Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

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Graduate Record Examination

Graduate Record Examination or GRE is a commercially run standardized test that is an admission requirement for many graduate schools principally in the United States, but also in other English speaking countries. Created and administered by Educational Testing Service (or ETS) in 1949, the exam is primarily focused on testing abstract thinking skills in the areas of mathematics, vocabulary, and analytical writing. The GRE is typically a computer-based exam that is administered by select qualified testing centers; however, paper-based exams are offered in areas of the world that lack the technological requirements.

In the graduate school admissions process, the level of emphasis that is placed upon GRE scores varies widely between schools and even departments within schools. The importance of a GRE score can range from being an important selection factor to being a mere admission formality.

Critics of the GRE have argued that the exam format is so rigid that it effectively tests only how well a student can conform to a standardized test taking procedure. ETS responded by announcing plans in 2006 to radically redesign the test structure starting in the fall of 2007; however, the company has since announced, "Plans for launching an entirely new test all at once were dropped, and ETS decided to introduce new question types and improvements gradually over time." The new questions have been gradually introduced since November 2007.

In the United States and Canada, the cost of the general test is $150 as of September, 2009, although ETS will reduce the fee under certain circumstances. They are promoting financial aid to those GRE applicants who prove economic hardship . ETS erases all test records that are older than 5 years, although graduate program policies on the admittance of scores older than 5 years will vary.


Exam Format & its Structure

The exam consists of four sections. The first section is a writing section, while the other three are multiple-choice style. One of the multiple choice style exams will test verbal skills, another will test quantitative skills and a third exam will be an experimental section that is not included in the reported score. Test takers do not know which of the three multiple-choice sections is the experimental section .The entire test procedure takes about 4 hours.

Analytical writing section

The analytical writing section consists of two different essays, an "issue task" and an "argument task". The writing section is graded on a scale of 0-6, in half-point increments.

The essays are written on a computer using a word processing program specifically designed by ETS. The program allows only basic computer functions and does not contain a spell-checker or other advanced features. Each essay is scored by at least two readers on a six-point holistic scale. If the two scores are within one point, the average of the scores is taken. If the two scores differ by more than a point, a third reader examines the response.

Issue task

The test taker will be able to choose between two topics upon which to write an essay. The time allowed for this essay is 45 minutes.

Argument task

The test taker will be given an "argument" and will be asked to write an essay that critiques the argument. Test takers are asked to consider the argument´s logic and to make suggestions about how to improve the logic of the argument. The time allotted for this essay is 30 minutes.

Verbal section

One graded multiple-choice section is always a verbal section, consisting of analogies, antonyms, sentence completions, and reading comprehension passages. Multiple-choice response sections are graded on a scale of 200-800, in 10-point increments. This section primarily tests vocabulary, and average scores in this section are substantially lower than those in the quantitative section. In a typical examination, this section may consist of 30 questions, and 30 minutes may be allotted to complete the section.

Quantitative section

The quantitative section, the other multiple-choice section, consists of problem solving and quantitative comparison questions that test high-school level mathematics. Multiple-choice response sections are graded on a scale of 200-800, in 10-point increments. In a typical examination, this section may consist of 28 questions, and test takers may be given 45 minutes to complete the section.

Experimental section

The experimental section, which can be either a verbal, quantitative, or analytical writing task, contains new questions that ETS is considering for future use. Although the experimental section does not count toward the test-taker's score, it is unidentified and appears identical to the real (scored) part of the test. As test takers have no clear way of knowing which section is experimental, they are forced to complete this section, or risk seriously damaging their final scores. If the experimental section appears as an analytical writing question (essay), if an "issue" type question is presented, a choice between two topics will not be given. This coupled with the fact that the true analytical writing section is the first test given can help the test-taker to deduce which is the experimental section and the taker can thus lower the importance of that section.


Computerized adaptive testing

The common (Verbal and Quantitative) multiple-choice portions of the exam currently use computer-adaptive testing (CAT) methods that automatically change the difficulty of questions as the test taker proceeds with the exam, depending on the number of correct or incorrect answers that are given. The test taker is not allowed to go back and change the answers to previous questions, and some type of answer must be given before the next question is presented.

The first question that is given in a multiple-choice section is considered to be an "average level" question that half of the GRE test takers will answer correctly. If the question is answered correctly, then subsequent questions become more difficult. If the question is answered incorrectly, then subsequent questions become easier, until a question is answered correctly. This approach to administration yields scores that are of similar accuracy while using approximately half as many items. However, this effect is moderated with the GRE because it has a fixed length; true CATs are variable length, where the test will stop itself once it has zeroed in on a candidate's ability level.

The actual scoring of the test is done with item response theory (IRT). While CAT is associated with IRT, IRT is actually used to score non-CAT exams. The GRE subject tests, which are administered in the traditional paper-and-pencil format, use the same IRT scoring algorithm. The difference that CAT provides is that items are dynamically selected so that the test taker only sees items of appropriate difficulty. Besides the psychometric benefits, this has the added benefit of not wasting the examinee's time by administering items that are far too hard or easy. This occurs in fixed-form testing.

An examinee can miss one or more questions on a multiple-choice section and still receive a perfect score of 800. Likewise, even if no question is answered correctly, 200 is the lowest score possible.

Scaled score percentiles

The percentiles of the current test are as follows:

Comparisons for "Intended Graduate Major" are "limited to those who earned their college degrees up to two years prior to the test date." ETS provides no score data for "non-traditional" students who have been out of school more than two years, although its own report "RR-99-16" indicated that 22% of all test takers in 1996 were over the age of 30.



GMAT (The Graduate Management Admission Test) is a computer adaptive standardized test in Mathematics and the English language for measuring aptitude to succeed academically in graduate business studies. Business schools commonly use the test as one of many selection criteria for admission into an MBA program. However, there are many business schools that also accept GRE scores.

The following are criteria of certain business schools:

U Penn-Wharton School: Official test scores for the GMAT or GRE tests.

Stanford: Finance - The GRE is preferred, although the GMAT will be accepted.

NYU-Stern School: The GMAT is strongly prefered, but scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) will also be accepted.

U Chicago: For Economics - the GRE is required. For Finance - the GRE is preferred; GMAT is acceptable. For all other areas - the GRE or the GMAT are accepted.

Berkeley-Haas: Without exception, all applicants to the Haas Ph.D. Program must submit official scores of either the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Examination.

In comparison with GMAT's emphasis on logic, GRE measures the test-takers' ability more in vocabulary. This difference is reflected in the structure of each test. Despite the Analytical Writing section in common, GRE has analogies, antonyms, sentence completions, and reading comprehension passages in Verbal section, while GMAT has sentence correction, critical reasoning and reading comprehension.

Also, higher mathematical ability is required in GMAT to get a good score. The GRE is more appealing to international MBA students and applicants from a non-traditional background.


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