The New Shorter GRE: Less Than Two Hours Long

If the makers of standardized tests for business school admissions played poker, the GRE just said “I see you and raise you!”

The Educational Testing Service, the administrator of the Graduate Record Exam, today (May 31) announced that it is nearly cutting the time to take its test in half to less than two hours and will make the revamped exam available to test takers by Sept. 22nd.

The move to a shorter exam follows the decision by the Graduate Management Admission Council to shorten the GMAT exam by nearly an hour, eliminating its essay requirement and making all questions multiple choice. GMAC made its announcement nearly three months earlier in March but the new GMAT Focus Edition test won’t be available to test takers until the fourth quarter of this year and prospective students can’t register for a test date until August 29th.


GRE is not only beating GMAT to market with its shorter test, allowing test takers to register for its new exam today; it is also making it quicker to take by 17 minutes: an hour and 58 minutes for the new GRE vs. the new GMAT length of two hours and 15 minutes, without breaks. The current GRE exam is three hours and 45 minutes long (see table below), while the current GMAT test is three hours and seven minutes, without the optional eight-minute breaks.

For business school admission officials, the changes bring another level of uncertainty to test requirements. Though both testing organizations maintain that the validity of the exams will remain the same, it’s not clear if the shorter tests will provide the same correlation with a student’s ability to pass the core curriculum as the longer tests did. And for MBA applicants who submit a standardized test for admission, schools will have to decide when to accept the new versions of the exams. Harvard Business School, for example, has recently said it won’t accept the shorter GMAT exam for mainstream MBA applicants in the forthcoming admissions cycle.

“To minimize confusion across Round 1 and Round 2 in this year’s MBA application, we will only accept the traditional GMAT exam or the GRE,” according to Harvard Business School. “We will not accept the new GMAT Focus exam as it will not be available until after this year’s Round 1 deadline.” HBS, however, will accept the shorter tests for its 2+2 deferred admissions program with a deadline of this coming April.


"Overall, we think these are student-friendly changes that aspiring graduate, business, and law school students should welcome: shorter exam, scores back quicker, no more unscored section," says Craig Harman, senior manager of content and curriculum for Kaplan’s GRE test prep programs. "Anybody who has been preparing for the GRE should not change the way they are preparing. Same question types, same computer-adaptive format. Keep doing what you’re doing. It's definitely an aggressive timeline for a test change, but since the GRE changes are really about length, not content, you can see how it’s doable."

A major difference in the two tests could well fall within the GRE's favor among admission officials. With rising concern over the validity of essay questions in applications due to current artificial intelligence platforms such as ChatGPT and Bard, some schools may end up preferring to see the results of a required essay in a test room. GRE cut its essay requirement in half, to one essay from two, but GMAT completely eliminated its writing requirements in the new GMAT Focus Edition.

On the other hand, the new GMAT boasts a Data Insights section that some schools may find especially useful given the increased attention schools and employers are putting on data analysis in decision-making. The new GMAT section will “ask candidates to assess how multiple sources and types of information – including graphic, numeric, and verbal – relate to one another and can be leveraged to make informed decisions," according to GMAT.

Another consideration is the time test takers are given to answer a question. In the quant section, for example, GMAT allows users 2.14 minutes to answer; the new GRE allows 1.74 minutes, putting slightly more pressure on test takers. That's because the GMAT has reduced its quant questions to 21 questions from 31 over 45 minutes, while the GRE has reduced its quant questions to 27 from 40 in 47 minutes.

In shortening the exams, both GMAC and ETS are attempting to reduce the friction applicants confront when applying to a graduate business program. Many business schools are now test-optional or are more generously waiving standardized tests for applicants to their MBA and other master's programs in business. That trend away from testing and consistent gains in market share by the GRE exam has led GMAT test-taking to historic lows.


"There is an active debate about the use of standardized testing as an admissions instrument with valid arguments for and against," notes Sangeet Chowfla, the former CEO of the Graduate Management Admissions Council, in a recent essay written for Poets&Quants. "The pandemic caused test center shutdowns and forced schools to be test optional (understandably). The racial justice movement opened a second discussion about diversity in higher education and whether tests created a barrier to access. At the same time, declining applications in the U.S. has put pressure on admissions and recruitment teams leading some to conclude that the answer lay in not requiring tests and thereby removing a perceived barrier to entry."

To squeeze time out of the GRE, the new test will no longer feature the “Analyze an Argument” task in the Analytical Writing section. ETS also reduced the number of questions in the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections by 46 questions and removed the unscored section of the test.

To better compete with the GMAT, ETS also is promising test takers their official scores much faster, in just eight to ten days. "These changes mark the first of several planned future updates to the GRE General Test, all of which are intended to provide test takers with a better experience that values their time and reduces anxiety and fatigue," according to ETS.


“The changes we’re announcing today underscore the emphasis we place on keeping our customers at the center of all that we do,” said ETS CEO Amit Sevak in a statement. “As we continue to introduce product innovations, we’re committed to balancing two things – maintaining rigor and validity, while improving the test-taker experience.”

Beginning in September, test takers can access official GRE test prep resources and practice tests designed for the newer streamlined test. Since the shorter test has the same question types, ETS said that test takers can continue to use the existing Official GRE Prep materials. The score scales will also remain the same, allowing graduate programs to easily compare performance across cohorts before and after September 2023.

The change heats up the competition between the two tests and may well blunt GMAC's efforts to take back lost market share to the GRE. "Over the last 15 years or so, the two exams have been fierce rivals among business school applicants, as both the GRE and GMAT are accepted by MBA programs," adds Kaplan's Harman. "Twenty years ago, almost no business school accepted the GRE, but now almost all of them do. Additionally, the GRE is increasingly a significant player in the law school admissions process, with around half of law schools allowing applicants to submit a GRE score instead of an LSAT score."

The new GMAT Focus Edition will contain only three 45-minute sections that can be taken in any order by a test taker, down from the current four-section test that is three hours and seven minutes long, excluding optional eight-minute breaks. The new GMAT test will take just two hours and 25 minutes, without breaks. GMAC is tossing out the 30-minute-long analytical writing assessment and keeping the sections on quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and integrated reasoning.

new GRE exam

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