GRE Test Time Cut in Half

You'll be able to finish the GRE in a mere two hours, but do you really need to take it at all?
portrait of Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D.
Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D.
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Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D., is a senior writer and higher education analyst with BestColleges. He has 30 years of experience in higher education as a university administrator and faculty member and teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University. A former...
Published on June 6, 2023
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  • Starting next fall, the Graduate Record Examination will take two hours instead of four.
  • While fewer graduate programs now require the GRE, many law and business schools accept the test as a substitute for the LSAT and GMAT.
  • The pandemic caused universities to relax standardized test requirements, and most haven't reinstated them.

Taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) will now require half the time.

The Educational Testing Service, which administers the GRE, recently announced the test time will be reduced from four hours to two starting in September.

Given higher education's shift away from standardized tests, how much does it matter?

Taking the GRE in Half the Time

Announcing changes to a standardized test doesn't sound terribly exciting. Unless you're the Educational Testing Service.

In its announcement, ETS demonstrated its exuberance for exclamation points, employing five in the first five sentences!

To reduce the test time, the GRE will feature 46 fewer verbal and quantitative reasoning questions and have only one analytical writing essay (down from two), thus reducing test-taking fatigue, ETS notes (with unbridled enthusiasm).

What's more, test takers will receive their scores sooner — within 8-10 days instead of 10-15.

"The changes we're announcing today underscore the emphasis we place on keeping our customers at the center of all that we do," ETS CEO Amit Sevak told Inside Higher Ed. "As we continue to introduce product innovations, we're committed to balancing two things — maintaining rigor and validity, while improving the test-taker experience."

Alas, the cost of the test will not also be cut in half, remaining at $220 for U.S. students.

Law and Business Schools Accept the GRE

Among the various ways COVID-19 upended higher education, it proved universities could get along quite well without standardized tests. Last year, about 80% of colleges still didn't require the SAT or ACT for admission.

At the same time, universities have moved away from requiring the GRE for graduate programs. Between 2018 and 2021, the number of GRE tests administered in the U.S. fell by 50%.

Today, test requirements vary not only by institution but also by department. At the University of California, Berkeley, for example, only 13 of the university's 125 graduate programs require the GRE, Lisa Garcia Bedolla, Berkeley's vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the graduate division, told BestColleges.

"Many departments chose to stop using it because of the difficulties with test administration during COVID," Bedolla said. "We had a campus conversation when we came back about its utility, and almost all of our programs chose not to take it back because of the serious issues with racial disparities and outcomes."

That's the bad news for the GRE. The good news is that the test has become a proxy for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

Since 2017, law schools have increasingly accepted the GRE as a substitute for the LSAT. Two years ago, the American Bar Association officially sanctioned this substitution, permitting law schools to accept either test.

Not all have complied. About one-third of law schools allow students to submit the GRE instead of the LSAT, but the list of those that do includes Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, and many other top-ranked schools.

Accepting both and considering them equal are two different matters. In one survey of law school officials, 13 of 25 respondents whose institutions accepted both said applicants who submitted LSAT scores had an admissions advantage over those submitting the GRE. No one said taking the GRE offered any advantage.

"From my own experience, the GRE is a glorified SAT that doesn't actually tell us anything about a prospective student's ability to be an effective law student," said one anonymous respondent. "The LSAT's not perfect, but it's a much better diagnostic tool."

The situation differs among business schools. Around 90% of B-schools accept the GRE in addition to the GMAT, though the latter remains the preferred option among applicants, who submit GMAT scores four times more often than GRE scores.

Unlike their law school counterparts, business school admissions officers don't necessarily indicate a preference.

"Submit the score that substantiates that you can do the work," said one former Stanford Business School admissions officer.

Standardized Tests Struggle to Remain Relevant

In COVID's wake, few universities have reinstated standardized testing requirements. Among top institutions, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology did last year, with much fanfare. Meanwhile, Harvard won't ask for SAT or ACT scores until the class of 2031 is applying — and maybe not even then.

Perhaps many university officials are holding such decisions in abeyance until they hear the Supreme Court's imminent decision on race-conscious admissions. Should the court ban affirmative action, universities likely will consider wealth a proxy for race, even though income-based preferences don't necessarily yield the same desired results for universities striving to promote student diversity.

In light of research demonstrating the various advantages wealthy students have in the standardized test-taking arena, reinstating test requirements would counteract attempts to achieve racial diversity through income-conscious admissions.

Meanwhile, ETS' efforts to reduce pain points related to the GRE seem like an attempt to gain more test-takers, not simply an altruistic nod toward anxiety-ridden students. At the same time, such initiatives evoke images of seafarers frantically bailing out their boat while it slowly sinks beneath them.