The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is a standardized exam required for admission to many graduate programs, and one of the last hurdles an undergraduate must face before entering graduate school. The test has undergone many changes over the years: it started as a written exam, it moved on to the familiar fill-in-the-bubbles form, and it has recently become a fully computerized, adaptive version. The very near future holds even more changes for the exam, changes that any prospective graduate student ought to be informed about and prepared for. The changes are planned to take effect on August 1, 2011, and include a change of question types in various sections, a new scoring scale and tiered testing format, and (importantly) the ability to edit and review answers to questions.
Firstly, and to the relief of many test takers, the antonyms and analogies portions of the GRE exam have been removed and replaced with additional reading-comprehension questions. This change is designed to better reflect the skills the GRE is supposed to be testing with regard to a graduate student’s potential. Instead of testing knowledge of arcane word meanings, the new test is designed to focus more on inferring information from texts and allow for a broader selection of reading selections. This places a heavier emphasis on higher cognitive skills than pure knowledge-based questions previously allowed.
In the quantitative reasoning section of the test, a new on-screen calculator will be introduced. This more closely mimics the tools normally available to a college student in the real world. This change has several important consequences. Firstly, it is important to become familiar with the calculator (for example, while some simple calculators evaluate expressions as they are entered, this calculator will follow order of operations). The introduction of the calculator also is likely to be accompanied by a corresponding increase in question difficulty, designed to eliminate or spread the cluster of perfect and near-perfect scores on this section.
The GRE writing section is unchanged in format, but there will be an attempt to encourage more focused responses, thereby eliminating the need for test takers to memorize long passages.
The test’s format and scoring scale are also changing. In the pre-revision test, 61 possible scores exist (200-800 in 10 point increments), but the modified scoring scale (130-170 in 1 point increments) only has 41 possible scores. This means that the same test-takers are being lumped into fewer categories, which makes differentiating individuals on the basis of score alone more difficult. This may have consequences for admissions requirements (because the difference between two adjacent scores is more ambiguous) , but for the moment nothing is set in stone. Nonetheless, the scoring change bears watching.
The format of the test is also changing. Previously, the test was purely a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT), which means that the difficulty of questions is based on responses to previous questions, in order to maximize precision in determining a student’s true ability. However, under that format, answers cannot be reviewed, so answering a few early questions wrong can have a large impact on one’s final score. However, the revised GRE is not a purely CAT based exam.
Instead, the new GRE is a multi-stage test. There are two sections for both the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning tests. Each section is considered one stage. The first section is a routing stage, which is designed to route the test-taker to a second-stage test of appropriate difficulty. The second section is a fixed set of questions per the difficulty range determined in the first section. In this way, the first stage directs users to a broad score range, while the second section provides a more precise scoring within that range. Each question in an individual section can be reviewed until that section is submitted. This is important, as performance on the first section of the test appears to be more important in determining one’s final score. Making sure every answer is as one wishes before submitting the test is highly important.
The revised GRE will completely replace the existing GRE on August 1, 2011, and from that point forward only the revised test will be given. Pre-revision GRE scores will be valid for 5 years after the initial test date.