The GRE has been a staple in graduate school admissions for more than 75 years, but big changes are coming to the test beginning on September 22, 2023. In this post, we’ll cover what you need to know.
The new GRE will be considerably streamlined and updated; the four-hour window to complete the exam will be cut in half, to just shy of two hours. The basic structure of the test will remain unchanged and maintain the same three sections it has always had: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. However, each section will be shortened considerably.
The scoring scale will not change, which should be a relief to both applicants and admissions officers who are already very familiar with it. The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections will be scored from 130 to 170, and the Analytical Writing section will be scored on a scale from zero to six. Though the test will be shorter, the price to take it will stay the same, reflecting the new technology and investment involved in creating the new exam.
On a recent Admissions Straight Talk podcast, Accepted founder Linda Abraham spoke with Rohit Sharma, senior vice president of Global Higher Education and Workskills at ETS, about the changes. The ETS organizes and administers the test, and Sharma noted that the updated GRE will continue to provide the same reliable measures of a candidate’s skills and abilities in each area as the previous version of the test, while easing the stress on test takers.
Cuts to the exam have been made across each section. The ETS has abbreviated the unscored section of the exam, revised and limited the number of questions in Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning, and eliminated one of the two essay questions. Because the new test will take only two hours, there will no longer be a ten-minute break in the middle. Sharma also pointed out that while the GMAT removed the AWA (Analytical Writing Assessment), making it impossible for schools to assess a test taker’s writing skills by comparing their exam against their application essays, the GRE has retained its analytical writing section, allowing for such comparison.
Why the GRE Still Matters
- The GRE has always been and will remain valuable to admissions officers in evaluating applicants and will continue to serve as a common measuring stick for winnowing a large and diverse applicant pool. While your application essays and résumé help you distinguish yourself as an individual, the GRE allows admissions officers to assess your capacity to succeed in their program.
- Historically, the GRE has done a pretty good job of predicting one’s success in graduate school. Someone with a low GRE score might still excel in the classroom, while some high scorers might struggle in the team environment that’s common in many graduate programs. But in general, if your GRE score is below the median range for the school(s) you’re applying to, you could have a tough time with that particular program’s coursework, and that would be a disservice to you and the school both.
- The GRE is a reasoning exam, not an IQ test, as some believe. Indeed, the test makers refer to the math sections of the GRE as Quantitative Reasoning and the verbal sections as Verbal Reasoning. Strong reasoning skills are important in higher education, and doing well on the GRE helps prove to admissions officers that you possess those requisite skills.
- In a way, the GRE is a stress test, too. Do standardized tests such as the GRE make you feel anxious? That’s okay. Normal, even. But can you control that anxiety and still perform your best under test-day pressure? That’s part of what you’re trying to demonstrate by doing well on the GRE. A high score shows not just that you possess the necessary quantitative and verbal skills that schools are looking for but also that you can master your nerves and think clearly when the stakes are high. If you can do this on the GRE, you’ll be able to do it when you have to deliver your first case study, take your first midterm, or defend your thesis.
- Taking the GRE affirms your commitment to graduate school. Most people have to work hard to prepare for it. In fact, many admissions officers take a positive view of people who take the GRE more than once, because it shows a higher level of dedication and care. If you took the exam multiple times, the adcom knows that you went back to the drawing board, studied, improved, maybe even took a GRE prep course, worked to mitigate your weaknesses, and overcame your challenges. Those are traits that schools appreciate. By taking the GRE and doing well, you show schools that you have the chops to go after what you want.
So, should you wait to take the shorter exam on or after September 22 or go ahead and take the current version before then? Because the content sections will be the same, only condensed, if you feel well prepared now, there’s no reason to wait. If, however, you’re just starting to prepare, you might want to opt for the new, much shorter test.
In recent years, the GRE has become the most broadly accepted assessment tool across many disciplinary fields in arts, sciences, business school, law school, and even PhD programs. It can be valuable for candidates who are considering a double major or maybe even thinking about changing their focus. And a person’s scores are valid for five years.
If you haven’t yet begun to prepare to take the GRE, start by taking a practice test to get a baseline of your readiness for it. Using your practice test results, focus on strengthening your weak areas. Make a schedule for your study sessions, and stick to it.
For more information on the new GRE and to learn about about free and paid resources for test prep, go to ets.org/gre/prepare.
By Judy Gruen, a former Accepted admissions consultant. Judy holds a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University and is the co-author of Accepted’s first full-length book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
- All You Need to Know About the New, Shorter GRE, podcast Episode 531
- How to Eliminate Test Anxiety, podcast Episode 427
- Should You Take the GMAT, the GRE, or Seek a Test-Optional Program?