Best Majors for the GRE in 2013

Exam: Test Prep GRE Test - Graduate Record Examination Test: Verbal, Quantitative, Analytical Writing


ETS doesn’t release data for specific years, but in April of 2013, they released data from the previous 1.5 years of revised GRE testing according to the intended majors of those taking the test.  Which majors came out on top? You might be surprised to find out:

Verbal Reasoning (Highest Score: 170)

1. Philosophy (160)

2. Other Humanities and Arts (158)

3. English Language and Literature (157)

4. Library and Archival Services (157)

5. Religion and Theology (157)

6. Physics and Astronomy (156)

7. Anthropology and Archaeology (156)

8. Political Science (156)

9. Arts – History, Theory, and Criticism (156)

10. History (156)

Quantitative Reasoning (Highest Score: 170)

1. Mathematical Sciences (162)

2. Materials Engineering (162)

3. Physics and Astronomy (161)

4. Chemical Engineering (161)

5. Banking and Finance (161)

6. Electrical and Electronic Engineering (160)

7. Industrial Engineering (160)

8. Other Engineering (160)

9. Civil Engineering (159)

10. Mechanical Engineering (159)

Analytical Writing (Highest Score: 6)

1. Philosophy (4.4)

2. Political Science (4.2)

3. English Language and Literature (4.2)

4. Other Arts and Humanities (4.2)

5. Religion and Theology (4.2)

6. Anthropology and Archaeology (4.1)

7. Arts – History, Theory, and Criticism (4.1)

8. History (4.1)

9. Foreign Language and Literatures (4.0)

10. Higher Education (4.0)

It’s not too surprising to see majors that did well on Verbal Reasoning also did well on the Analytical Writing portion of the test.  It is also not too surprising to see that the majors who scored best in the Quantitative Reasoning section did not score as high in Verbal and vice versa.  Philosophy also ranks first by a wide margin, making it the clear top performing major even above those intending to go into English Language and Literature.

Let’s take a look at the top ten best performing majors, determined by adding their rankings together:

Rank 1:What might be more surprising is that Philosophy is the best performing major overall, ranking first in both Verbal Reasoning and Analytical Writing and ranking 17th in Quantitative Reasoning.  But while it wasn’t a major I would think of when asked to list the top five performers on the GRE, let alone the top performing major, I do understand how an undergraduate education in philosophy would help when it comes to a standardized test of your reasoning ability.

Rank 2: The second best performing major, judging by these rankings alone, is Physics and Astronomy, placing 6th in Verbal Reasoning, 3rd in Quantitative Reasoning, and 15th in Analytical Writing.  This is again a bit of a surprise to me, but there are a large number of terms in astronomy and physics that derive from Latin or Greek and would help on the verbal section.  There is no question why this major performs well in mathematics, and there must be a degree of analytical writing in physics and astronomy that doesn’t necessarily come across in their popular reputation.

Rank 3: Other Humanities and Arts (2nd Verbal, 20th Quantitative, and 4th Analytical Writing).  This is a bit of a mixed bag of majors, so it’s not surprising that they would perform well.  ETS does not specify exactly what this category includes, probably because they themselves don’t have the data.

Rank 4: Political Science (8th Verbal, 23rd Quantitative, 2nd Analytical Writing).  It’s not too surprising that a major designed to analyze politics does well in analytical writing or in verbal reasoning.  It is also not too surprising that they ranked slightly lower in quantitative reasoning, though the mean score was still 151 (only 11 points behind the top performing major).

Rank 5: Mathematical Science (13th Verbal, 1st Quantitative, 20th Analytical Writing).  Those looking at this system might argue that since two of the three sections of the test cater more towards writing and humanities than they do math and sciences, it’s more difficult for math or science fields to rank in the top ten.  But here, mathematics has proven them wrong by being the fifth ranked major in overall performance – good on you, mathematicians!

Rank 6: Religion and Theology (5th Verbal, 25th Quantitative, 5th Analytical Writing).  No real surprising in a high ranking from Religion and Theology, given the extent of verbal and analytical skill required in that major.

Rank 7: English Language and Literature (3rd Verbal, 34th Quantitative, 3rd Analytical Writing).  Not terribly surprising that this major would rank high in the verbal and analytical sections, but not the quantitative section.  What is a bit more surprising is how much better Mathematical Science ranks compared to English Language and Literature, even when two of the three sections cater more to this major than Mathematical Science.

Rank 8: Earth, Atmospheric, and Marine Sciences (12th Verbal, 14th Quantitative, 14th Analytical Reasoning).  Perhaps the most consistent major in its rankings, which again dispels any argument that the hard sciences would have difficulty ranking among the top performing majors due to the structure of the test.

Rank 9: Economics (14th Verbal, 11th Quantitative, 16th Analytical Writing).  This is another fairly consistent major in its rankings, which is not surprising for Economics.  A major that requires both quantitative and analytical skill is expected to perform relatively well in all three sections of the test.

Rank 10: Biology and Biomedical Science (16th Verbal, 16th Quantitative, 13th Analytical Writing).  Biology and Biomedical Science is another highly consistent major, and again proves that the hard sciences have no trouble with ranking well on the GRE.

One interesting conclusion from these rankings is that a major may rank in the top ten in a specific section or sections of the GRE, but fall short on another section, thereby decreasing its overall rank.  Likewise, several majors (like Earth, Atmospheric, and Marine Sciences, Ecinomics, and biology and Biomedical Sciences) may not score in the top ten on any section of the GRE, but perform well consistently across the sections to rank them in the top ten overall performing majors.


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