Wed 23 Dec 2009
The Educational Testing Service (ETS) re-announced its plan to revamp the GRE by Autumn 2011, with the largest revisions in the testâ€™s history. The changes will be in content and format including adjustment of the scoring scale, changes in the verbal and math content, more flexible navigation abilities while taking the test and addition of the use of tools â€“ specifically, a calculator. While itâ€™s important to be aware of the changes, our take on this is that thereâ€™s a lot more hype here than substance. The few changes that do make a difference can be beneficial if youâ€™re aware of them, prepare judiciously and in a focused manner, and learn how to take advantage of them. Below weâ€™ve explained what you can expect and what this all really means to test takers.Content and Format ChangesThe exam will still include verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing sections, and each is being revised. The new verbal section will eliminate antonyms and analogies questions and add more reading comprehension questions. On the quantitative section, the number of geometry questions will be reduced, and more data analysis added; most notably, there will be the addition of an online calculator. The writing section continues to have two parts, one asking for a logical analysis and the other seeking an argument of an issue, expressing a studentâ€™s own views.The GREâ€™s Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) format, which provides harder questions for students who have gotten previous questions right (and simpler questions for those who have gotten questions wrong), will no longer operate question by question, but section by section. That is, students who have done well on the first half of the test will get a harder second half. The new test will be three and a half hours — forty-five minutes longer than the current test. New content will be introduced and the sequence of questions scrambled every two hours.In addition to adapting the question dispersion, students will now have the flexibility to move about each sectionâ€™s test questions. Students will be allowed to revise, skip questions and return to questions before finishing a section. This feature will make the experience more similar to taking a paper test, and may also mean that students have to remember to address the remaining blanks before they finish a section. Â (Note: The pencil-and-paper version of the test continues to be offered in countries without adequate facilities for computer testing but ETS continues to move away from this older mode of testing.)The added mobility will likely be perceived as a beneficial change for test takers, as it will aid those who need extra time to process questions. On the other hand, for those who historically have issues with â€˜second guessingâ€™ themselves and not committing to answer choices, they now may need to practice plowing through the test without jumping around too much.New ToolFor many, the addition of an online calculator will bring much relief, especially if the math itself doesnâ€™t change much. ETS says adding this computation device will indicate the test takerâ€™s comprehension of concepts rather than measure speed of basic calculations. If the math continues to be 7th through 9th grade level, many competent in math will continue to not require the tool; for many, it will in fact be a better strategy to avoid using the calculator, as it may make answering the questions a more clumsy and time consuming process.What will the change cost me?As of now, there is no fee increase to cover the cost of the revisions; however, ETS is planning a review of the pricing next year and may decide to raise prices before the new version is offered.Why the change? Why now?There are several reasons that ETS would make these changes now. In 2006, ETS lost its bid to Pearson to administer the GMAT; this has contributed to increased competition in the testing industry. ETS has vied for the GREâ€™s acceptance in the business school market, competing directly with The Graduate Management Admission Councilâ€™s test, the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test.) Â The GRE is increasingly being accepted by scores of business schools, including Harvard University, MIT and Stanford University, in lieu of the GMAT. ETS hopes it will gain even more leverage and prominence in this market, and it can be argued that ETS changed the test to directly meet the demands of this particular market.If ETS picks up even a small percentage of the thousands of business schools applicants, it will have developed a major new client base, at a time when its own test taking numbers have begun to diminish. ETS benefits from gaining access to a new test-taking pool and increased acceptance from business schools.The GMAT versus the GREThe GMAT is still the dominant test for business school hopefuls, but with the GREâ€™s less threatening content and what seems to be an easier format (and addition of a calculator), it is clearly a more attractive test to prospective business school students, especially those for whom English is not a native language.Even with the proposed changes, the verbal section of the GRE is more vocabulary driven, whereas the GMAT requires greater mastery of the nuances of English grammar, and presents a more difficult hurdle for non-native English speakers. Specifically, GMAT test takers are expected to know the difference between formal written English versus spoken.Further, up until now, the math on the GRE has been objectively easier: it lacks the data-sufficiency section which perplexes many, and its overall â€˜modeâ€™ doesnâ€™t prompt as much thinking â€œout-of-the-box,â€ necessary for the business school student and professional. The combination, permutations, statistics and probability questions are objectively easier on the GRE, and on the whole, the GRE is more straightforward: itâ€™s likened to the SAT on steroids. Thatâ€™s it. Even with the ballyhooed changes, this isnâ€™t going to change.The bottom line is, the changes on the test lend themselves to a great marketing campaign and are nothing to worry about, but to celebrate. They just made your success easier!