Humanities Indicators
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Higher Education  >  Undergraduate Education
 
Humanities Students’ Scores on the Graduate Record Examination

Although a growing number of postsecondary institutions are administering standardized exams to measure student learning, the majority of U.S. colleges and universities still do not use such assessments. In the absence of such data, the Humanities Indicators uses Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores to shed some light on humanities majors’ proficiency in key areas.

Please note: The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which develops and administers the GRE, declined to provide the Humanities Indicators the data necessary to update this indicator in 2013. ETS considers the measurement of learning outcomes an inappropriate use of GRE scores.

Findings and Trends

  • Humanities majors demonstrated, on average, the highest level of verbal skills among those taking the GRE in the 2004–2007 period, outperforming the next highest scoring group, social science majors, by 63 points and exceeding the national average by 83 points (Indicator II-8a). On the quantitative portion of the exam, examinees who had studied engineering or natural science scored considerably higher, on average, than humanities majors. Humanities majors’ average quantitative score was 33 points lower than that for all examinees.
  • Humanities majors were notable for the balance between their GRE verbal and quantitative scores. On average, humanities students scored in the mid-500s on both the verbal and quantitative exams (800 is the highest score possible). In the sciences and engineering, quantitative scores tended to outstrip verbal scores by a substantial margin.
  • Humanities majors were more likely than those in engineering and the sciences to score in the upper brackets (4.5–6.0) on the analytical writing portion of the GRE (Indicator II-8b; the analytical writing exam is scored on a 0–6 scale). Only among humanities and social science majors did at least 50% of students demonstrate such developed writing skills. Humanities majors were also the most likely to receive the highest possible scores, with 23% of examinees who had studied humanities scoring in the 5.5–6.0 range. From 4% to 14% of engineering and science majors scored at this level.
  • When the humanities disciplines are compared, classics and philosophy students emerge as consistently high performers on the GRE. Classics majors had the highest average verbal score (614), followed by examinees who had majored in philosophy (580); (Indicator II-8c). Students of classics and philosophy, along with linguistics majors, were also the top performers on the quantitative exam, with average scores ranging from 611 to 615.
  • Among humanities majors, classics and philosophy students were the most likely to score in the upper brackets (4.5–6.0) of the analytical writing portion of the GRE, with approximately 75% of examinees scoring in this range (Indicator II-8d). But even in the disciplines with the smallest share of such “strong” writers (archeology, languages and literatures other than English, linguistics, and music) approximately 60% of majors scored at this level—a larger proportion than in any nonhumanities discipline. Observed differences among the humanities disciplines in the share of strong writers were attributable almost entirely to disparities in the proportion of examinees earning the highest possible scores.
II-8a: Mean Graduate Record Examination Verbal and Quantitative Scores, by Examinee’s Field of Undergraduate Study, 2004–2007*

* Fields Listed by Combined Average, Descending Order. Based on the performance of all examinees who tested from October 1, 2004, to September 30, 2007.

Source: Data provided by the Educational Testing Service at the request of the Humanities Indicators.

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II-8b: Percentage of Graduate Record Examination Analytic Writing Scores at Each Competency Level, by Examinee’s Field of Undergraduate Study, 2004–2007*

* Fields Listed by Percentage of Examinees Scoring 4.5 or Better, Descending Order. Based on the performance of all examinees who tested from October 1, 2004, to September 30, 2007.

Source: Data provided by the Educational Testing Service at the request of the Humanities Indicators.

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II-8c: Humanities Majors’ Mean Graduate Record Examination Verbal and Quantitative Scores, by Discipline, 2004–2007*

* Disciplines Listed by Combined Average, Descending Order. Based on the performance of all examinees who tested from October 1, 2004, to September 30, 2007.
** History, theory, and criticism.

Source: Data provided by the Educational Testing Service at the request of the Humanities Indicators.

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II-8d: Percentage of Humanities Majors’ Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Analytic Writing Scores at Each Competency Level, by Discipline, 2004–2007*

* Disciplines Listed by Percentage of Examinees Scoring 4.5 or Better, Descending Order. Based on the performance of all examinees who tested from October 1, 2004, to September 30, 2007. See “Score Level Descriptions for the Analytical Writing Measure” on the GRE area of the ETS website for more about the proficiencies associated with each score level.
** History, theory, and criticism.

Source: Data provided by the Educational Testing Service at the request of the Humanities Indicators.

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