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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 โ€“ you will never know.

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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 wasnโ€™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, whatโ€™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.

 

Takeaway

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

 

 

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22 Responses to The Experimental Section on the GRE

  1. Aaron October 6, 2017 at 7:21 am #

    I just took the test earlier. I got 3 quant sections. The first one was hard, and I even had to guess a question or two. The second one was suspiciously easy, so I thought I did so badly on the first, not realizing that any of them could be the experimental one. The third one was alright, slightly more difficult than the second.

    In the end, I was surprised that I got a high quantitative score, higher than I had hoped for. I’m just glad the experimental one was where I didn’t do so well. But I could’ve done without the worry.

    Thanks for the help, by the way, Magoosh.

  2. Hemdeep Dulthummon May 15, 2017 at 5:41 pm #

    One more data point.
    I took the test today.
    My third section (out of 5) was the experimental quant.
    It was crazy difficult. I thought I would be screwed if that was not the experimental section.
    I barely finished it in the time allocated. Usually I have 5-10 minutes left in the quant section to rest.
    Since I did good in the first section, there was a possibility of that being the tough section.
    I’m glad it was experimental. I ended up with 170 in quant.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 15, 2017 at 6:24 pm #

      Hi Hemdeep,

      Congrats on the 170 in quant! Glad to hear that the experimental section worked out in your favor. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Pavan December 19, 2016 at 6:26 am #

    If there are 3 Verbal sections and By any chance the section with least score will be the Dummy or experimental Section.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 19, 2016 at 7:43 am #

      Hi Pavan! Happy to help ๐Ÿ™‚ No, the experimental section is not selected based on how well you do on each of the three sections. Rather, it is pre-selected as the experimental section. And your score is based on the two sections that were pre-determined to be graded. Remember, you want to try your best on every section of the exam, as you are not told which section is the experiment one ๐Ÿ™‚

      I hope this clears up your doubts!

  4. Kunal Kumar November 24, 2016 at 1:24 am #

    What can I do if I skipped last section assuming that it is not important. I did not have knowledge about this experimental section.Will GRE consider my score of other two section? Because I need to report it for college application, and it seems that I don’t have enough time. Thanks in advance.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 24, 2016 at 8:17 pm #

      Hi Kunal,

      Please note that if you assumed that the last section is the experimental, this is not always true. Please note that if you had 3 verbal or 3 math sections, any one of those three sections may be the experimental. Is this what you’re referring to?

  5. 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. :/

  6. 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

      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! ๐Ÿ™‚

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

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

        • Taylor November 6, 2016 at 6:38 pm #

          Did you confirm with ETS that test takers with accommodations do NOT in fact have to take the experimental section, Marie? Thanks if you have any new insight!

          • Marie November 7, 2016 at 3:36 am #

            If you have extended time you will NOT have the experimental section. It made the very long test a little less exhausting. Make sure you bring snacks/food that provide energy throughout the test and use your energy wisely. The grad schools I’m applying to put less weight on the writing sample, so I shifted more of my time and energy into the math and verbal. If you do some practice tests it helps with focus.

            As a side note, my score increased 19 points by studying with Magoosh. Studying from a book had always been difficult with my LD but their learning materials help get passed that (in an affordable way). I’d recommend this program to anyone who struggles with the traditional model of learning.

  7. 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.

  8. 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).

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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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