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What is the GRE&Reg; CAT?

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  • Written By: Gregory Hanson
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 11 December 2016
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The GRE® CAT is the computer-adaptive version of the Graduate Record Examination® General Test offered by Educational Testing Services (ETS) and commonly used by graduate schools to determine which applicants to admit and fund. This version of the GRE® uses an adaptive series of questions to assess a student's proficiency in the categories of verbal and quantitative reasoning, giving students scores between 200 and 800 in each of these categories. This test is taken on a computer, and the software adapts the difficulty of the questions to the individual test taker's demonstrated degree of proficiency. In 2009, ETS announced plans to phase this test out in 2011.

This version largely replaced the paper and pencil version of the test and has several key advantages. A paper and pencil test must include questions that challenge students at every level of skill in order to produce accurate results for students at different levels. This means that students answer many questions that are not at their level of ability, being either too difficult or trivially simple. The GRE® CAT addressed this problem by adjusting the level of difficulty of the questions posed based on the accuracy of the student's responses to previous questions. Students who answer the initial questions correctly soon face more challenging questions whereas students who do not face progressively easier questions until they reach their level of proficiency.

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Scoring on the GRE® CAT is determined by the difficulty of questions answered correctly. The examination evolves as the student answers questions, and at the end of the exam, the software will have had time to accurately pinpoint a student's level of proficiency. The test can correct for a certain degree of error in early questions, allowing students to recover from one or two early incorrect answers, though early answers do factor more heavily than later ones in the overall determination of a score.

Students and scholars were mixed in their reactions to this type of test. On the one hand, the shorter length of the exam reduced stress, as students spent only one hour and 15 minutes taking the exam. Other aspects of the GRE® CAT could cause stress among test-takers, however. Some students react negatively to questions that they perceive as easy, inferring that they indicated poor performance on the exam. Other students, especially those used to performing well on non-adaptive tests, experienced stress when confronted by questions that they found difficult even though this indicates success when taking the GRE® CAT.

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