The GRE goes online

The GRE is getting a makeover. The Graduate Record Examination, the standardized test required for admission to most graduate schools, will adopt a new online format as of August 1, 2011. According to its producers at Educational Testing Service (ETS), the new GRE promises an improved test-taking experience, producing a more reliable assessment for the colleges and universities evaluating your application.


GRE, then and now

In its evolution from paper to digital format, the GRE General Test has incorporated several key changes in the content, format and scoring of the exam. The original GRE evaluated verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing skills. The paper test focused on multiple-choice questions, with answers provided by penciling in the corresponding answer bubble.

The computer-adaptive test (CAT) version of the original GRE added an adaptive feature, which adjusted the difficulty of each question depending on the test taker's performance on previous questions. The CAT version required users to proceed question by question through the exam, without the option of going back to change prior answers.

In an effort to "more closely align with the types of skills that are required to meet today's demanding graduate and business school expectations," ETS has made significant changes to the content and format of questions. The new GRE makes the most of the online medium, adopting new question types and allowing more test-taking flexibility than the CAT version.

Test design. Flexibility and user-friendliness are the main goals in the online GRE redesign. The online format allows users to return to prior questions and change answers within the section. Features like question preview and a marking tool for later review allow test takers to complete a section's questions in any order. This format allows users to apply their own test-taking style and strategy; for example, you could circulate through the section multiple times, answering easy questions first before grappling with the stumpers.

Question content. The Verbal section shifts the emphasis toward reading comprehension, eliminating antonyms and analogies. The Quantitative section prioritizes the interpretation of data and real-life scenarios. The Analytical Writing section remains relatively unchanged, but rewards more focused responses and discourages generalization.

Scoring. The new GRE also overhauls the score reporting scale to "make it easier for schools to compare your scores with the scores of other candidates". The traditional score used a scale of 200 to 800, reported in 10-point increments. In the revised test, the score scale runs across a 130-to-170 range, in one-point increments. Analytical Writing scores will abide by the 0-to-6 score level, in half-point increments, as in the original paper version.

Preparing for the new GRE

Understanding the new GRE format can help you do your best on exam day. ETS publishes free test prep materials to help you familiarize yourself with the new exam format and question types. In addition, most private exam preparation and tutoring services (such as The Princeton Review and Kaplan) have updated their curricula to reflect the new GRE online format.

Key steps in preparing for the new test include reading test prep materials, taking computer-based practice tests and going over sample questions. A GRE test prep book and/or a qualified GRE instructor can take you through the exam step by step, explaining the new features, the skills measured by each section and the best strategies for completing the exam.

Mastering the new GRE is an important part of the graduate school application process. Most academic graduate programs, including the Master of Arts, Master of Science and Ph.D., require the exam. An increasing number of professional graduate programs are following suit. The GRE is rapidly gaining traction in business school admissions, with nearly 27 percent accepting the exam as of 2010, according to U.S. News & World Report. The new online format, with its streamlined scoring and accessible test administration, are designed in part to encourage broader adoption of the GRE.

The new GRE General Test promises to provide the schools evaluating your application with a better picture of your potential for graduate-level work. To score your best on this important exam, learn more about the revised GRE.

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