Revised GRE: Part Deux

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On August 1st, the much-ballyhooed Revised GRE launched with little fanfare except among the test prep community. Given that we’re career test-takers and test prep teachers, I and our Director of Graduate Programs decided to take the test (and take advantage of the 50% discount being offered in August and recently extended through September 2011). After you finish reading my account of my latest battle with the GRE, you can read Ajani’s review of his test here.

So I’m going to keep this short and just give you my impressions of the changes to the test. I’m sure I’m going to forget to mention a ton of things and I invite you to ask as many question as you like here or on our Facebook page and we’ll answer each and every one of them.

Just so you know, I took the revised GRE cold without doing a whole lot of research into the new format and question types. I also violated test-preppers rule number 1 and took the official test without doing any prep or sample tests. So in no particular order here are the top few things that struck me about taking the Revised GRE:

1. Security is insane

I’ve taken the GRE and GMAT about 10 times in the last 10 years so I’m used to it, but it always gets me how crazy the security is. It is actually worse than getting on an airplane. A fellow test-taker who was there commented that he was surprised they didn’t make us take off our shoes. They also used the handheld metal detector on me, and another colleague of ours from LA commented on the security measures. If you are planning to take the test soon make sure you are ready to be treated like a miscreant.

2. Math is still easy

Take this with a grain of salt because I’m 1. comparing it to the GMAT and 2. have been doing test prep for 20 years, but the math is relatively easy. It was actually disconcertingly straightforward. In fact, there were 2 questions that would loosely translate to “Can you read the numbers off the given chart?” I’m not sure if their calibration is off because they just launched the test or if that is what it is, but given that I scored in the 690 – 800 range (we’ll talk more about the ranges in a bit), I expected at least one question to give me pause. None did. I’m probably going to retake the test in December to just see if they increase the difficulty after their “calibration and scaling” period. They still like percents, definitions, geometry, and word problems.

All in all if you’ve not seen math in quite a while you’ll need to brush up on your basic math skills but its nowhere near the order of complex reasoning required by the “other business school entry test.”

3. Verbal is less driven by vocab

The verbal made me sad personally but happy for test-takers. They’ve removed the oppressive reliance on testing esoteric vocabulary. Antonyms are obliterated. Analogies are expurgated. The official word on what’s replaced them are called Reading Comprehension (two types – Multiple Choice and Select-in-Passage), Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence. So while this seems to be new and different its really just lipstick on a pig. If you look at the sample questions you might notice that the Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions look like Sentence Completions of old.

A peak into the testing room and a warning

What remains is a test that feels like the bastard step-child of the GMAT and SAT. The verbal section is now comprised of a hybridized form of Sentence Completions presented with single or multiple answers, an odd form of Critical Reasoning presented as reading comprehension questions, and Reading Comprehension (the staple of every bubble test). So the verbal section all in all had the feel of my favorite old T-shirt after my wife washes it, comforting and familiar but lacking a bit of its usual casual ease.

If you were comfortable with the the old Verbal test, this test will be easy to get used to and a lot easier to prep for since there is less of a reliance on memorizing hundreds of words.

4. Scores – ETS is guessing

Until at least November, GRE scores will be given as a stupidly broad range on the old 200 – 800 spectrum while they figure out what the scores convert to on the new 130 – 170 scale. When you take the GRE between now and November they will report your score as a estimate and then update it in November. At the end of my test I received 2 score ranges one was 690 – 800 the other was 680 – 790, I think. I say I think because at the end of the test you get no physical record of your score and if you don’t pay attention to the screen after you click end exam that score is gone until they report it to you in November. What’s really offensive about the score ranges is how broad they are, I mean really? ETS can’t estimate a score in less than a 100 point range? That’s insane.

5. I’m not sure how or whether this test adapts.

When taking this test you can go back to questions you’ve previously left unanswered or flagged for review. I intentionally got a few questions wrong and then went back and changed them. This did not change any of the subsequent or seem to impact my score. What’s also really weird is that you can go past multiple part answer questions (those where you have to pick 2 or 3 answers) without fully answering them or when you select too many answers and it does not warn you until the end of the section.

I’d recommend highly that everyone take a couple of practice tests before going into the real test so you can learn what you can and cannot do with the interface.


I stole their pencils! And they still give scrap paper, those of you who prepared for the other tests might have seen the erasable noteboard, none of that here. I sat at station 13 just to see if I’d get bad luck.

Hopefully, this will give you a bit more insight into what the revised GRE is like. Please if you have questions post them in the comments!

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