Philosophy Students Excel on Standardized Tests1

 

Philosophy students have higher average scores on entrance exams for graduate and professional schools than most other students. This suggests that the study of philosophy develops a set of skills important for success in a very broad range of fields.

 

 

GRE (Graduate Record Exam) scores2 from 2001–2004 show that philosophy majors had:

 

§  the highest verbal reasoning score of students in any major

 

§  the highest analytical writing score of students in any major

 

§  the highest quantitative reasoning score of any humanities or arts major

 

 

LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) scores3 from the 2008-2009 class entering law schools showed that philosophy majors had:

 

§  the highest score of students from any of the 12 largest disciplines (tied for first with Economics)

 

§  the 2nd highest score of students in any major (trailing only Physics)

 

§  by far the highest score of any majors traditionally associated with Pre-Law preparation. (For example, English was 11th, Political Science 16th, and stand-alone Pre-Law programs were 28th.)

 

 

GMAT (business school graduate admissions test) scores4 from 2001–2004 show that philosophy majors had:

 

§  higher scores than any type of Business or Economics major

 

§  the fifth highest score of any major

 

§  higher scores than any type of social science, humanities, or arts major  

 

 

 

Skills Acquired By Studying Philosophy5

 

The reason usually given for such excellent performance on these examinations is that philosophy majors develop problem solving skills at a level of abstraction that cannot be achieved through the case study or profession-specific approach favored in disciplines geared towards occupational training. People with strong abstract reasoning skills do better in applied fields, on average, than people who lack the ability to abstract from particular problem-situations. 

 

Critical Thinking Skills:

 

The ability to think logically

The ability to identify the key issues in a discussion

The ability to assess the pros and cons of proposed solutions

The ability to ask the right questions

The ability to see beyond superficial categorizations (i.e., “to think outside the box”)

The ability to draw accurate conclusions from confusing data

The ability to clarify purposes, principles, and general objectives

The ability to differentiate fact from value

 

Problem-Solving Skills:

 

The ability to find creative solutions to hard problems

The ability to define the parameters of a problem

The ability to look at a problem from different angles and to identify alternative courses of action

The ability to identify useful resource materials for solving a problem

The ability to factor complex problems into solvable pieces

 

Argument Skills:

 

The ability to use argumentation techniques to persuade others

The ability to assess the implications of a proposal

 

Communication Skills:

 

The ability to express and to explain difficult ideas clearly and straightforwardly

The ability to express one’s point of view while respecting the views of others

The ability to use a variety of tools and strategies to convey information

 

Information Management:

 

The ability to sort, compile and rank data

The ability to evaluate information and to use it to solve problems

The ability to locate information in many electronic and paper media

The ability to use creative insight to guide information searches

The ability to abstract concepts in order to summarize information

The ability to focus on the big picture, to see the forest and the trees

The ability to discern what is valuable from what is irrelevant

 

 

Performance on Graduate Admissions Tests by Major6

 

 

Percentage by which the mean score of test-takers from specific undergraduate majors differs from the mean score of all test-takers:

 

Major

LSAT

GMAT

GRE
verbal

GRE
quantitative

Average

Mathematics

+12.8%

+13.3%

+2.7%

+26.3%

+13.8%

Philosophy

+8.7%

+11.0%

+17.6%

+4.6%

+10.5%

Chemistry

+7.6%

+7.5%

+2.1%

+18.3

+8.9%

Biology

+4.0%

+3.3%

+5.4%

+8.0%

+5.2%

English

+5.6%

+4.1%

+14.5%

-5.7%

+4.6%

History

+2.9%

+4.6%

+10.8%

-5.5%

+3.2%

Foreign Langs.

+5.7%

+3.3%

+7.9%

-4.2%

+3.2%

Gen. Humanities

+4.7%

+1.8%

+7.3%

-5.0%

+2.2%

Psychology

+0.9%

+0.8%

+3.1%

-4.0%

+0.2%

Political Science

-1.6%

+.06%

+3.5%

-5.0%

-0.8%

Arts & Music

-.05%

-1.2%

+1.7%

-8.4%

-2.0%

Business Admin

-4.5%

-0.8%

-9.1%

-2.3%

-4.2%

Management

-5.4%

-7.7%

nr

nr

-6.6%

Speech

-2.7%

nr

-6.0%

-14.3%

-7.7%

Sociology

-7.0%

-5.0%

-5.0%

-15.0%

-8.0%

Education

-8.7%

-4.2%

-10.4%

-15.8%

-9.8%

nr=not reported

 

 

Preparation for Diverse Careers and Occupations7

 

The study of philosophy imparts the types of skills and capabilities that are clearly transferable to numerous occupations and employment settings. This study develops a quality of mind conducive to learning how to learn, to lifelong learning, and to an enriched personal and professional life. Consequently, a major in philosophy is excellent preparation for a wide variety of careers and occupations. Indeed, as the table below shows, philosophy majors average among the highest scores of all majors on standardized tests for admission to graduate and professional schools (including business and law). [In the chart below,] percentages in the table are the percentages by which the average scores of test-takers by major differ from the average score of all test-takers. Source: Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

MAJOR

LSAT

GMAT

GRE verbal

GRE quantitative

Philosophy

+8.7%

+11.0%

+17.6%

+4.6%

Arts & Music

-.05%

-1.2%

+14.5%

-5.7%

English

+5.6%

+4.1%

+14.5%

-5.7%

Foreign Langs.

+5.7%

+3.3%

+7.9%

-4.2%

History

+2.9%

+4.6%

+10.8%

-5.5%

Gen. Humanities

+4.7%

+1.8%

+7.3%

-5.0%

Political Science

-1.6%

+.06%

+3.5%

-5.0%

Psychology

+0.9%

+0.8%

+3.1%

-4.0%

Sociology

-7.0%

-5.0%

-5.0%

-15.0%

Education

-8.7%

-4.2%

-10.4%

-15.8%

Speech

-2.7%

not reported

-6.0%

-14.3%

Biology

+4.0%

+3.3%

+5.4%

+8.0%

Mathematics

+12.8%

+13.3%

+2.7%

+26.3%

Chemistry

+7.6%

+7.5%

+2.1%

+18.3%

Business Adm.

-4.5%

-0.8%

-9.1%

-2.3%

Management

-5.4%

-7.7%

not reported

not reported

 

 

1 This summary and chart are reproduced from the website of the Department of Philosophy of Washington State University: http://libarts.wsu.edu/philo/overview/excel.asp

2 See pp. 18-20 of the Educational Testing Service publication 2005-2006 Guide to the Use of Scores, http://www.ets.org/Media/Tests/GRE/pdf/994994.pdf.

3 Nieswiadomy, Michael, LSAT Scores of Economics Majors: The 2008-2009 Class Update (June 25, 2009). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1430654

4 Monson, Terry D. and Nelson, Paul A., Econ Majors Score Well on the GMAT Too! (June 2006). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=960088

5 Thanks to Professor William H. Baumer, Ph. D., Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Philosophy, College of Arts & Sciences, State University of New York at Buffalo: http://www.philosophy.buffalo.edu/undergraduate/

6 Adelman, Clifford. The Standardized Test Scores of College Graduates 1964-1982. National Institute of Education, 1985.

7 This information and chart provided by The Department of Philosophy at Northern Illinois University: http://www.niu.edu/phil/programBA/index.shtml