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The GRE as preparation for graduate school

Time for more Q&A again today (and don’t be shy to drop me a question, I’ll answer it in a Q&A – it sometimes takes a bit more time, but I always answer!).

Here’s today’s question:

Hi there,

Do you think that taking the chemistry subject GRE will make a big difference for my application process into Graduate school?

I would like to do a PhD in biochemistry. I thought it would be good if I had the subject GRE, but the time when I plan to take it I will NOT have taken physical chemistry and inorganic chemistry yet…


Let’s break this question down to the 2 main parts here:

1. Should you take a subject GRE?

Since you already know that you want to do a PhD in Biochemistry, I assume you have as well already outlined a number of institutions where you would like to work, and supervisors with whom you would like to collaborate. If not, I would recommend you to start from there.
Then, once you know where you would like to apply, check the requirements. If they request that you take the chemistry subject GRE, then you need to make sure you fulfill this requirement.
However, if they don’t mention it, I personally don’t think an extra standardized test result will really make the difference in your application. I think showing your personal style and strengths through your autobiographical essay is something that will make a deeper impression on the selection committee. By all means, if you can go for a campus visit, I’d recommend you personally meet possible supervisors and see if you would be able to align yourself with his/her lines of thought.

2. Missing knowledge for taking the subject GRE

If you are planning on taking the subject GRE, you need to make sure your are well-prepared for the test. If you are lacking the knowledge of certain topics, I would recommend you to study these topics on your own, or to take these classes earlier than you planned. I don’t think going to a test, knowing that you are missing some parts of the knowledge, is a good approach. Especially if you want to use the test for a graduate school application, you want to have a score that is equal to, or as close as possible to, the full grade. Most likely that means you’ll need to pick up a book and work your way through the topic (and that might even be something you can use in your grad school applications: the ability to successfully study these topics in your own is something that will come in very useful in grad school). I really don’t believe in going for the half-assed option of studying for the exam, only based on the topics you know. Go big or go home 🙂

And since some of these parts might sound a little harsh, I’d like to give you the following 3 pieces of advice:
– follow your instinct
– trust yourself
– don’t panic

All the best, and I hope you can start your PhD in biochemistry very soon!

What do you think, dear readers? Do you agree, or do you have a complete different experience?

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