The Revised GRE

by Peter M. Stokes

As any of you who have heard me speak may have guessed, I hail from the United Kingdom, a magical land where Harry Potter casts his spells, entire summers pass without the sun appearing, and graduate schools don’t require the GRE[*]. Here in the real world of the USA, however, most of you planning on applying to graduate schools that don’t have their own kind of standardized test will need at some point to take the Graduate Record Examination.  In fact, though, if you take the test after August 1st, 2011, you will take the GRE Revised General Test.

The test is changing this summer, both in the way that questions are structured and in scoring.  Scary as change can be, this actually looks like a good thing.  Gone from the verbal section will be, for example, antonym questions that permit allow test-takers to succeed purely through memorization.  Instead the test will emphasize things like text completion and reading comprehension that require a more global understanding of the English language in context.  In the quantitative section the emphasis will be on data interpretation and problems explained in terms of real-world scenarios.  There will actually be an on-screen calculator so as to de-emphasize basic calculation in favor of the ability to reason through problems.

In terms of scoring, the 200-800 scale with 10 point increments will be replaced by a 130-170 scale in 1-point increments.  The idea, evidently, is that small differences in scores aren’t really very significant, and they want to make that clear by having differences of, say, 2-3 points instead of 20-30 because the zero makes the difference seem big (really, no kidding here).  Presumably this won’t provide problems in comparing scores across the old and new tests since schools will also be able to look at percentiles as well as the raw scores.

For much more information on the revised test, see: http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/know

But what should you do?  Take the test now?  After August 1st?  Run screaming in panic down Locust Walk?

One concrete reason to take the test before August would be if you need your score before mid-November (which is before most grad school deadlines—but that’s something to check).  I assume they want to wait that long before giving scores so that they have a big batch of scores and can make sure they’re scoring equitably. In any event, they won’t release any revised GRE scores until November.

A concrete reason to take the test after August 1 is that between then and the end of September, they sweeten the deal by giving you 50% off (and the thing costs $160).

More generally, though, I don’t see a particular reason to rush to take the current test this year if you weren’t already going to do it that soon.  As I say, the test looks like it will actually improve.  However, you might want to take the test this summer, perhaps because you’re planning on applying in the fall and the summer is when you have time, or because you’re graduating and just want to make sure you have the test done before applying later.  In that case, you might consider shooting for before August 1 just because there are plenty of preparation materials and practice tests available for the current, soon-to-be-superseded test.

Having said that, though, there are already some materials and practice tests for the revised GRE too, and you’ll find some available for free by scrolling to the bottom of the page linked above.  And as always, if you’re perplexed about the GRE or any aspects of planning for graduate school, please make use of the pre-grad advising services here in Career Services.


[*] OK, a couple programs at places like LSE might just ask for it, so if you want to apply to programs in the UK, do check, and buy an umbrella.

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