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The GRE CBT Format

The paper-and-pencil version of the GRE is administered in only a small minority of test centers outside the US and Canada. The vast majority of students must take the GRE as a computer-based test, or CBT for short. In 2011, the CBT format of the test was significantly revised. These revisions have a major impact on how students should approach the test.


The Verbal and Quantitative sections of the GRE are now section-level adaptive, which means that performance on the first section of a type determines the difficulty of the second section of that type. Because the computer adapts to a student’s performance on an entire section, students are now able to skip questions, mark questions for review, and return to previous questions within a section to change answer choices.

In contrast, the previous version of the GRE was question-level adaptive, which meant that the difficulty of each question (except the first) was determined by a test-taker’s performance on the previous question. For this reason, the previous version of the GRE did not allow test-takers to skip questions or change answer choices.


Each question on a particular Verbal or Quantitative section is weighted the same as every other question on that section. Test-takers need to take this into account when devising a pacing strategy for these sections. On the previous version of the GRE, the first few questions of a section had a much greater impact on a student’s overall score than did the last few, and thus demanded more attention. The switch to a section-level adaptive format means that this is no longer true: within a given section, no question is more important than any other.

Different sections, however, may impact a student’s score differently. The better a student’s performance on the first section, the more difficult the second section of that type will be. The greater the overall difficulty of the questions, the greater the potential for a higher scaled score.


The GRE now provides test-takers with access to an on-screen calculator on the Quantitative sections. In addition, the Verbal and Quantitative sections now have a feature that lets test-takers see a list of every question in their current section, their progress on each, and whether they have marked a question for review. This powerful new tool gives students who understand the best way to use it a significant advantage over those who overlook its potential.