How the GRE Works

You can take the written GRE test on certain dates. But most opt for the computerized version.
You can take the written GRE test on certain dates. But most opt for the computerized version.
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For the first two decades of your life, there were few detours on your academic road map. The first stops were preschool and primary school, then middle school and high school. Along the way, there were a variety of standardized tests, placement tests and, of course, the SATs and ACTs. You got better at using your No. 2 pencil to fill in the little circles on the answer sheets. You may even have been tempted to make a random pattern to see if it affected your score.

Each level of school and every test was a step on the journey to the ultimate destination: college. After graduation, you could look forward to a career and no more standardized tests. With your degree in hand, the only classes you planned to take were for personal enrichment, courses like art history and Italian cooking.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to your college diploma: You realized a graduate degree could provide the necessary fuel to compete in the increasingly competitive job market. And inevitably, more school means more standardized tests.

For college students whose career goals are law, medicine or business, LSATs, MCATs or GMATs have always been on the horizon. The test for most other students on their way to graduate school is the GRE, also known as the Graduate Record Examination. For 60 years, the GRE has been their key to graduate school and career advancement.

Since it was developed, the GRE has morphed from a written test to a fill-in-the-circle version, and most recently, to a computerized version. Sections have been added and taken away in the hope of perfecting the exam and providing an accurate measure of analytical and reasoning skills. And in the fall of 2011, the GRE will see the most significant changes in its history.

This article explores the current GRE, the anticipated changes to the test, and what you can do to prepare. First, let's take a look at the basics of the GRE.