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Experimental Section

The GRE is a standardized test. Each time it is offered, the test has, as close as possible, the same level of difficulty as every previous test. Maintaining this consistency is very difficult—hence the experimental section. The effectiveness of each question must be assessed before it can be used on the GRE. A problem that one person finds easy another person may find hard, and vice versa. The experimental section measures the relative difficulty of potential questions; if responses to a question do not perform to strict specifications, the question is rejected.


The experimental section can be a verbal section or a math section. You won’t know which section is experimental. You will know which type of section it is, though, since there will be an extra one of that type.


Because the “bugs” have not been worked out of the experimental section—or, to put it more directly, because you are being used as a guinea pig to work out the “bugs”—this portion of the test is often more difficult and confusing than the other parts.


This brings up an ethical issue: How many students have run into the experimental section early in the test and have been confused and discouraged by it? Crestfallen by having done poorly on, say, the first— though experimental—section, they lose confidence and perform below their ability on the rest of the test. Some testing companies are becoming more enlightened in this regard and are administering experimental sections as separate practice tests. Unfortunately, ETS has yet to see the light.


Knowing that the experimental section can be disproportionately difficult, if you do poorly on a particular section you can take some solace in the hope that it may have been the experimental section. In other words, do not allow one difficult section to discourage your performance on the rest of the test.

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