GRE Computer vs. Paper Test
The GRE is a computer-based test, with paper-based tests offered where computer testing is unavailable. Computer-based tests are offered throughout the year and can be retaken any time after 21 days, up to 5 times every 12 months; the paper-based test is offered up to three times per year. The computer-based test takes 3 hours 45 minutes, and the paper test takes 3 hours 30 minutes.
The GRE will consist of two independently timed analytical writing tasks, and five multiple choice sections: two verbal, two quantitative, and one experimental section which can be verbal or quantitative. There is no penalty for incorrect answers, so the best strategy is to answer every question, even if you need to guess. It is possible to mark your answers during the exam, so that if you have extra time at the end of a section you can review the specific problems that were challenging for you. Because it is so easy to review your answers at the end of each section, time management is very important.
Time management for the GRE is very different than it is for the GMAT. For the GMAT, each question is independently timed and graded: you will be presented with a question, and then have a specific and limited amount of time to answer it before moving on to the next question. The more questions you answer correctly, the more difficult the questions get. This difference between the style of the test and the time management strategy it requires is one of the main differences between the GRE and the GMAT. If you are unsure which test you want to take, try taking practice tests of both types and then evaluate which system of time management is a better fit for you.
2011 GRE Test Revision
The computer-based test was revised in 2011 so that it no longer adapts after every question (like the GMAT), but instead now only adapts between the first and second section of each type. This means that the first section for both Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning will have a mixture of easy and difficult questions. The difficulty of your second sections will depend on how well you perform on the first sections. The Computer testing program has a large pool of test questions of varying difficulty; students who perform well on their first sections will "level up" to a more difficult second section, and receive a correspondingly higher "scaled score" after the test is complete. The ETS website has additional details about the test adaptation system and scoring algorithm, as well as ongoing research to ensure that the test remains a useful and valid predictor of success in graduate school.
The paper-based test does not adapt between sections, so all test sections are of comparable difficulty. Scoring for the paper-based test will be calculated using computer-based testing results as a benchmark.
The computer-based test has several functions to aid test-takers, including a calculator for the Quantitative Reasoning section, and the ability to copy and paste text for the writing assignments. As mentioned above, the computer testing program also has a feature that makes it easy to "mark" questions for review at the end of each section.
For the paper-based test, the separately timed Analytical Writing sections will be presented in the test book, with handwritten essay responses to be written in the space provided. A basic handheld calculator will be provided for the Quantitative Reasoning section. The revised GRE test is self-contained, so all answers and writing tasks will be completed in the test book itself. If you plan to take the paper-based test, you should get comfortable taking paper practice tests, so that you can develop a system of marking and reviewing questions that will be efficient and useful on test day.
For the computer-based test, ETS has a system called "scoreselect" that will allow you to submit all of your GRE scores from the past five years, or only the results from the most recent test. If you have taken the test multiple times and only want to submit particular sets of results, it will be possible to do that using the ETS website after your test has been scored. For the paper-based test, you will designate score recipients either when you register for the test, or on your admission ticket correction stub. During registration you will have the option of whether to submit all your recent scores or only your most recent results.