GRE Changes Its Stripes…Again

Mollie Reilly

Students taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) after November 1, 2007 are likely to come across a question formatted in a slightly different manner than the sample problems found in their Kaplan or Princeton Review test preparation books.

However, this change should not be a focal point of stress for test takers. In fact, the new question format will have no impact on the scoring of the exam, and many students will not see it on their exam at all.

The GRE General Test is a standardized, computer-based exam used by graduate school admissions officers to evaluate the grades, recommendations and academic accomplishments of students who come from different schools. It is intended to be used as a fair way to compare applicants, similar to how the SAT is used for undergraduate admissions. The current format of the exam contains three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing.

Educational Testing Service (ETS) has added two new kinds of questions to the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections. However, the exam will still take a total of two and a half hours, and the number of questions on the exam will not change.

On the verbal section, exam takers will see a passage with several blanks. Students must fill in the blanks with words selected from several given multiple-choice lists. In the past, students would see just one blank per passage and would only have one multiple-choice list to select a word to fill in the blank.

The changes in the quantitative section are much less complex. Instead of using a traditional multiple-choice format, test takers will now have to type their answer to a quantitative question as a number in one box or as a fraction in two boxes.

According to test preparation expert Steve Abelson, who runs Abelson Test Prep out of Saratoga Springs, the changes are nothing to worry about.

“At this moment, nothing is really changing,” he said.

Students taking the exam after November 2 will see up to one of these new question types. The question will appear on the exam, but will not count for or against the student. It will have no effect on the student’s score.

These minor alterations to the GRE are the first in a gradual plan to completely overhaul the exam’s format. Plans to have an entirely new exam debut this September were scrapped in April after ETS realized the difficulty of offering complete access to the new exam at all of its testing facilities.

“It was a complete mess in April,” Abelson said. “The scores from the new exam they had planned wouldn’t even be comparable to previous GRE scores.”

Instead, ETS will now slowly change the exam’s format, increasing the complexity of the test in some areas and simply changing the exam’s organization in others. According to Abelson, the new verbal questions will be much more complicated.

“As opposed to playing one-dimensional chess, these new questions will be like playing a three-dimensional game,” he said. “However, the quantitative section is seeing more cosmetic changes.”

Despite the neutral impact of the new questions, Colgate students will still see many test preparation agencies offering their services to stressed-out juniors and seniors seeking extra help. Both Kaplan and Abelson offer on-campus group or individual sessions to teach strategies for acing the exam.

According to Abelson, his strategy is to teach students skills they can use in all areas of their academic life, not just for the GRE.

“Many preparation agencies teach to the test,” he said. “Our strategy is to teach to learn.”