Just two hours of your time! That is how long the GRE General Test will take you to complete – cut in half from almost four hours – as of September 22, 2023. For most test-takers, this is great news.
In this article, I will take a realistic look at the new GRE’s changes and their implications for you, the test-taker. The GRE may be shorter, but it can still be a bear for the unprepared.
Each section of the exam – verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing – is present, but shorter.
The new GRE exam is now the shortest of the Big Three graduate school admissions exams.
In its launch of the new GRE, test-maker ETS correctly points out that the shorter format will reduce test-taking fatigue. However, due to GRE’s use for measuring academic skills for a wide variety of graduate fields, the GRE has not reduced the number of topics covered by the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections.
So, while the results of the longer exam may reflect the effects of a test-taker overwhelmed by 40 verbal + 40 quant questions on various topics, the shorter exam presents an alternative challenge: studying for hundreds of topics yet getting the opportunity to solve fewer questions (27 verbal + 27 quant). The shorter format can result in greater variability in the test scores, which helps the well-prepared but hurts the less prepared test-taker.
Let’s take a hypothetical test-taker, Bruno. Being a financial analyst, Bruno is comfortable solving arithmetic problems (decimals, exponents, roots, fractions, integers, percent, ratio, and real numbers). Sadly, Bruno suffers from trypophobia, so only through intense therapy has he learned to not fear geometry problems (circles, lines, angles, polygons, quadrilaterals, 3D figures, and triangles). Geometry is his weakness.
When Bruno took the four-hour GRE exam, he randomly received 5 geometry problems during his first 20-question Quantitative Reasoning section, and 15 questions on other topics. So, even though Bruno barely held it together for 1/4th of that quant section, he did well for the other 3/4th, especially because of 5 arithmetic problems that he solved quickly, keeping him on track.
On the two-hour GRE exam, if Bruno were unfortunate enough to receive 5 geometry problems during a quant section of 13 or 14 questions, he might spiral downwards during more than 1/3rd of the section and never recover. Or … Bruno might get lucky and receive 5 arithmetic problems that he can easily crush on his way to his highest score yet. When dealing with a very broad set of possible questions, the shorter the exam, the more random the GRE score outcome may be.
We don’t talk about Bruno – who has headed back to his hypothetical therapist – but let’s talk about you. The shorter GRE will require you to be able to proficiently handle every question type. No weakness can go unaddressed, so you must set aside enough time to prepare well (and certainly not risk taking the GRE cold). If you are not fully prepared, luck will play a greater part in your GRE score.
"Think about it: If you’re taking a 4-hour practice test but the actual test will only be 2 hours, you’re well prepared!" - ETS
The “Analyze an Argument” essay task has been removed from the Analytical Writing section. What is left is the "Analyze an Issue" task, which presents an opinion on an issue and asks you to develop an argument with reasons and examples that support your viewpoint. For example:
“To understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities.”
“If a goal is worthy, then any means taken to attain it are justifiable.”
Traditionally, the Analytical Writing score is compared with the GRE Verbal score to find glaring discrepancies. A high verbal GRE score and low essay score, or vice versa, or high GRE scores alongside poorly written admissions essays will set off alarm bells for admissions committees. On the positive side, an applicant from a non-English-speaking country can impress an admissions committee with an essay score of 4 or above.
Actually, the main reason that Analytical Writing remains on the GRE test is because, for certain graduate programs, the essay score is a good predictor of a high graduate school GPA – better even then the undergraduate GPA. According to ETS research*, the following examples show the probabilities that a high score in the upper quartile in the Analytical Writing section will correlate to a graduate school GPA of 3.8 or higher:
In short, expect the Analytical Writing section to stay for now.
You may have noticed that the “unscored section” has been entirely removed, which brings up the question: What will ETS do about the experimental questions that used to go in that section?
The experimental unscored section has always contained those questions under consideration for future inclusion on the GRE, so it’s fair to assume that those questions must be presented to test-takers in some form or fashion. I can only speculate for now, but here are two possibilities. In the past, some GRE test-takers randomly received an experimental section that they were allowed to opt out of; ETS may decide to use that method again. Alternatively, ETS may adopt rival exam GMAT’s method of randomly including experimental, unscored questions into the mix of scored questions; if a Verbal or Quant section is suddenly expanded from 13 to 14 questions, probably a question is experimental.
If you leave the exam area, the clock keeps running. If you drank too much water or coffee before the test, you will have to grin and bear it.
If you want a two-hour experience with occasional rushes of fear-fueled adrenaline, now you can choose the GRE!
Sorry, the GRE is no “Cocaine Bear.” The reality is that you will need to set aside more than 2 hours for test-taking, especially if you take the exam in a physical test center – which I recommend, if possible. Not counting transportation time, you will need to go to the location at least 30 minutes early for check-in.
However, that extra time at a test center is still preferable to the online exam, in which you not only must arrive early to check in, but online proctors may arrive late, and interrupt you during the exam if they can’t see your hands or some part of your testing environment. (Grrrrr.)
Your official GRE scores will be delivered faster, within 8-10 calendar days (up from 10-15 calendar days). Now that is a very pleasant change that everyone can appreciate.
* From the ETS report New Perspectives on the Validity of the GRE General Test for Predicting Graduate School Grades
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