Richardson Prep Centre- Toronto, Ontario

2007 GRE Changes - Why the GRE needs to be changed

What Does And Should The GRE Test?

I have taught preparation courses for LSAT, GMAT and GRE for 25 years. During that time period I have come to understand that these graduate school admissions tests are a measure of:

Reading and reasoning in context.

All questions (whether math, verbal or analytical) are intended to be a measure of the test taker’s reading and reasoning skills in the context of the question. In some instances the context is quantitative (problem solving), in some cases analytical (argument analysis) and some cases verbal (reading comprehension).

How Well Do The LSAT, GMAT and GRE Test Reading And Reasoning In Context?

Clearly a test that is a measure of pure reading and reasoning skills should not be based on a minimum of background knowledge. Some tests are more dependant on background knowledge than others. For example:

  • The LSAT (Law School Admission Test) is based on NO background knowledge and is a good test of reading and reasoning in context.
  • The GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) is dependant on a very base level of quantitative skills (nothing beyond grade 10 or 11 math), a minimal level of the understanding of agreement among the parts of a sentence (the grammar) and no background knowledge for the reading comprehension and analytical (argument analysis) questions.
  • In sharp contrast the current GRE is dependant on a much greater amount of background knowledge than either the LSAT or GMAT.

Three Weaknesses The October 2006 GRE Will Address

1. The New GRE Must Be Less Dependant On Background Knowledge

The current GRE assumes a high level of vocabulary and some math skills that are unrelated to day-to-day problem solving.

Examples include:

- the current GRE is based on a knowledge of vocabulary that goes way beyond what the average student knows. The answers can sometimes be discerned by understanding the Latin root of a word or the meaning of a prefix, suffix or the type of word it is. But, when it comes to language skills, as one commentator said:

“The future just aint what it used to be!”

Students come to our GRE prep courses who have been mindlessly memorizing words for months! This has nothing to do with reasoning. As a result, the verbal section of the current GRE is not suitable for anyone.

The October 2006 GRE will be far less dependant on knowledge of vocabulary (but you must still understand English). According to GRE, the new GRE will have:

“greater emphasis on higher cognitive skills and less dependence on vocabulary”.

  • the current quantitative section of the GRE is somewhat dependant on knowledge of background math skills. This is ridiculous. The test is too hard for people who can’t remember the basic math (making it inappropriate as a test of reading and reasoning) and too easy for those applying to graduate schools in quantitative areas (these applicants can all score 800 in the quantitative section). As a result, the quantitative section of the current GRE is not suitable for anyone.

The October 2006 GRE will be less dependant on knowledge of background math skills. According to GRE, the new GRE will have:

“fewer geometry questions, more real-life scenarios and data interpretation questions and an on-screen, four-function calculator with square-root feature”.

Conclusion – The New GRE Will Be A Major Improvement!

GRE is clearly eliminating parts of the current GRE that are overly dependant on background knowledge. The issue is NOT whether people should or should not have this background knowledge. The issue is:

To what extent does the requirement of background knowledge impede the ability to test reading and reasoning skills?

By minimizing the dependence on background knowledge, GRE is removing the major barrier to the test measuring reading and reasoning skills. This is indeed a positive step forward.

In the words of GRE:

“These changes are intended to make the GRE General Test a more accurate gauge of how qualified prospective students are to do graduate-level work,” Payne explains. “We’ll also offer more interpretive information to graduate deans and faculty, including providing access to test takers’ essay responses on the Analytical Writing section.”

(David Payne is the Executive Director of the GRE program. What follows is a link to an excellent Power Point presentation where he describes the GRE.) ETS David Payne – PowerPoint Presentation

2. The New GRE Must Also Address Security Concerns

The current GRE is a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT). To learn how a CAT test works I invite you to visit a discussion of this on our site at:

(Basically, the subsequent question a test taker gets is dependant on whether the previous question was answered correctly.)

The current GRE is based on a pool of questions that repeat themselves giving rise to security concerns. The new GRE will:

  • be administered on the computer
  • not be a CAT test
  • not reuse questions
  • be administered worldwide 29 days each year
  • revert to an era where every test taker gets the same questions

In the words of GRE:

“It will also no longer be offered in a computer-adaptive format, where the difficulty of the test is determined by the test taker’s right or wrong answers. Instead, it will be offered in a linear format, in which every student takes the same exam.”

3. The New GRE Should Make Better Use Of Computers In Testing

The GMAT, GRE, TEOFL and the MCAT (effective 2007) are administered on computers. How a test as administered, is irrelevant to the questions that are asked. Computers based tests allow for a much greater range of flexibility of question types.

A Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) is a step forward, but is a long way from realizing the potential - in terms of question types and formats – that computers are capable of asking.

The new GRE will require test takers to interact with questions in ways never before done. For example, test takers may be required to underline parts of passages or reorganize things in sequence. (In 1995, I visited Law Forums where prototypes of possible new LSAT tests were introduced, which incorporated these very aspects. This is not a new idea.)

GRE alludes to the “expansion of computer related tasks” when describing the new verbal section of the GRE.

For updates and discussion about the 2011 Revised GRE:

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Copyright © John Richardson 2005, all rights reserved.