New GRE test updates: responding to what we now know

Davis: Hey, everybody! Welcome back. This is GRE Bites. I’m Davis, an educator with over 10 years of experience.

Orion: And I’m Orion, the founder of StellarGRE.

Davis: We’re here to bring you your weekly bite-sized episode on GRE prep and grad school admissions. Check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships. Let’s get to it.

So Orion, as you know, ETS recently released a document which is basically a FAQ regarding the changes on the test. I want to know what you know. What do you think of it? What’s your response? Are there any highlights? Maybe we could just go through it a little bit together?

Orion: Absolutely. So as we’ve discussed on previous episodes, the GRE is changing as of September 22nd, 2023. There will be a new version of the test. We’re still learning the details. And recently ETS published a Frequently Asked Questions document about the general test enhancement for test takers. And I thought we could just sort of go through that together, and get some reactions here.

Davis: Now that sounds like a great idea. So we’ve already covered some of this in previous episodes, but what specifically is new in this document?

Orion: Yeah, let’s take a look. So the biggest things that are going to change have to do with the duration and the structure. So right away, we see that the analytical writing section will be cut from two essay tasks down to one essay task. They are getting rid of the argument essay prompt completely. The issue essay prompt will stay 30 minutes long.

There will still be two graded sections for each of the quantitative and the verbal halves of the test. But before they were two symmetrical sections of 20 questions each. Now apparently there’s going to be 27 questions in total. And that was kind of mysterious, because 27 is obviously an odd number. But we see somewhere in this document – aha! – they finally revealed the breakdown, which is that in each of the first graded verbal and quant sections, there will be 12 questions. And that means that there will be 15 questions in the second graded verbal and quant sections.

Now, ETS said that the sections would keep the same prorate with respect to the time. So let’s see if that is actually true. It is so, because the verbal section – as it currently exists – has 20 questions in 30 minutes, which is a minute and a half per question. And that’s why in this new 12 question verbal section, students will get 18 minutes to complete that section, and 23 minutes to complete the 15 question section.

Davis: So what this means then is that, even though the test is shorter, which helps for fatigue and long-term endurance, strategies developed and practiced, in terms of how to manage your time question-to-question within a section, are still applicable.

Orion: Yeah, that’s right. Efficiency strategies will remain as important as ever, because if you can’t solve the question in 90 seconds or less, you kind of can’t solve it. Regardless of whether it’s 12 questions in a set or 20 questions in a set: you still have to move through questions with intention and purpose. So we have the 12 question/15 Questions split. That’s a new one. And we know that the tests will still be adaptive by section. I assume – this is not in the FAQ – but I assume that there will still be three possible second graded sections: an easy, medium, and hard. And that means that the thresholds for provoking the hardest second section on these first sections are likely going to be a bit more competitive, a bit more unforgiving. Let’s put it that way.

On the 20-question set, you had to get, like, three-quarters of the questions right in order to provoke the hardest second section. So three-quarters of 12 would be nine. So that means that students only have three points to give – most likely – on the first graded sections, in order to provoke the hardest second sections. And that will be absolutely essential, because – most likely – without provoking those hardest second sections, you won’t be able to unlock the top percentile scores on the test. You’ll come up against a ceiling effect, as we call it, if you fail to do so.

Davis: Now that’s really helpful to have a better understanding of the total time, and the total number of questions in order to provoke the hardest section.

Orion: What we’re getting at is that there’s going to be a more unforgiving threshold to unlock those top-percentile scores. Students can only miss three questions, max, as opposed to maybe five. So we’ve gone from five to three: that is a 40% reduction in that buffer for the hardest second section, which means that efficiency has remained exactly as necessary in the new version as in the current version. It also means that accuracy is actually like 40% more important than it used to be.

Davis: So this creates a challenge for the test. We’ve taken away the endurance component of the test. I mean, the test is still nearly two hours long, but we’ve cut it in half. We’ve gotten rid of the sustained mindfulness component as much, but we replaced it with a concentrated focus on accuracy and carelessness.

Orion: That’s right.

Davis: And I’m also noticing that this new test – I don’t know if we’ve covered this before – will not have a 10-minute break between sections. And so there’s not as much of a recharge space. What are your thoughts on that?

Orion: Yeah, there’s no 10-minute break any more in the new version. So students will have to have a more streamlined approach. I’m also not sure if the park screen will still exist. That was something that might have been an oversight in the test construction in the current version. We’ll have to see if they’ve corrected that oversight in the new version. If that’s the case, we’ll have to develop new strategies for refreshing people’s consciousness between sections if we can’t rely on that. But we don’t really know for sure.

ETS in this FAQ also discusses that they will release practice tests online using this new format. But not until the new version is released, which I think is a little strange. They’re basically saying that – because the content is the same, and there are no new question types – that all pre-existing materials should be useful to prepare for the new version of the test. And so we’ll all be kind of figuring out how this works after the fact. But once we do, we’ll be able to reverse engineer some of those adaptability thresholds and score guidelines, and get some more feedback about the breaks between sections.

Davis: I appreciate your feedback, and your reflection on this ETS FAQ response document. You can find that online on ETS’s website, to review the whole thing yourselves.

Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another bite-sized episode of GRE Bites. If you have a topic you’d like discussed on a future episode, let us know at And if you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships there. Talk to you soon.

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