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Thread: GRE Subject Test

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    GRE Subject Test

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    I would be very thankful if someone could advise me on this?

    I'm interested in doing Phd in the area of finance. I don't have excellent acads though it is above average. My undergrad marks in calculus are not great due to very strict Mathematics department. I have mostly B grade. Should I take GRE Subject test in Mathematics to show that I can handle maths level in finance Ph.D. program especially calculus.

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    Re: GRE Subject Test

    This is just my opinion. It may be a little harsh, but that's the life of a PhD student.


    If you want to do an additional test, the relevant tests are the GRE and the GMAT. So, take both. Focus on them.


    If you really are that good in Math, you should be able to get perfect Quantitative scores in both tests. A 170Q GRE plus a 51Q GMAT is mightly impressive. That should be more than enough to show them that your Math skills are more than sufficient for acceptance and after that they will analyze the rest of your application. I think for most, if not all applications you are going to do, there will no space available for you to inform a Subject test score anyway since they just ask you to report the GMAT and the GRE. You'd have to include the score somewhere else, like the Statement of Purpose and it would become a small detail.


    If they are still in doubt about it, they will probably ask you during an interview. And then you can explain. So, no need to do the GRE Subject test.


    There are also a few things you wrote that doesn't sound good to me.


    You wrote that the Mathematical department was very strict. Well, if you found the Mathematical department was very strict at undergraduate level, do you really think at the PhD level they will go any easier on you? That you are ready for it? This is the kind of excuse/complaint that many professors don't want to hear from a PhD student. Yeah, we are hard, did you expect anything different? They don't want a student who gets low grades and blame the department for being strict.


    You also wrote that you want to show that you can handle math levels in Finance PhD. Well, I'm sorry, it's very hard to do that. People really underestimate the math levels of a PhD. I tell them it's hard, but they don't believe. I participated in Math competitions when I was a teenager. I usually got As in my math classes in undergrad, at the top university in my country, and it was not a walk in the park either. I also got A in Econometrics during my Masters. Now, in the PhD? I'm extremely happy if I get a B. Just to be able to understand some of the stuff which is being taught is an accomplishment to me.


    Last semester I was struggling so hard, that I started to look for some people to help me. I contacted some people with undergrad in Math, masters in Statistics. When I showed them my homework, they said my professor was crazy and said it was too much for them too.


    The students in my class are good. Not only good, really excellent. Economics, Accounting, Finance PhD students from China, Korea, India. About 3 weeks ago the professor gave us some problems to solve as homework. We have been discussing that problem since then, without a final answer. The TA tried to solve for us, and he found two possible answers. Then he asked the professor, and came back with another answer, showing something nobody had noticed. But it seems the answer is still missing something, it does not really fit the way it should, the solution is not clear to us. He said he will talk to the professor again, so he can solve it for us. So, you have a whole class, plus the TA, trying to solve a problem for 3 weeks with no success. And you want to convince the faculty that you can do that kind of thing by yourself just by showing a GRE subject score?


    So, don't try to convince them that you can handle math in PhD. The truth is that you probably can't. It's that way for virtually everyone, at least in my experience here so far. Even the professors. Last semester, there were many times when even the professor asked for a time to think, because he also was struggling, and sometimes he gave up and said he would bring the solution in next class. And this professor got his undergrad in Math/Economics from MIT, later with a PhD in Economics from Berkeley. I have no doubt he is great in math. But still not enough to handle his own class.


    A PhD will push you beyond your limits, whatever they are. Part of the process is learning to fail, learning to persist. Because many of us never had to face a situation like this before in our lives, and that is a requirement to be a researcher. My advisor often says that I shouldn't take a course I feel I'm ready for. If I feel like that, I should take another course, more advanced, where I will be challenged.


    Your goal is to convince them that you are good enough to be accepted to the program. If you do the GRE Subject test, it is not a common thing. They may be curious about it, you may draw attention to some weakness that they wouldn't otherwise care about, and if they ask you for an explanation, your explanation doesn't sound good to me.


    Remember that the scores are just a small part of your application, and even great scores will not make low grades disappear.

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    Re: GRE Subject Test

    Brazil makes great points. I'll take a different approach.

    Have you looked at the content of the math GRE? It is made to differentiate between applicants for math phd programs. I have struggles through the sams classes as Brazil and I looked the content of the math GRE and I might legitimately get a 0 on the test. If you struggles with calculus, you will get a very low percentile on the test and it won't help you. You are better off retaking a few calculus courses. There are also things like the UCL post grad diplomas that could provide a good signal.

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    Re: GRE Subject Test

    Short answer is NO. Focus on GRE quant. If you're from an unknown school you get bonus points for acing the GRE, if your school is reputable you just have to pass the GRE quant cutoff (should be around 165 in top 30 departments).
    Focus on research experience to get better LORs from known professors. For the most competitive programs getting a master's first is a good option.

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    Re: GRE Subject Test

    I really appreciate that you took out time to share your experience. It's been really helpful to me.

    I have been giving GRE mock quant test regularly without any preparation and getting 168-169. I asked because I was not able to understand how GRE quant is good enough measure to understand the mathematical ability of a person. It seems too easy.

    I'm an Indian and we have to give CAT to get admission in bschool. There are three sections in the exam. Quant, Verbal, and DI and logical reasoning. The level of quant in CAT is higher than GRE Quant and I managed to score 99+ percentile in it given that Indians are generally good at maths.

    As far as maths department is concern the problem was the way marks were given. In my college there was no relative grading, everything was absolute. So grades were distributed in different bands from 0-100. The department was so strict that they used to check the answer of the question written in the answer sheet with the answer of the book and if it matches then you get 8 out of 8 otherwise 0 even if all the steps except the last one is correct. If the answer matches then also you should mention all the steps, even if one step is missing then they cut 2 marks for that.
    It is because of this many people in my college had to repeat maths subject.

    I believe I can handle maths but I was worried if they reject me solely based on the numbers I got which do not reflect my true ability.

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    Re: GRE Subject Test

    As you said, it is too easy. That's why I told you to try to get a perfect score if you can. Because it's not only you who find it too easy, many applicants for Finance also find it easy and get excellent scores. My opinion is that it is harder to get a perfect score in the GMAT, I personally am more impressed by a 51Q GMAT than a 170Q GRE, but I know a lot of people don't agree with me.

    As you also said, it is not a good measure to understand the mathematical ability of a person. We know that, professors know that, they don't trust those tests blindly. But it is a relatively good measure to compare applicants. The benefit of the GRE and the GMAT for them is that they are standardized tests. So, they can compare scores of different students. It is a lot harder for them to compare GPA, for example. Maybe a 3.0 GPA from one school is actually much better than a 4.0 from another school, since those grades are not standardized, there is a lot of grade inflation around etc. A 170Q does not mean that you can handle the math, it means that compared to hundreds of other applications, yours may be one they want to take a second look. The GRE and the GMAT scores really make it easier for them to reduce the number of applications they really want to evaluate from hundreds to maybe a few dozens (depending on the school, concentration etc).

    You can also expect problems with the way marks are given during the PhD too. I guess many PhD students will report a similar experience of professors being very harsh when grading, any mistake in a question means no point at all (an Accounting PhD student was talking about it here yesterday), but there will also be some professors who are much more forgiving. In my current course, no one knows what the marks we got from the exam mean. If you don't think it is fair, well that's life, just suck it up. If you're doing a PhD, you should be just fine with that kind of thing.

    You seem to be too worried about showing your true Math ability. Of course your ability matters, but professors are much more worried about your future potential than your current ability. Your goal is not to show you're a mathematical genius, but that you are an applicant with one of the best potential to become a great researcher in the future. You will see many stories of applicants with great scores, great grades, who were rejected everywhere. And applicants with lower scores, lower grades, who get multiple offers.

    Again, I'm not saying it is fair. I'm pretty sure my low undergrad GPA hurt my chances in lots of schools, and it was not fair. If I convert the grades to the US system, I get only 3.0. My grades were actually pretty good for the standards of my school, but few professors in the US would know that. In your case, it's better in that regard, since they know Indian schools can be very hard when grading. There are many Indian professors in the US, there are many Indian applications. But Brazil? It is often barely known.

    So, yeah, some schools may not be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and reject you because they don't see how good you are. Actually, many schools may reject you due to very stupid reasons. Many people complain that the PhD application process is not fair.

    But if you do a good job with your application as a whole (not just the scores), you will get an offer from some good school. If you are rejected by all schools, believe me: the problem is not they don't trust your Math ability (if you really are able to get extremely high scores). It makes absolutely no sense to see a profile with a 170Q GRE / 51Q GMAT and think: this guy is not good enough in Math.

    And, finally, don't trust mock test scores. Mock tests are good to prepare for the exam, they are not good to know your actual score. Maybe you are really at 168Q/169Q level, but you will only know that when you take a real exam. I have much more experience with the GMAT, but I know it's the same with GRE. For some people mock scores are much lower than the actual score, for some people they are much higher. I'm not sure about the reasons for that. But no mock test score was ever accurate for me.

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