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Test Fairness and Validity

The GRE® Program, ETS and the GRE Board make ensuring the fairness and validity of GRE tests throughout the test development, administration and scoring processes a high priority. To ensure that these goals are reached, ETS has developed a meticulous system of internal checks and balances, and audit teams routinely verify that all tests and services meet rigorous professional standards such as those outlined by APA, AERA and NCME. In addition, our Research & Development team conducts surveys, committee work, extensive data analysis and a variety of studies that focus on measurements, evaluations and comparisons.


Fairness concerns are an integral part of the development and scoring of all tests. The many activities that ensure fairness include:

  • fairness evaluations by trained reviewers
  • routine analyses of test questions to establish that questions do not unfairly contribute to group differences
  • rigorous training for all persons involved in the development or scoring of test questions to ensure that all examinees have an equal opportunity to demonstrate their skills and abilities
  • appropriate accommodations (e.g., alternate formats, extra time) for examinees who have disabilities or health-related needs


Validity research and analyses establish that the test measures what it is supposed to measure. The types of validity support that the GRE Program has documented include:

  • construct validity (the test measures the skills/abilities that should be measured)
  • content validity (the test measures appropriate content)
  • predictive validity (the test predicts success)
  • consequential validity (the test demonstrates that adverse consequences are minimal)
  • external validity (the test has the expected relationship with other measures of the same construct)

Although ETS works to accumulate validity evidence at each stage of the delivery and scoring process, the initial direction for validity research derives from feedback from members of the graduate school community, including business and law, who provide information about the skills and abilities that they consider essential for success in graduate-level programs.

Validity and the GRE® General Test

Throughout the development process of the GRE® General Test, specific actions were taken to ensure the test upholds the highest standards for fairness by incorporating reviews and checkpoints. These actions included:

  • pilot-testing question types to identify and eliminate those that tend to produce group differences in performance
  • employing specially-trained fairness reviewers to ensure test questions meet rigorous standards
  • pretesting and ongoing statistical analysis to further ensure fairness of test questions

Verbal Reasoning Section

The Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE General Test measures verbal reasoning skills. The capabilities that are assessed include:

  • the ability to understand text (such as the ability to understand the meanings of sentences, to summarize a text or to distinguish major points from irrelevant points in a passage); and
  • the ability to interpret discourse (such as the ability to draw conclusions, to infer missing information or to identify assumptions). These skills are based on faculty surveys that identify them as important.

Quantitative Reasoning Section

The Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE General Test measures quantitative reasoning skills. The skills assessed are consistent with capabilities outlined in the Mathematical Association of America's Quantitative Reasoning for College Graduates: A Complement to the Standards and are based on feedback from faculty surveys. The capabilities that are assessed in the GRE quantitative measure include:

  • reading and understanding quantitative information
  • interpreting and analyzing quantitative information, including drawing inferences from data
  • using mathematical methods to solve quantitative problems

Analytical Writing Section

Interviews with graduate-level faculty, surveys of graduate-level faculty, and the work of the GRE Writing Test Committee have consistently identified critical thinking and writing skills as important for success in graduate programs.

The two tasks that comprise the Analytical Writing section (evaluating an issue and evaluating an argument) are both considered essential in many fields of graduate study. Thus, the structure of the test can be shown to have content validity because the test assesses skills identified by the graduate community as essential for success in many fields of graduate-level work.

Other types of validity evidence, such as construct validity, are documented in a variety of studies. In particular, large validity studies were conducted during the development of the Analytical Writing section (Validating a Writing Test for Graduate Admissions and Further Validation of a Writing Test for Graduate Admissions).

These studies contain evidence of the psychometric quality of the Analytical Writing section. Additional studies focus on particular aspects of validity, such as a comparison of the usefulness of the Analytical Writing section with that of the personal statement. That research has shown that the Analytical Writing score is correlated with academic writing more highly than is the personal statement.

Validity Resources

At ETS we rely on a rigorous internal system of checks and balances to ensure fairness and validity of GRE tests and scores. Our Research and Development team conducts surveys, committee work, extensive data analysis and a variety of studies that focus on measurements, evaluations and comparisons. For more information, see the following documents: