of History voted to eliminate the department’s use of the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) in graduate admissions. In doing so, we join several other departments at Yale as well as history programs at other institutions that are reconsidering their use of this standardized test in admissions.
While the GRE test provides an additional data point for assessment and can be used to quickly corroborate or check other impressions of an application, the Department of History faculty felt that the GRE requirement has the potential to skew our applicant pool and interfere with the holistic evaluation of our applicants. The cost of taking and studying for the GRE, including paying for books and for sending test scores–not to mention the time for preparation and for taking the exam itself–might discourage applications to our graduate program at a time when our department is making a concerted effort to broaden and diversify our graduate student body.
Critics have raised serious concerns about the ways that the GRE exam requirement may restrict access to graduate study, distort the admissions process, and, according to some studies, particularly disadvantage low income applicants, women, and people of color. Our review of this varied literature led us to conclude that there was insufficient evidence to show that the GRE provided an essential tool for assessing the potential of a future historian given the other components of our graduate application. 
In light of the substantial costs of the GRE, both financial and programmatic, the department has decided to eliminate the GRE requirement, and will not accept GRE scores. Our departmental admissions committees will rely on the other components of our graduate application, including past experience and accomplishments, academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, and writing samples that demonstrate not just how applicants write but how they think about history. These writing samples, which include an extended historical essay based in primary sources and an original book review, are particularly valuable for evaluating our applicants’ qualifications for graduate study in history at Yale.
Current Yale history graduate students overwhelmingly favored eliminating the GRE in graduate admissions. In a survey completed by more than half our current doctoral students, they expressed a near unanimous opinion that the test is costly, stressful, and–most importantly–a poor indicator of skills relevant to their success in graduate school. Students questioned the utility of assessing their analytical and writing skills based on two 30-minute essays and the applicability of many aspects of the quantitative reasoning assessment. The GRE as a whole, they felt, did not particularly reflect the type of work done by historians.
To be sure, there are risks in eliminating the GRE. In recent years, GPAs and letters of recommendation have become somewhat inflated, making it more difficult to separate truly motivated and skilled scholars from other applicants. The recent college application scandal also has revealed the potential for deception in various elements of an application process, including standardized tests. The GRE could provide an additional check on writing and analytical skills demonstrated in other application materials.
We also recognize that eliminating the GRE could have unintended impacts on student diversity. The GRE, like all standardized tests, provides a common metric in assessing students from wide-ranging backgrounds. It allows for a correlation of writing, reading, and analytical skills under similar conditions. In the absence of the GRE, students from less well known or less prestigious institutions, or students whose undergraduate academic record is mixed, could be disadvantaged by the removal of the GRE requirement. So we have committed to taking extra care with applications from colleges that do not routinely send graduate students to top history programs.
The elimination of the GRE, we hope, will reduce obstacles to applicants and will encourage a broader range of potential students to apply, including those who may feel disadvantaged by standardized tests or those who have less experience with them. We will review our decision after three complete application cycles to determine how well the new requirements are working. We hope to recruit a more diverse student body, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, more varied regions, and with different educational experiences, and, in the process, to affirm our departmental commitment to diversity and equity. Such an affirmation seems all the more important as Yale and other universities seek to invigorate the humanities in the twenty-first century.