GRE changes makes it more rigorous

Photo by: Emily Stack
Photo by: Emily Stack

By Ryan Buxton | LSU Student

Getting into graduate school just got harder.

For more than a month, undergraduate students have begun facing the newest iteration of the Graduate Record Examinations, the standardized test required for admission to most graduate schools throughout the country.

As of Aug. 1, the GRE shuffled its question types, changed the way the computerized exam adapts as test takers progress and extended its length by about an hour. The new version has changed the way students should strategize for the exam, according to test specialists.

"Some of the conventional wisdom of the old GRE is that you didn't need much preparation," said Lee Weiss, director of graduate programs for Kaplan Test Prep in Baton Rouge. "What we recommend now is two to three months of consistent study."

Additional test sections account for the extended time. While the old GRE had one math section, one verbal section and two essays, the new exam includes two math sections, two verbal sections and two essays.

Weiss said feedback from test takers shows the new GRE is a "more rigorous exam," but he said the increased difficulty isn't insurmountable. He recommended students start studying early and slowly build their plans of attack.

"It might be cliché, but the marathon comparison is great. Nobody straps on a pair of sneakers and says, 'I'm going to run 26 miles today.' You work your way up. It's the same thing with a four-hour rigorous test like this."

Paige Raschke, a GRE teacher with the Princeton Review, doesn't think the extra hour will be significantly detrimental to students "as long as you utilize any breaks they give you. Don't just sit there. Get up and move around because it gets your blood going."

But test takers may feel fatigued during the second half of the exam.

"The bad part about it is they start you off with essays. That completely drains you after an hour of writing two essays, then you have to take the actual test," Raschke said.

Though the test's length wasn't an issue for Care Bach, an LSU advertising senior who took the new GRE in its first week, she did find the exam material challenging. She had the most difficulty with the math sections, which included material she hadn't seen since high school because of her communications-focused college curriculum.

The math portion of the test carries one of the GRE's biggest changes, the availability of an on-screen calculator. Bach appreciated the calculator, but because it's basic and without graphing capabilities said it didn't give her much of an edge.

"I used it … on half of [the questions], but if I needed to do basic math, most of it was pretty easy to do in my head. I did use the calculator, but I wouldn't say it was a huge advantage."

Students shouldn't think of the calculator as a crutch during the quantitative sections because "the GRE is not a test of computation, it's a test of reasoning," Weiss said.

Keisha Frank, an accounting senior at LSU who plans to take the GRE sometime this fall, said she feels confident with math, so she's mostly focusing on verbal. She has been studying by thoroughly reviewing GRE vocabulary words each day and practicing reading comprehension.

Frank's focus on reading is important, as Raschke said the biggest change in the verbal portions is it is now about 50 percent reading comprehension.

In addition to test content, navigation through the exam has also changed.

With the old GRE, students could view a question only once and could not return after they had moved on to the next one. The revised exam, however, allows students to return to previous questions within the section they are working on so they can answer questions in the order of their choosing.

Raschke suggests students answer the questions they are sure about first, and then return to the more difficult questions with the remaining time.

Bach took the GRE weeks ago, but she's still waiting to find out exactly how she did. Though the test is designed to report scores immediately, students who brave the new exam in the coming months will have to wait until November for their scores.

Until then, test takers will immediately receive an approximate score that provides a 100-point range in which that person's score will fall. They will receive the precise score sometime in November. That's cutting it close for many graduate schools with application deadlines in December and January. Weiss said students should check with their schools of choice, as some are being flexible with deadlines during the GRE transition period.

"If you get the rest of your application in and call them and let them know your GRE scores are on the way, they may allow you to submit them late. But it's case by case."