Saturday, November 08, 2008

What do GRE scores tell us about the competence of people in different professions?

If you want to get an idea of the intellectual rigor of the different professions, the chart below may be a good place to start. This comes from Mark Perry, an economics professor at the University of Michigan. It represents Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores broken down by the field of intended field of graduate study. It is based on 2002 data, so is a little dated.

Several things have been pointed out elsewhere: namely, that quantitative fields may be overstated (meaning that fields like philosophy may be understated), and fields in which students tend to take tests other than the GRE may be understated (The better business students, for example, ten to take the GMAT in order).

Also, since this data is based on the intended area of graduate study, it doesn't necessarily comport with the field of undergraduate study, but it should be pretty close.

In any case, not the bottom two categories: education and public administration. That explains a few things. It also may add credence to my observation that an education major may be the closest thing in the academic world (other than maybe public administration) to a lobotomy--or the best evidence that one has already been performed.


Kari said...

I'm surprised medicine is so low on the list. Is there an explanation?

Anonymous said...

These test mean something, but I'm not sure what. My GRE scores from 1984 are good enough to get me into MENSA if I wanted, but the PSAT test I took in 9th grade suggested I shouldn't major in a science in college. I'm glad I ignored both tests and majored in a science and avoided people who take these tests seriously.

Anonymous said...

Hey anon, remember progress often comes in tiny steps. Just compare these data to the past plot of SAT scores where Mr Cothran used the wrong numbers, truncated the graph, and the data showed AP students were better than the supposedly best Latin scholars.
That the tests are on different subjects may make it hard to compare scores, but that is an advanced point.
As Mr Cothran pointed out, this is just a starting point and should not be taken as indicating much of anything.


J.John said...


My father, a cancer doctor, has always said that engineering or any subject having applied mathematics requires the highest ability and work ethic. However why philosophy,sociology, and art history(huh??) are higher than medicine I have no idea.

Anonymous said...

actually pure mathematics(where you prove things as opposed to computing them) as opposed to applied mathematics is usually considered by most mathematicians as being more difficult and abstract than applied

As for why philosophy,sociology, and art history would rate higher than medicine. Well it seems strange that medicine would be
included at all since med students
would take the MCAT instead of the
GRE. But yes I wouldn't expect sociology and art history grad students to be intellectually superior in general to med students. Philosophy on the other
hand is a whole different story

I think most people would be hard pressed to find a subject that consistently demands more intellectual requiring as deep ,rigorous and analytical thinking
as philosophy