New GRE: Changes to the Quantitative Reasoning Section

What's changing on the math section?

The new GRE begins August 1, 2011. If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance the question “should I take the new GRE or the old GRE?” has crossed your mind. There are many factors to consider, and as a primer, take a look at our previous post about which GRE you should take.

In order to make this decision, you need to be informed about exactly what the differences between the new GRE and the old GRE are. This (beautiful, elegant, and efficient) diagram gives both a high-level overview of both tests as well as a more detailed explanation of each question type. In this series of posts, we’ll be going over these points in even greater detail, one section at a time, starting with math.

First, let’s go over how to read this reference guide.

The red sections represent the old GRE. Anything that is red is only on the old GRE and not on the new GRE.
The light blue sections represent the new GRE. Anything that is light blue is only on the new GRE and not on the old GRE.

The dark blue sections represent both the new and the old GREs. Anything that is dark blue is on both the new and the old GREs.

The Venn diagram in the center of each page represents a high-level overview of each test. The boxes surrounding the Venn diagram are explanations of each of the question types listed in the diagram.

All right, now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin our discussion!

Changes to the Quantitative Reasoning (Math) Section
As you can see from the diagram, the new GRE completely subsumes the old GRE — everything that is currently on the GRE is also on the new GRE, but the new GRE has some additional things that aren’t on the old GRE.

Change #1
New question type: numeric entry

What It Means
Numeric entry problems require you to fill in the answer instead of selecting from a list of choices. After the problem, you will be given a small box in which you must type out your answer. This change doesn’t really affect the content on the GRE — it’s just a new way of giving an answer.

Change #2

What It Means
Multiple answer problems, as the name suggests, may have multiple correct answers. In order to correctly answer the problem, you must select all answers that are correct. Sometimes, the problem will tell you how many answer choices to pick; other times, it will not. Again, this change is basically a change in question type and not in question content.

Change #3
Greater emphasis on data analysis and real-world scenarios

What It Means
The ETS decided to change the GRE in part because they wanted to make the test more attractive to business schools. Part of that change is to focus more on concrete applications of mathematical principles rather than on general, abstract math problems.

One way that the ETS has decided to accomplish this is by putting greater emphasis on data analysis. These problems will require that you analyze data presented in charts and graphs. An understanding of basic statistics, including concepts such as mean, median, mode, standard deviation, interpolation, and extrapolation, is necessary.

“Real-world scenarios” is a somewhat vague term, but it basically means that problems will be given a real-world context. Those who take the new GRE can expect to see fewer problems like

3x + 3x + 3x = 27

(you will still see them, just not as many) and more problems that give a concrete situation in which mathematical principles must be used to solve the problem posed — generally, these will come in the form of word problems. Again, the ETS wants the GRE to accurately reflect the abilities of both potential graduate school students and potential business school students, so the questions will be less “pure math” and more “problem solving using math.”

How Should These Changes Affect Your Decision?
Overall, the changes to the math section of the GRE should not heavily affect your decision, but the new GRE math might be slightly easier for most people. The math itself won’t be any easier, but the question types will be more approachable. Also, the addition of an on-screen calculator on the new GRE might make it a bit easier for people as well. The best advice is still to take practice tests for both exams and see which one you prefer.