Unexpectedly Intriguing!
February 22, 2011
Light Bulb with Brain - Source: teens.drugabuse.gov

Are engineers really smarter than business students? How do people studying the social sciences stack up against those studying physical sciences? And where exactly do the people who presumably plan to teach children for a living fit into the relative smarts picture?

Sure, it would be nice to use good old-fashioned IQ-type tests to resolve these questions once and for all, but maybe the next best thing is to compare the performance of students who are required to take the GRE (the Graduate Record Examination) as a prerequisite for entering into a graduate school to pursue a Masters degree.

Here, we can measure school smarts by considering how the students taking the GRE's various component exams, which are designed to assess the prospective graduate student's Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning skills performed on each GRE component. We can then compare the relative performance of students in different majors according to the average results recorded for each graduate major program that the GRE-takers declared they intended to enter.

The dynamic table below reveals the GRE results by major recorded for 2007-2008. Just click the table's column headings to sort the data in the table from either high to low, or again to sort the data low to high, according to the selected column heading category. (Note: The dynamic sorting feature will only work if you've enabled JavaScript on your web browser, and then only if you access the dynamic table directly on Political Calculations - like our tools, it won't work on sites who simply republish just our RSS feed!)

Average GRE Scores by Intended Graduate Major, 2007-2008
Category Intended Graduate Major Analytical
Arts & Humanities Arts - History/Theory/Criticism 4.7 537 565
Arts & Humanities Arts - Performance/Studio 4.3 489 551
Arts & Humanities English Language/Literature 4.8 561 550
Arts & Humanities Foreign Languages/Literatures 4.6 532 571
Arts & Humanities History 4.7 542 554
Arts & Humanities Other Arts & Humanities Major 4.8 567 599
Arts & Humanities Philosophy 5.0 590 635
Business Accounting 4.1 440 591
Business Banking and Finance 4.2 461 715
Business Business Administration/Management 4.1 438 559
Business Other Business Major 4.0 436 588
Education Administration 4.2 426 520
Education Curriculum/Instruction 4.3 459 543
Education Early Childhood 4.1 420 498
Education Elementary 4.2 440 522
Education Evaluation/Research 4.3 451 531
Education Higher 4.5 464 547
Education Other Education 4.2 439 528
Education Secondary 4.5 484 576
Education Special 4.1 430 502
Education Student Counseling/Personnel Services 4.2 426 498
Engineering Chemical 4.1 470 718
Engineering Civil 4.1 458 698
Engineering Electrical/Electronics 4.1 459 725
Engineering Industrial 4.0 440 705
Engineering Materials 4.3 493 726
Engineering Mechanical 4.2 472 724
Engineering Other Engineering 4.4 495 714
Life Sciences Agriculture 4.1 455 583
Life Sciences Biological Sciences 4.4 489 629
Life Sciences Health and Medical Sciences 4.2 446 551
Other Architecture/Environmental Design 4.3 474 606
Other Communications 4.4 471 530
Other Home Economics 4.2 434 499
Other Library/Archival Sciences 4.5 537 541
Other Public Administration 4.3 454 515
Other Religion and Theory 4.8 542 587
Other Social Work 4.1 429 465
Physical Sciences Chemistry 4.3 486 678
Physical Sciences Computer and Information Sciences 4.0 462 696
Physical Sciences Earth, Atmospheric and Marine Sciences 4.4 495 634
Physical Sciences Mathematical Sciences 4.4 501 732
Physical Sciences Natural Sciences 4.0 470 596
Physical Sciences Physics and Astronomy 4.5 531 735
Social Sciences Anthropology/Archeology 4.6 534 565
Social Sciences Economics 4.5 504 708
Social Sciences Other Social Science Major 4.3 464 526
Social Sciences Political Science 4.7 525 585
Social Sciences Psychology 4.4 471 544
Social Sciences Sociology 4.5 489 545

Overall, we find that engineers are indeed much smarter than business majors where quantitative reasoning skills are involved, but only have a small advantage where verbal reasoning skills come into play and are on a nearly even keel for analytical writing ability. Meanwhile, we find that students of the physical sciences outclass their social science peers in quantitative reasoning, but that the social scientists beat them in verbal reasoning and analytical writing ability.

But perhaps most distressingly, the students pursuing graduate degrees in education-related fields, who presumably either teach or plan to teach children for a living, dominate the lowest performing half of the table for both verbal and quantitative reasoning skills.

That probably says quite a lot about the state of education in America today. Especially if we're relying upon people who are among the least capable of applying verbal and quantitative reasoning skills to teach those same skills to America's children.

Previously and Next on Political Calculations

We originally considered this topic in our post Ranking School Smarts by Major, our first look at the relative performance of students from different majors on standardized graduate school admission tests, which summarized 20 years worth of data spanning the years from 1962 through 1982. Comparing those older results with the results that we're presenting today reveals that not much has changed where the relative abilities of individuals entering education-related graduate programs in the nearly three decades since are concerned.

That's especially distressing given that public school systems and education schools have emphasized satisfying stronger credential requirements for teachers, especially to teach subjects like math and science.

If you follow the links in the paragraph above, you'll find that they all consider the state of education credentialing in California, which has had a very active program to increase the percentage of "fully credentialed" public school teachers in that state for well over a decade. Tomorrow, we'll look specifically at the state of mathematics education in California's secondary schools, as it relates to how well the state's increasingly "well credentialed" teachers are doing in preparing their students for the academic challenges they would face in attending college.

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