If you?re planning to apply to graduate school in the next year, you?re probably thinking about taking the GRE ? the ?Graduate Record Examination,? which is required for admission to many graduate programs.  You?ve probably also heard (possibly with some trepidation), that the GRE is making some changes to its test format and scoring, starting with tests administered in August, 2011.

According a GRE rep interviewed by the New York Times, these changes are meant to measure more practical skills that students actually need to succeed in graduate school.  And it more closely mimics graduate school realities ? students now get to use calculators to answer math questions.

The Yale Daily News polled some graduate students last year, and seven out of 10 said they preferred the new test format.  Although at Florida International University, the student media reported that students were rushing to take the GRE before it flipped over to the new format.  English major James Salle told the paper:

?The problem I face is that there are few ways to prepare for a test that nobody has taken before,? he said. ?So I become the beta-class and they can work out the kinks for future test-takers.

?But where does that leave me? Getting a mediocre score on a test that grad schools won?t know how to properly evaluate,? Salle said.

There?s a lot of good information out there about what the new test questions will look like.  The ETS (the organization that administers the GRE), has a list of frequently asked questions, and some sample questions.  And the New York Times put together a little quiz showing off the new question formats.

The information out there about how this test compares in length to the old one is less good.  It?s definitely longer, but I?ve seen estimates of how much longer that range from 30 minutes to over an hour.  Here?s the official word from the GRE itself:

Old computer-based GRE

old GRE computer-based

New computer-based GRE

new GRE computer-based

They say the old computer-based version would take 3 hours and the new computer-based version will take 3 hours and 45 minutes, which makes the test 45 minutes longer.

Old paper-based GRE

old GRE paper-based

New paper-based GRE

new GRE paper-based

RedBus2US has a useful side-by-side comparison of the old and new versions of the test.  Most U.S. students will take the computer-based version, but some countries only have the option of one or the other.  If you're not sure which version you can take, ETS lets you search for the tests available in your area.

Students based in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea will now take the entire test at once on a computer, rather than the previous split-test model.

Which one's harder?  It likely depends on your own personal preferences and learning style.  But HappySchoolsBlog has some interesting thoughts as to why the  new test might be harder to cheat.