The GRE is administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS), a nonprofit organization that describes its mission as “advancing quality and equity in education by providing fair and valid assessments, research, and related services.” In addition to the GRE, ETS also participates in development of the TOEFL exam, the SAT, and other exams. ETS has a wide breadth of informational and preparatory materials on their website that can be useful to students preparing for the GRE.
ETS and the GRE test administration (Prometric for the computer-based test) prioritize maintaining the fairness and validity of their testing procedures. In addition to evaluations by trained reviewers and rigorous training for all persons involved in the development or scoring of test questions, ETS also routinely analyzes their test questions to ensure that they do not unfairly contribute to group differences. The test has been validated to ensure that it measures the skills and abilities that it is trying to measure, it is measuring appropriate content, it is predictive of success, it minimizes adverse consequences, and it has the expected relationship with other measures of the same construct.
The GRE examination is designed to give students control over their own testing process. It is the only graduate examination that allows students to skip questions and go back to review their answers. In 2011, the test was revised from adapting after every question (like the GMAT) to only adapting between test sections. This means that each section is holistically timed, so if you finish early then you can go back and review questions that puzzled you. It is also possible while testing to “mark” questions for review, so that after completion of the section it is easy to review the correct questions.
The sections of the GRE exam are intended to reflect skills that are important for success in graduate school. The Analytical Writing section of the test measures analytical writing ability. Two independently timed “writing tasks” will evaluate your ability to write, in half an hour, a well-developed and cohesive essay that either constructs an argument about an Issue (“the Issue Task”), or deconstructs someone else’s argument about an issue (“the Argument Task”). The Verbal Reasoning sections measure ability to understand text (such as understanding sentences, summarizing a text, or distinguish main points from irrelevant tangents in a passage), and the ability to interpret discourse (draw conclusion, infer missing information, identify assumptions). The Quantitative Reasoning sections measure the ability to read and understand quantitative information, interpret and analyze quantitative information (including drawing inferences from data), and the ability to use mathematical methods to solve quantitative problems (using the provided calculator). In addition to the general GRE, there are also subject GRE tests available in Biology, Chemistry, Literature in English, Mathematics, Physics, Psychology, and Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology.
ETS also gives students control over how to submit their scores: on test day, students can choose to submit only their most recent scores or all of their scores from the past five years; after test day, students can choose which and how many sets of scores to submit. Students can re-take the GRE once every 21 days, up to five times within a continuous rolling 12-month period. Scores will remain part of a “reportable history” for five years after the test date, after which they will be purged from the database. The GRE is intended to help you get into the graduate program of your choice, but after you have been admitted then you have control over when and whether your score is used. If you attain an exceptionally high score, it may continue to be useful to your career as a benchmark of your aptitude. If you otherwise have a strong application, however, you should focus on attaining a score close to the median range for your preferred graduate schools.
The GMAT is the standardized test used exclusively for business school, and some business schools require it for admission, but some have more recently also begun accepting GRE General Test scores for business school admission. ETS has developed a score comparison tool that institutions can use to compare candidates who have taken the GRE with those who have taken the GMAT, and they also recently commissioned a study to track and demonstrate the validity of the GRE General Test for predicting performance in MBA programs. If you are applying to business school and have a strong background in languages and vocabulary, you may want to consider taking the GRE instead of or in addition to the GMAT. As long as your preferred graduate programs accept the GRE, you may rest assured that it will be a lasting and reliable indicator of your problem solving potential.