The Revised GRE, Part III: Reading Comprehension

April 7, 2010
Bob Verini

What GRE changes mean to you: Innovations; new challenges

While the GRE’s overall content breakdown will remain the same for the 2011 test change – that is, it’ll still consist of analytical writing, math, and verbal sections – the specific question types are undergoing quite the transformation. The most radical changes will be seen in the area of Reading Comprehension, where the testmakers are introducing two brand-new question types, both of which take fuller advantage of the computerized format than ever before.

The first new type consists of multiple choice questions which have more than one possible answer. This is a variation on the traditional “Roman numeral question”: You’ve seen those, surely, in which you are handed three Roman numeral statements and one or more are correct, e.g. “III only”; “I and II only”; “I, II, and III.” The killer tactic for Roman numerals has always been to begin with the one that appears most often, so as to narrow down your options. If, for instance, incorrect statement “III” appears in every answer choice except for (A), then the correct answer must be (A) by definition, case closed.

In the new type, “I,” “II,” and “III” will be replaced by “A,” “B,” and “C,” and any or all of them may be part of the answer. There will be no pre-set combinations to sort through. Moreover, the testmakers don’t plan to offer partial credit; as the ingenue sings in “Oklahoma!,” “it’s all er nuthin’.” The examinee will have to give equal and due attention to all three statements, without Roman numeral shortcut tactics to lean on.

The second new question type is Select-in-Passage, in which the examinee is to click on a specific passage sentence that matches up to a particular task. In other words, he’ll be asked to “Select the sentence that…” addresses a commonality between opposing views; or distinguishes between two phenomena; or shows why a hoped-for outcome won’t take place. This question type requires understanding not just a sentence’s content, but the author’s purpose in writing the sentence and placing it where she does. GRE Reading Comprehension questions have always rewarded an examinee’s focus on author purpose, but never more so than now.

Students will need to make sure they are fully prepared for these new question types. As should be pretty clear, these types require more complex thinking, and are less vulnerable to test taking shortcuts, than before. Those worried about having to deal with question types that haven’t appeared on any previous standardized tests need to remember that they can still take the current GRE up until July 31, 2011, and a score so achieved will be valid for five years after taking the exam.

Early test taking will be a highly desirable option for those who believe “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” – a proverb you’re likely to hear repeated often, as opportunities to take the GRE in its current form begin to dwindle.

More on the GRE content changes in future posts!

Bob Verini 30-year Kaplan veteran teacher, trainer, and curriculum developer.

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