Monday, February 24

UCLA needs a more integrated approach to helping students prepare for the GRE

The Graduate Record Examinations is an important standardized test for many undergraduate Bruins hoping to further their careers in higher education. UCLA has many available resources to promote to students in order to effectively facilitate their success on the exam. (Daily Bruin file photo)

After years of standardized tests to get into UCLA, college students would be justified in thinking they have done their time.

Unfortunately, a stellar GPA itself does not bridge the gap between graduate school and student applicants – but don’t worry, there’s yet another test for that.

The GRE, or Graduate Record Examinations, is designed and organized by the Educational Testing Service, a nonprofit organization. According to the ETS website, the GRE gauges a student’s verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills for graduate program admissions at renowned universities.

A high GRE test score can increase a student’s chance of acceptance into a graduate program, including law and business schools, from the leading institutions across the nation.

But the leading institution Bruins call home has left them with fragmented extracurricular resources to prepare for a daunting exam.

To support students’ journeys toward graduate education, UCLA should offer inter-departmental, affordable and structured GRE workshops or courses. Through integrating and extending current resources, the university could provide students with comprehensive preparation for a test many of them will have to take. Since the GRE is one of the most applicable and interdisciplinary graduate admissions tests, a streamlined system for GRE test preparation could serve the entirety of the campus community.

Because right now the system is anything but streamlined.

Between programs offered by UCLA’s Career Center, UCLA Extension and the UCLA Department of Mathematics, there are many options, but no centralized approach.

“A lot of students have a fear of the GRE test,” said Carina Salazar, the associate director of career education and engagement at the Career Center. “That’s why we host GRE sessions to demystify those fears for them to pursue higher educations.”

The Career Center hosts a GRE strategy session and a GRE mock exam session on a quarterly basis. The strategy session is 1.5 hours long and focuses mainly on a general walkthrough of the strategy on how to approach the test, according to Krisztina Kecskei, the career engagement educator at the Career Center.

“(Student preparedness from school curriculum) depends on majors students take to come in to take the GRE,” Kecskei said. “Some majors may cover more material that’s covered in the GRE and that’s why it’s important for them to understand what the GRE is all about so they can figure out if they need take more courses.”

But as it stands, UCLA’s current curriculum will not grant students the ability to ace the exam. A math student might have a strong performance in quantitative reasoning but lack strong verbal skills. An English student with four years of writing experience may have slept through their math requirement freshman year.

So when students go looking to fill those gaps in their knowledge, a fragmented system is what they’ll end up with.

One resource students could turn to is a workshop hosted by the math department. However, the math department workshop is mainly focused on the quantitative section, according to the emailed statement from Vaneh Hartoonian, an undergraduate officer in the math department.

But the reality is that many nonmath students are left without notices on key services like these. So when it comes to integrating cross-campus departments into GRE preparation, more departments involved means more students that can prepare for the test holistically.

Therefore, a workshop with combined efforts from the math and English departments, as well as existing programs within the Career Center, can strengthen students’ performances on the test.

“The more departments want to focus on specific subjects of GRE, the better,” Salazar said. “If there are any ways we can help support that, that’s even better.”

While departments struggle to integrate, the only comprehensive option will cost students the equivalent of a month’s rent.

UCLA offers an online GRE course through UCLA extension, which costs $799 for a student to enroll. While the program covers more material and partners with the ETS, the cost is a burden for many students.

UCLA Extension is nonprofit, yet it does not currently offer any financial scholarship for low-income participants, according to an emailed statement from Helen Williams, a spokesperson for UCLA Extension.

Unlike the Career Center or math department programs, the UCLA Extension program offers a comprehensive option. But students looking to bridge the path between their undergraduate and graduate journeys shouldn’t be cut off because of an unaffordable prep course.

And for students unable to foot the bill, attending the GRE without any preparation won’t be pretty – especially if they are unfamiliar with exam structure and time limit.

“There are a lot of things that you kind of pushed out and forget about, so at least a review will be helpful,” said Sophia Galvan, a third-year biochemistry student interested in pursuing a doctorate program.

Expensive standardized test-prep programs such as those for the SAT and ACT have cost students enough in high school and often discouraged low-income students from pursuing higher education.

But four years later, UCLA seems happy to leave students doling out cash once again.

Some may argue that the general trend in academia is shifting away from the GRE exam, since the exam does not guarantee a correct prediction of a student’s performance in graduate school. It is true that the test cannot predict students’ talents and abilities – as is the complaint with all standardized tests.

But the reality is that the GRE is becoming more common – there are 292 schools accepting the GRE in California alone. And that means UCLA must provide students with the tools to succeed on it.

Given the current limitation and fragmentation of UCLA’s programs, integration could give students a comprehensive, structured and free workshop to pursue their dreams of graduate education.

Because students’ aspirations shouldn’t end after their short careers as undergraduate Bruins.

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