As you probably know, ETS unveiled its Revised GRE yesterday. We wanted to find out just how “revised” it was, so we signed ourselves up, and I spent a solid 4 hours taking it yesterday (8/2/11). Fun times, let me tell you (and no, we’re not masochists, just Test Prep dorks…er, studs). I got first crack at it, so here’s my commentary. We’ll have more to follow as others on the staff subject themselves to the same pain in the coming weeks.
Let’s start with a few particulars:
Test Date: 8/2/11 (second day of Revised GRE testing)
Test Time: 1pm (my sweet spot; and yes, I started on time)
Location: 1 Penn Plaza (right across from “The Garden”)
I arrived at the test center about 15 minutes before my scheduled test time. The dude checking people in was as surly as pretty much anyone I’ve ever encountered in these places. He says, “so all you have to do is follow all the instructions and you’ll be fine. Keep your locker key and passport at all times.” I ask, “At all times?” He gives me a withering look, sighs, and replies, “Didn’t I just say all you had to do was follow the directions?” I was pleased to see we were getting off to the right foot here on test day. After that it was smooth sailing, apart from a security procedure I hadn’t experienced before in all my times taking these tests (including the last time I took the GRE): a security check with a metal detector wand!
Happy to find that security hasn’t yet reached the thoroughness-level of body cavity searches just yet, I went in, took my seat, and started jamming. Here’s the breakdown:
- The length of the Revised GRE is longer than the old one, which makes the testing experience more grueling. I was in and out in just under 4 hours. I had the two writing tasks (30 minutes each); two Quant sections (20Q-35 minutes); and three Verbal Sections (20Q-30minutes – one experimental). I had them in the order: Writing-Writing-Verbal-Quant-Verbal-Quant-Verbal.
- It doesn’t seem to be discernibly more difficult than the previous version of the GRE. While the format of the questions changed, as did some of the question types, the level of difficulty seemed on par with the old version.
- The ability to skip questions (i.e. provide an answer and come back to change it at a later time in that section) is actually a pretty beneficial tool for pacing. I’m not sure how this impacts the CAT-nature of the test, but it seems to me the pool of questions would invariably be a lot more stagnant than that “other” CAT test sometimes is used for business school admissions. I noticed that the difficulty of my questions seemed pretty random, as opposed to generally getting harder as I got questions right and wrong.
- While I might risk the ire of ETS, in this humble blogger’s opinion, the GRE, while more grueling than the previous GRE, still doesn’t seem to me to be as rigorous or difficult a test as the GMAT. It is fair to say, however, that in my opinion the GRE has closed the gap considerably. There could be more of a debate over it in the Verbal (which we’ll explore), but the Quant definitely seems to be a step below the GMAT rigor, and on the whole the GMAT seems a bit more arduous. Here’s a couple reasons why:
- Timing was never really an issue on either Quant or Verbal – usually on GMAT Quant I answer, comfortably, about 33-35 questions and I end up guessing on the last couple. On the GRE, I found that I was never really pressed for time.
- The “stumped” factor – there are always 1 or 2 questions on GMAT Quant where I’m stumped at first. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I’m left thinking, “um, what?” But on both the PowerPrep II software (latest version of prep software for the Revised GRE) and the official test I didn’t have a single “um, what?” moment. Subjective and anecdotal it may be, that’s the impression I got.
- Scoring – ETS won’t be able to calibrate the scoring scale for the Revised GRE for a few months (hence the disclaimer at registration that you WON’T be getting your scores until November if you test in August or September). As a consequence, I was left with rather imprecise score ranges from the old GRE scale: Verbal – 670-770; Quant – 750-800. A little dissatisfying to say the least…
A Penny for your Quant
As I mentioned above, the Quant really didn’t present any surprises. Here are a few thoughts/impressions on it:
- The new question format – multiple response and self-response – only comprised about 4-5 of the total 20 questions per section. The new format didn’t make them any easier or more difficult to solve.
- The most time consuming question types tended to be the Data Interpretation ones, which usually required doing math calculations based on data represented in chart/graph/figure form. They weren’t necessarily difficult, just a bit more time consuming. My recommendation: make sure you understand what’s going on in the data before working the first question. You’ll be able to focus and process more efficiently.
- There wasn’t really anything wacky or dumbfounding in the Quant. I tend to remember questions that were problematic or interesting, and to be honest I walked out of the test with a blank slate.
- One Quant section seemed noticeably harder than the other. It started out with several questions in a row that were more time-consuming than any others on the test. I don’t know if this was by design or simply random, but overall the section seemed harder than the first.
- There was more Geometry on the test than I expected (about 3-4 in each section, perhaps a bit more), and even a couple hexagon-and-above polygon questions where you needed to figure out the measure of an angle or part of an angle. Hadn’t had to do that in a while…
The verbal section is where differences between old and Revised GRE (henceforth just RGRE) were more apparent. Gone were the pesky analogy and antonym questions, in were more multiple response questions. Here are some thoughts:
- -GRE Verbal is still a significant part “vocab-test.” While the RGRE did get rid of the aforementioned question types, a significant portion of the questions (about 1/2 in my estimation) were still vocab driven Sentence Completions. The form varied – from 1 to 3 blanks to fill out – but at the end of the day after you’ve reasoned out what should go there, it’s still matter largely of whether you know the word(s) in the choices.
- Oddly, I felt like I saw several words more than once. Here are a few to chew on: lugubrious, opprobrious, platitudinous, acumen, salacious, sycophant. I see RGRE vocab lists in our immediate future…
- Twists – A twist on the Sentence Completions involved choosing phrases (usually verbs with prepositions) as opposed to single words. Also, they didn’t really get rid of the antonyms, they just jazzed them up by creating a hybrid with sentence completion where you need to chose two words from a list of choices that would similarly complete the sentence.
- The rest of the test was Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension, both of which (again in my estimation) were not as difficult as what you’d find on the GMAT.
- As with Quant, one of the Verbal sections felt a bit more difficult than the others, though this could have been a) my imagination, or b) the experimental verbal I had.
On the whole the verbal was also very manageable, but with the dependance on a partially capricious (RGRE word!!) question type based on vocab (those pesky Sentence Completions) the RGRE Verbal could be seen as being as difficult as GMAT Verbal, though for a different reason.
Standard fare: one Analysis of an Issue, one Analysis of an Argument. Nothing to fear here. For the AI one I actually amused myself a little by starting and ending the essay on task, but using the middle 3-4 paragraphs to rant on a) why the AW was a poor task to ask of people to sitting for a test used in graduate program admissions, and b) why that particular prompt was particularly appalling (the task was something to the effect of: “Do you agree that it is no longer possible for society to view any living person as a hero?” Really? That’s what I’m writing on? Jeez).
- They do a security check with a hand-held metal detector wand. No more need be said.
- The testing center at Penn Plaza doesn’t offer earplugs, only noise-cancelling headphones. If those headphones give you headaches or are otherwise uncomfortable, bring your own earplugs.
- For those of you paying attention to this space in recent months, I didn’t even have to try to escape the building on my solitary 10-minute break to smoke a cigarette. I learned my lesson from the last time I took the GMAT (read here for the full story) and brought some spit-less chewing tobacco pouches to get me through (bleech!) The lesson, as always, don’t start smoking…or chewing tobacco. If anything, just go straight to the Nicorette. It’s cheaper, and no one will give you flack for it. Heck, no one even has to know…
The RGRE was definitely an upgrade from the previous GRE in so far as rigor is concerned. It is, despite my cynicism, a better and more consistent barometer of a test-taker’s general ability (on the test). For those looking to take the RGRE for graduate school, there’s nothing here that’s so different from the old GRE that it should bother you or alter how you prepare. For those considering the RGRE in lieu of the GMAT for graduate business school admissions, the jury, unfortunately, is still out. I felt it was, in the main, a bit less strenuous than the GMAT. We’ll have to see how the scores stack up and how business schools treat the RGRE in comparison to the GMAT.
As always, you should prep to the best of your ability to maximize your score. The RGRE is a test that you can most certainly prep for and improve your score on, and you should give yourself every opportunity to do so.
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