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GRE® Test Fairness and Validity

ETS and the GRE® Program 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 the American Psychological Association, American Educational Research Association and National Council on Measurement in Education.


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 test takers have an equal opportunity to demonstrate their skills and abilities
  • appropriate accommodations (e.g., alternate test formats, extra time) for test takers who have disabilities or health-related needs


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

  • 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 impetus for validity research comes from feedback from members of the graduate school community, who provide information about the skills and abilities that they consider essential for success in graduate school.

Verbal Reasoning Section

The Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE® General Test measures skills that faculty have identified through surveys as important for graduate-level success. The capabilities that are assessed include:

  • the ability to understand text (such as the ability to understand the meaning of individual sentences, to summarize a text or to distinguish major points from irrelevant points in a passage)
  • the ability to interpret discourse (such as the ability to draw conclusions, to infer missing information or to identify assumptions)

Quantitative Reasoning Section

The Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE General Test measures skills that are consistent with those outlined in the Mathematical Association of America's Quantitative Reasoning for College Graduates: A Complement to the Standards. The skills 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, such as:

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 the personal statement.

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