Paper-based tests have proven a woefully inadequate way to prepare for the GRE. Not in terms of content, mind you, but in terms of format. Unless you’ve taken a Computer Adapted Test (CAT), and by taken I mean have frozen up on a question and spent more than 5 minutes trying to answer, you will not know what to expect. Simply put, the current GRE CAT is very different than what any paper-based test can attempt to approximate.
Now, however, we have the new GRE, which in terms of format is very similar to a paper-based test. Instead of having to answer a question before moving on as with the current GRE, the new GRE will allow you to navigate between questions, as long as those questions are within the same section. The only adaptation happens between sections.
How does this affect our strategy when preparing for the GRE? Well, such an adaptation is easily one you could mirror with a paper-based GRE. Imagine, as soon as you’ve finished, a person grades your test, and based on your performance, giving you either an easier or more difficult section.
That being said, there is still no better practice for the new GRE than taking the computer-based test. First off, taking a test on a computer screen is an inherently different experience than taking the same test on paper. For instance, you do not have to contend with pixels or any other feature of a computer screen that can cause eyestrain. And getting used to navigating through questions and knowing which ones to skip is important when strategizing for maximum points.
But, for those students of the current GRE who’ve suffered because they were not able to use the PowerPrep software, the new GRE allows you to be less a victim of ETS’s discriminatory practice. I hate to mount the soapbox here, and I don’t think that much good will come out of my jeremiad, but ETS really, really has to make their practice tests Mac compatible. The ability to practice the test on the computer gives a test taker an advantage. Therefore, someone with a PC, or ready access to a PC, will do better on the exam than those who have an Apple. And, because more and more people are switching to the Mac, ETS not only has to catch up with the times, but they have to stop giving preferential treatment to those who do not own an Apple computer.
Okay, I’ll get off the soapbox and end it by saying I am at least happy that the ability to move between questions means students won’t be as dependent on doing a practice new GRE CAT. Indeed, practicing only on paper won’t shock you as much when you go in and take the actual new GRE. So, feel free to prep from a book, but I would make sure to simulate the testing experience on a computer as much as possible. Time yourself so you’ll get a good sense of how much time to budget for each question.
Of course you can always use Magoosh’s new GRE product, which will be launching very shortly. And the best part: we don’t discriminate against MAC users.