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Indicator II-9 GRE English Literature Subject Test Scores
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,"
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Updated 11/15/2013 with data for years 2009–2012.

Currently no national examination assesses undergraduate humanities learning, but the GRE Subject Test score in English literature does provide an indicator of general readiness for graduate study in the discipline.

Examination of rolling three-year average scores of examinees who took the test between July 1, 1990, and June 30, 2012, reveals four distinct phases in average examinee performance (Figure II-9). Scores fell in the early 1990s (from an average of 525 to 508), increased gradually over the next decade (up to the average of 540 reported for 2005), and then remained relatively static for the next five years. In reporting year 2011 another period of improvement in performance began, with the mean rising to 547, followed in 2012 by a rise of an additional two points.

Figure II-9, Full Size
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When evaluating these findings, several significant qualifications should be kept in mind:

  1. The GRE subject exams are not taken by a representative sample of the U.S. undergraduate population. GRE scores gauge the performance only of those undergraduates who apply to graduate programs that require the exam, a population that can change dramatically in size and composition from year to year.
  2. The GRE data presented here include examinees who have been out of college for several years. A genuine assessment of undergraduate learning (as opposed to readiness for graduate study, which is what the GRE is designed to measure) would ideally be administered immediately before or after graduation.
  3. A portion of the test takers did not major in English literature as undergraduates. A GRE subject exam is taken by students who wish to pursue graduate studies in that discipline, irrespective of their college background.

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