In an ideal world, when you are taking your GRE test, you expect things to be simple and straightforward. You are presented with one section of analytical writing, two sections of quant and two sections of verbal alternatively, and you receive appropriate score based on how well you perform on these sections. Seems fair enough, doesn’t it?
But, unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. So, things tend to be a bit more complicated than they appear. In addition to all the aforementioned sections, the GRE presents you with an additional section for which you are not awarded any score. Even if you answered all 20 questions correct in the experimental section, you won’t receive a single increment in your final score. Sounds weird, right?
Well, technically there is no exam in the world that doesn’t reward it’s test takers with score when they get a question right and GRE is the exception. In fact, GRE has a whole section of about 20 questions that come under this exception. Yes, it might seem a bit unfair to you, as a test taker. Known as the experimental section, this section on the GRE is of late causing a bit of discomfort among the student community. After all, of all the worries that the test takers experience, the GRE experimental section is probably the worst. So, all you can do is learn more about it before you take the test.
What is the GRE experimental section exactly?
The GRE experimental section is a placebo test for the GRE test takers, where an unbiased section, verbal or quant, may be presented as an experiment. Which means, you should attempt all the questions on the test, but you will not be awarded any score for doing so. And to make things a bit more confusing, you don’t know which of the given sections is experimental. It’s all random. So you need to answer all sections without skipping. Because test takers have no way of knowing which section is experimental, it is usually advised that they give their best on every section. As cruel as it may sound, you can’t help but face it on the test day.
What did I do to deserve this?
Nothing. Though it might seem more like a punishment than an experiment, the experimental section was made a part of the test, because ETS has to test new questions they created for future purposes. The makers of the GRE are constantly preparing new questions every single day, and there needs to be a tested mechanism to classify these new questions based on their difficulty levels, which is exactly why they are being tested on you. Based on the answer responses given by thousands of students every day, and the average time taken to solve each question, ETS decides if a particular question can be considered easy, or difficult, or somewhere in between.
But, why me?
Since hundreds of new questions are created every single week, it is a rather impossible task for ETS to test each question individually and decide its difficulty level. Plus, in order to determine the difficulty of a question, ETS must figure out what percentage of students failed to solve a question, and how long it took on an average, for a student to solve it. Now, any engineer will agree that in order to arrive at this number, it would require a huge sample space. ETS cannot simply ask 10 random students to solve a question and decide its future. It needs a very big sample group, which consists of students who are as prepared as an average GRE test taker is. Now who else is as good as the average GRE test taker, but the test takers themselves? Got the point?
Can’t I just figure out which section is experimental and skip it?
Well, you can and you can’t. The thing is, you cannot know exactly which section is an experimental section. But you can, at the very least, know whether the experimental section is math or verbal. So, if your test has three math sections instead of two, you must understand that one of them was experimental. Similarly, if the test has three verbal sections, one of those three was experimental. That’s all you can figure out. You still don’t know which of the three the experimental section is, so it is highly recommended that you do not attempt to identify the experimental section during the test. It is important that you take every section seriously.
Is the GRE experimental section computer adaptive?
Fortunately, your performance on the GRE experimental section has no effect on the next section. The experimental section is not computer adaptive, and hence does not affect the difficulty levels of the upcoming sections.
Is the experimental section easier or more difficult than other sections?
Well, sadly, no one can tell. Since all the sections look alike, and since any one of the sections can turn out to be the experimental section, you won’t notice any differences.
Is there anything else I should know?
Yes. There is always something about the GRE that you should definitely know. Sometimes, instead of an experimental section, you may be presented with a research section at the end of the test. This research section is somewhat similar to the experimental section, but you will be notified clearly that it is a research section. Now, only in this one case, you can skip the entire section. But otherwise, you should attempt all sections.
Sometimes, if you are one of the few lucky ones, you may not receive any additional sections at all. No one knows for sure, but it happens only to a handful of students every year. So, be careful, and be ready to face the extra section. You can never avoid the fault in your stars, so better be prepared for the worst. By the way, there is no experimental section on the paper-based GRE.
Now It’s Your Turn
So, that’s about it. What do you think? Do you have any ideas on how to tackle the GRE experimental section? Or do you have any stories about the experimental section that you would like to share? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.