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The Experimental Section on the GRE

The revised GRE is a test that can take almost four hours to complete. The last thing a test taker wants is another grueling math or verbal section, especially if that section does not count. Yet that is what the experimental section basically amounts to. Below are some frequently asked questions regarding the experimental section that you’ll see on the GRE.


What is the experimental section?

The experimental section is a complete section, either verbal or math, administered during the test, that will not count towards your score. The section will not be identified as such, but if you got three math sections, then one of those math sections was the experimental section. The experimental section can come at the beginning, middle or end. The truth is – you will never know.


Do you have to take it?

Yes, and no. There is an experimental section given during the test. There is also a quasi-experimental section after the test that you can volunteer to take. Most, after having spent three-plus hours usually opt out.

To complicate matters even further, you many not necessarily receive an experimental section during the test. As to what this proportion is, I am unsure. So if you take the new GRE and you only sit for two math and two verbal sections, then you lucked out. Most likely, you will receive an experimental section so it is best to mentally prepare for it.


What should you do on the day of the exam?

Never attempt to guess which section is the experimental one. You should be in the mindset that every section counts. Even if you think you have gotten the experimental section (you see a strange looking geometrical shape or a frightening word that wasn’t on your vocab list) do not assume this is the case. In the heat of a moment, many things on the test may strike you as strange. And if you misidentify the experimental section, the effect on your score can be catastrophic.


Why must ETS torture students?

Another way of stating this question is, what’s the point? Well, to determine the difficulty of a question, ETS (the creators of the exam) must figure out what percentage of students miss a question. To arrive at this number, ETS needs a sample group that is as similar as possible to a future test taker. So there is no better guinea pig then the current test taker.



Never try to guess which section is the experimental. Aim to do your best on each question.



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13 Responses to The Experimental Section on the GRE

  1. Ramki September 13, 2016 at 8:03 am #

    It may sound redundant considering so many arguments have already been put forth against the experimental section but having been put through three gruelling verbal sections I was pretty downcast. Besides the test center had asked me to arrive an hour in advance. After getting five sections done with,just when I thought I could let my guard down, along comes this section which I presumed was the experimental section and I bombed the entire thing. ETS definitely needs to be educated on how to conduct tests in a more equal, and humane manner.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 13, 2016 at 4:52 pm #

      While there is some value to the experimental section, a lot of GRE test-takers feel your pain, Ramki. It would be nice if ETS could find a way to test new content without adding an a whole extra section. Someday, hopefully. :/

  2. Marie August 14, 2016 at 11:31 am #

    Thanks for this post! I’ve been approved for double time and the idea of an experimental section within an 8 hour exam is pretty daunting. Do you know if people with extended time still get the experimental section? I’m assuming they do since it would provide a truly representative sample but I thought it was worth asking.
    Also, do you happen to have any survival tips (or blog post) for the extended-time GRE? I’ve been searching for tips to keep energy and focus during the 8 hour exam and I haven’t seen anything.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 14, 2016 at 1:04 pm #

      Hi Marie,

      Happy to help! 🙂

      To the best of my knowledge, the experimental part is not included for test takers with accommodations, so you should not have to do that. If you want to verify this 100%, I would contact ETS.

      As for surviving long tests, you should make sure your snacks have a good mixture of fast-acting sugar/carbs and some protein. My friend brought herself some granola bars, hummus/vegetables, and apples with peanut butter when she took her extended time test. Beyond that, I recommend you take advantage of all break periods to let your eyes and mind rest. Don’t underestimate the fatigue you will feel despite not “doing” anything the whole time.

      Sorry I don’t have more to say, but I wish you the best luck, Marie! 🙂

      • Marie August 16, 2016 at 9:09 am #

        This is exactly what I was looking for! Thank you so much for the insight!

  3. Jon December 9, 2015 at 8:46 pm #

    This is one of the MANY absurd things that ETS is allowed to do. I think it’s ridiculous that the one who is paying money has to be the one to do their study of what question is difficult for them?

    I think they should put a small percentage of those hundreds of millions of dollars they receive in profits and pay for themselves to conduct the study or at least provide incentives for taking the experimental section. Just sticking it in there and not telling people which one during a 3.5-4 hour test is cruel and unnecessary.

  4. Frank Jenkins November 30, 2015 at 11:00 am #

    It’s totally unfair. The idea of giving someone an extra section (after a 3 1/2 hour exam), when you’re mentally tired, and then to add insult to injury, keeping their methodology secret (so you have no idea whether they will adjust your score to reflect the fact that your score will likely be lower relative to those who were not given an extra section, even where all else is equal), is so unfair, they should be sued. This sort of arbitrary abusiveness is endemic with organizations that serve the academic community (where there’s no competition, and they have a captive audience). It’s coercive and biased. We’re forced to be lab rats, and then prejudiced as a result. I’m sure some sociopath in their decision tree will say something like … life is unfair, tough cookies. But the thing is, only nature is allowed to be arbitrary and capricious, deliberate malicious conduct (on the part of humans) is actionable (and for good reason).

  5. Meagan June 10, 2014 at 11:55 pm #

    Compared to a test-taker that does not receive an unidentified section on their GRE, does the score of a test-taker that receives an unidentified section on their GRE get adjusted? I ask because I believe having an extra section makes the test harder and may reflect negatively in the score more so than a test taker who had a shorter test.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 11, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

      Hi Meagan,

      I totally agree with your line reasoning. It seems very unfair to give someone an extra section, since the test is already draining enough. Then there’s also the added layer of bias against those who get an easy experimental section and those who get a grueling one (the latter can really hurt you psychologically).

      Unfortunately, I don’t really have an answer, and have always wondered this, too. Though, interestingly, after 3+ years of the blog, you are the first person to ask this question. I really wish I knew the answer–I’ll keep this in mind next time ETS has one of its webinars.

  6. Saurabh July 4, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    Hey Chris,

    GRE being section adaptive and experimental section can appear anywhere, will my performance in experimental section change the difficulty level of the next section?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 5, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

      Hi Saurabh,

      Good question! Your performance on the experimental section has absolutely no bearing on your score or the section you get next.

      Hope that helps!

  7. Palak shah March 17, 2013 at 3:33 am #

    Difficulty level of experimental section will be same or different from other section ???

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 20, 2013 at 9:24 am #

      Great question!

      There isn’t too much data out on this, but from my experience the experimental section tends to be nearly as difficult as the tough section. So if you get a tough math section because you scored well on the first math, then the experimental math section–if you get one–should be as difficult as the tough section. Again, this is based only on my experience on the test.

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