Anyone taken computer based GRE?
September 24, 2008 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Anyone taken the GRE computer based General Test? I am computer literate, however having never taken a test on a computer I am kind of freaked out just by the sound of it. Will there still be paper for me to write problems out on? Can I skip a question and come back to it? Has anyone taken the paper based test and the computer base test? If so how do they compare?
posted by bilbo baggins to Education (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
ETS, Princeton Review and other services have practices exams online or on a CD you purchase with their materials. I took the GRE three years ago, so things might be different, but as far I remember, the practice test format was exactly the same as the real thing. And IIRC, you got scratch paper with the computer-based test.
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:45 AM on September 24, 2008

Also, the biggest difference between paper and computer is that once you choose an answer to a question, you can't go back later and change it, and it determines the level of difficulty of the following question, which factors in to the amount of points awarded if you get it right.
As recommended above, get a review book a familiarize yourself with the process. It's not that intimidating. Promise.
posted by greta simone at 8:47 AM on September 24, 2008

Yeah, I took the computer-based test ummmm almost two years ago now.

They give you a certain number of pieces of paper, but you can ask for more if you need them, just by raising your hand.

No, you cannot skip questions. You may not have the option to take the paper test. I think that might depend on your test center, or if you have special testing needs, but certainly we can imagine why standardization in this regard is important.

It's a pretty stressful test. Prepare yourself to be comfortable taking it by devoting a few months to studying the format and content. Buy a prep book. Most of them include sample test software.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:48 AM on September 24, 2008

If you managed to post this question, you can easily handle the technical aspects of the computer-based GRE. I took it three years ago, and it works like this: The test is broken up into a number of sections (comprehension, math, whatever) and each section is timed. The questions in each section are displayed one at a time (after a LOT of instruction screens), with a series of check boxes after them - A, B, C, D, etc. At the bottom of the screen in a "next" button. You can go back to any question in the current section assuming you have enough time to do so. Assuming the writing section is still included, you will need to write four essays at the end of the whole shebang just like you wrote this question - in a text box.

You will be given a scratch pad, some ear plugs, and some noise-canceling headphones at the beginning. When you finish, you give you scratch pad to the proctor. You are then given a provisional score which you can show to graduate school admissions folks, but it doesn't include your essay scores.

I took the paper-based one first, and it was largely the same. It was nice not having to break open each section of questions with the pencil. :)
posted by Willie0248 at 8:51 AM on September 24, 2008

The current GRE instructions say you're not allowed to go back to any questions, regardless of whether you have time remaining at the end of each section. You're also not allowed to bring your own scratch paper or pencils, but the testing center will provide them for you. This information is actually all available on the GRE's website.
posted by vytae at 8:55 AM on September 24, 2008

When I took it, the test spent the first 15 minutes teaching me how to use a computer ("This is a mouse. You can move it!") and teaching me how to use the test software ("Click here (queue big arrow) to choose C for your answer!"). It was quite annoying.

But don't sweat it. It's just point and click.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:08 AM on September 24, 2008

Like others said, they give you scratch paper, and you cannot go back and change answers or skip questions to come back to later. Gain familiarity with the format of the test using practice software (ETS sends you a disc when you register for the exam, and most prep books now come with sample computer-based test too). When I took it four years ago, I was sitting in a computer lab with a dozen or so cubicles with side-blinders, each with a different person taking a computer-based exam.

A side note - you will usually have an extra test section which will be for research purposes, so that ETS can test out potential new questions and rate how difficult they are. They won't tell you which section is real and which is just for research purposes, so be prepared for that. When I took the exam four years ago, the first verbal test I took I started freaking out, since I didn't recognize a single word in the first four questions. It turns out it was the "research" section though, and I did decent enough on the real test.
posted by twoporedomain at 9:09 AM on September 24, 2008

Unless things have changed in the two years since I took the GRE, when you register for the test, ETS will send you a CD with sample test software on it. That can help you prepare for taking the test.
posted by capsizing at 9:44 AM on September 24, 2008

My suggestion would be to take as many mock tests on a computer as possible. Having to shift from reading the question on the screen and then solving it on the scratch paper is a little different from having it all in front of you as in a paper test. If you're not already very comfortable with the process, you might end up making unnecessary mistakes during the test.
posted by sk381 at 9:44 AM on September 24, 2008

Something else to keep in mind: the more questions you answer correctly, the harder the questions they give you. If it gets harder and harder, you're doing it right.

Also, when you're done with the test, you also have the option to nuke your scores before seeing them- they won't be on your record, but you'll never know how you did. Considering the frustration that comes from getting harder and harder questions, and the likelihood that you'll get a research section that is difficult but doesn't count toward your score, odds are you've scored better than you've thought, and you shouldn't do this.
posted by moonlet at 9:45 AM on September 24, 2008

nthing everyone else, the GRE is actually not that intimidating on computer.

A caveat, though - when I took it, I chose to take a break after my writing section and before the math/verbal parts. The computer lets you take a break, but when I got back, the computer froze up.

They managed to fix it, but it was a little bit of a panic on my end. I really was worried I'd have to do the writing again.

Make sure you ask them what their policies are on that - the people at the testing center I was at seemed a bit flustered, which in turn made me flustered.
posted by SNWidget at 9:49 AM on September 24, 2008

It's been four almost five years since I took the general GRE's on the computer. Yikes I'm getting old!

Not sure if anyone has mentioned it - but the computer will randomly select one of the sections for you to re-take at the end of the exam (math, vocab, or writing) I think I had to re-do math. The computer does NOT tell you which of the sections it is grading, so do your best on both.

Also the math was pretty easy for me because I was a math major, but if you did not have that luxury, be sure to do lots of practice problems. I did not study much for the vocab, but decently just having read a lot, etc. I think it was probably easier than the SATs/ACTs from my standpoint, especially having had a lot of math in college. There is plenty of scratch paper to work out problems.
posted by sararah at 10:08 AM on September 24, 2008

(I teach GRE prep for The Princeton Review)

What moonlet is describing is the fact that the GRE is computer adaptive. Before you answer your first question, the test assumes you have an average score -- say, 500. If you answer the first question right, it bumps your assumed score up a lot -- say 550 -- and if you miss it, it bumps your assumed score down -- 450. As you move through the test, these score "bumps" will get smaller and smaller as the adaptive tests zeroes in on your score.

What this means to you: The first 1/3 of the problems you answer have a MAJOR impact on your score. The second 1/3 have some impact on your score. The last 1/3 have relatively little impact on your score. Use your time on the test accordingly; go slowly and carefully at the beginning, and don't be afraid to guess wildly at the end in order to finish all the problems.

Yes, 2 students could get the same number of questions right/wrong on the GRE, but the student who got more right answers at the beginning will get a higher score.

No calculators are allowed for the GRE. The math is therefore "easier" than SAT math, but most adults haven't done long division or fraction addition by hand since the 4th grade. Practice accordingly.

Depending on your testing center, your "scratch paper" may actually be clear plastic overhead projector sheets and a non-erasable marker. Some testing centers are more generous with scratch paper than others.

Finally, treat every section like it's the real deal. You usually have no way of knowing for sure which section is there for research purposes.
posted by junkbox at 10:35 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

As everyone else seems to be mentioning, the adaptive nature of the computer test is the biggest difference. It felt like a completely different test-taking experience to me. I test extremely well generally, especially with the old #2 pencil variety, but scored terribly for the first practice exam I took on the computer-based GRE. You will probably get used to it very quickly, but there is definitely a difference, and different strategies are required. Practice tests are key, even if just one or two to get a feel for it, because you don't want that getting-used-to-it to happen during the real thing.
posted by fidelity at 11:02 AM on September 24, 2008


I screwed up the essay portion of the GRE because I thought I had 45 minutes to complete 2 essays. Actually, I had 45 minutes PER essay. So I scrambled through them, and at the end of 45 minutes thought OMGWTF.
posted by desjardins at 1:31 PM on September 24, 2008

I took the computerized GRE twice. After completely bombing the first one, I boned up hardcore on mental math skills and took several (3 or 4 practice tests).

After years and years of standardized tests that taught me to answer the easy questions first, it took a little re-training to focus on each problem and solve it correctly and efficiently.
posted by muddgirl at 1:37 PM on September 24, 2008

I just took it in August. I agree with all the other people commenting here that if you can use a browser, you can use the ETS's GRE software. Not difficult. Actually, one thing drove me nuts - the test center's mouse had a scroll wheel but it didn't scroll the GRE. I kept trying to scroll the reading comprehension selections.

Some points: as far as I could tell, the PowerPrep software they mail you on a CD contains two real tests. The only difference is that in real life you'll likely have to do either 2 math or 2 verbal sections, rather than just one, so you'll need more endurance. But if you do pretty well on the PowerPrep test, you'll likely score within that range on the real test - pay no attention to the written practice tests in books, they are not nearly as accurate in predicting your score and may freak you out.

Secondly, I don't think anyone has mentioned this, but the very, very, very best thing about the computer-adaptive test is that you get your scores (OK, not for writing) the second you're done. This means you get to go out and get drunk now rather than six weeks from now when you get your scores in the mail. It is GREAT.

Oh, and one more thing: there are some weird new question types now and you should read up on them (like there's some weird new fill in the blank, and a math question where you have to figure out the answer on your own and put it in a little box. Pressure!!). Right now, though, I think they're being used only as the last problem in an experimental section. What this means to you? If you think you're totally bombing your math, and then you get to your last question and it's a new question type, you can breathe a sigh of relief because that section isn't counted and you get another chance. This kind of made my day when I took the GRE. I may be wrong about it though, and maybe now those new questions can actually count for points, but when I took it I don't think they did.

Oh, finally, trying to figure out if you're doing well or poorly based on the question difficulty is a total mindfuck. If you can stop thinking about it you'll feel much happier and concentrate better. Taking an expensive standardized test, you are in no place to tell if the questions are objectively easy or hard, so don't try.
posted by crinklebat at 7:47 PM on September 24, 2008

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