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Worried about the new GRE?

Dr Shelley Verma | November 14, 2005

If you are working really hard to crack the Graduate Record Examinations -- or the GRE, as the world knows it -- in 2006, do remember there will be a host of changes in the pattern of the test.

illustrationThe Educational Testing Service has decided to modify the GRE testing format to increase validity for graduate programmes offered in the United States.

Here is a quick guide to how the current system works and the impact the changes will have on your preparation and performance.

What is ETS?

The GRE is conducted by Educational Testing Service, an
institution that assesses students who want to pursue graduate/ fellowship programmes.

ETS develops, administers and scores assessment tests annually, in more than 180 countries.

It publishes the GRE under the sponsorship of the Graduate Record Examinations Board, an organisation affiliated with the Association of Graduate Schools in the US.

Why the change

Your GRE score is a parameter used by graduate schools/ fellowship panels in their admission process. In the current format, the GRE aspirants are required to memorise more, and the test tends to be 'theoretical'. 

The revision of the format is based on the decision to reduce dependability on memorising; it now emphasises on practical knowledge and its possible applications.

The new format will test the actual aptitude of applicants to pursue academic programmes, their reasoning skills and their ability to assess real life situations.

The main intention is to make the GRE a more accurate assessment parameter.

The current format

Questions and their difficulty levels are determined according to your performance in each question you attempt. You get a higher level question if the solution to the previous question is correct. As higher level questions are awarded higher scores, a candidate who moves to higher levels stands to get a higher score.

Each candidate appears for a different set of questions, based on his or her skills. These questions come from a huge data bank maintained by the ETS.

However, it has been felt that a candidate is unduly left at the mercy of a computer programme and guesswork could, at times, be responsible for the high scores.

GRE revamped

To avoid any unjust assessment, a new linear format is being adopted. Now, candidates taking the GRE at a particular date and time will have an identical set of questions.

The test will be conducted worldwide and only 29 times in a year instead of the continuous testing system being used at present.

Each version of the GRE test will be used only once; the questions will not be repeated again.

A 'new score scale system' has been introduced.

The currently used 200-800 point scale will be completely done away with. At present, the ETS uses this scale to differentiate from the 0-100 scale used by the schools.

Each solution is given a weighted score so that the final score is in multiples of 10. The highest score works to 800 and the lowest is 200.

In the revamped format, there will now be 40-50 scale points that will be centred between the120 to 179 scale.

Current GRE status

The new GRE is in the testing phase, so there may be further changes in the final format.

~ The duration of the test will increase from the current two-and-a-half hours to over four hours.

~ At present, the typical computer-based GRE general test has the following format:


Number of questions




30 minutes



45 minutes

Analytical Writing

1 issue task.
Write an essay on a given issue and provide solid evidence to support your position.

45 minutes

1 argument task.
Write an essay to analyse or critique an argument and discuss its logical soundness.

30 minutes

* Pretest and Research



* Some extra questions may be included. Those are used for checking potential questions for future tests and the candidates' ability to attempt them. No marks are awarded for these questions but they need to be attempted as they are not identifiable separately as a different section. They are a part of the verbal or quantitative section.

The new GRE Test format will be:


Number of Questions


Verbal I

Yet to be defined

40 minutes

Verbal II

Yet to be defined

40 minutes

Quantitative I

Yet to be defined

40 minutes

Quantitative II

Yet to be defined

40 minutes

Analytical Writing

1 issue task.
Write an essay on a given issue and provide solid evidence to support your position.

30 minutes

1 argument task.
Write an essay to analyse or critique an argument and discuss its logical soundness.

30 minutes

Pretest and Research



It has been decided that all three sections -- Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing -- of the GRE General Test will have different types of questions and new formats.

Verbal Reasoning

~ There will be two 40-minute sections instead of the current 30-minute section.

~ Emphasis would be on computer-enabled tasks like using the highlighting technique to mark correct sentences directly in the passage as per the question's requirement.

Earlier, only multiple choice questions could be asked.

~ The main purpose of the section would be to test skills like comprehension, analysis and interpretation, which are needed for graduate work.

The earlier format was based on theoretical instead of practical applicability of concepts.

~ Reading passages and text-based materials will have a wider range, covering more subjects of current relevance. At present, no emphasis is given to new subjects like information technology.

~ Direct questions on use of vocabulary like antonyms, analogies and sentence completion may now be more applicative in nature.

Quantitative Reasoning

~ There will be two 40-minute sections instead of the current 45-minute session.

~ More emphasis will be given to data interpretation questions and questions based on real life situations.

~ Emphasis on geometry will be reduced. The number of questions devoted to this section will also be reduced.

~ In order to assist mathematical calculations, an on-screen calculator with square root features will be provided. It is expected that the difficulty level of questions will increase as questions with complicated calculations can now be included.

Analytical Writing

~ There will be a 60-minute section instead of the current 75-minute section.

~ The issue task and argument task will now be of 30 minutes each.

~ In order to encourage original and analytical writing, current topics will be emphasised and the questions will be more focused.

Pretest and Research

There will be the usual experimental or variable section that will not add to your final score. You will, however, be required to attempt all questions.

The questions in this section will not be directly identifiable as they will be a part of the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections.

Need more information?

~ For more information about the revised GRE General Test, you can also visit


Phone: 1-609-771-7670


Dr Shelly Verma is part of the faculty, department of economics, University of Delhi. She has designed and authored comprehensive online programmes along with supporting books for GRE and GMAT for US companies. She is affiliated with various training institutions for Verbal and Logical Reasoning, Group discussions, PDP. She is also a career counsellor.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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