GRE and TOEFL Measure Skills for Success at Graduate Level

by mba

Set yourself up for success

Maria Kirilova is a client relations specialist for the GRE Programme at Educational Testing Service (ETS). She is responsible for working closely with universities, higher education organisations and business schools in the EMEA region, assisting them in attracting top talent to their Master’s and PhD programmes by using GRE and TOEFL scores as part of their holistic admissions practices. Maria also works closely with student bodies to spread ETS’s mission to advance quality and equity in education for all learners worldwide.

What types of tests do graduate schools require for admission?

Graduate schools generally require a test of critical thinking and reasoning, like the GRE General Test. Many schools also require a test of English proficiency, like the TOEFL iBT test, if English is the language of instruction. As part of a holistic application, both tests can help ensure that students have the skills to be successful in the programme.

What is the value of the combination of these tests?

Schools require standardised test scores for good reason. A standardised test is one of the only common, objective measures that admissions officers can use to compare applicants from varied educational backgrounds and different regions of the world. Admissions committees rely on tests like the GRE General Test and the TOEFL iBT test to confirm applicant readiness for graduate-level course work in English. As an added bonus, many schools also consider test scores when awarding scholarships and assistantships.

Think of these tests as pieces of the overall application that, when viewed together with undergraduate grade point average (GPA) and transcripts, essays, interviews and letters of recommendation, help provide the most complete picture of an applicant. While personality and diverse experiences will shine in other components, the tests are where individuals will prove they have the academic and English skills that are indispensable for graduate programme success.

Why do universities require TOEFL scores in addition to GRE scores even though both tests are in English?

The GRE General Test and the TOEFL iBT Test provide schools with different but complementary information about test takers’ skills.

The TOEFL iBT test measures the academic English-language proficiency of people whose native language is not English. Test takers are required to combine their reading, listening, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks similar to those found in the graduate or undergraduate classroom.

The GRE General Test measures the verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills needed for success in a graduate, business or law programme.

Many business schools accept both the GRE and GMAT tests. How do these tests differ?

Overall, both the GRE General Test and the GMAT tests evaluate the same skills that graduate level programmes value. However, the GRE General Test is the only admissions test that is accepted by graduate, business and law school programmes worldwide, giving test takers more opportunities for success. Another big difference is found in the test format and question types. The GRE test is section-level adaptive, which means that the difficulty level of the second section of a particular measure (e.g. Verbal Reasoning) is dependent upon the test taker’s performance on the first section. This format allows for the flexible, test-taker-friendly design that gives test takers the freedom to use more of their own personal test-taking styles and strategies. They can answer questions, go back to them, revise their answers and more, all within a section. This is not possible with the GMAT because it is question-level adaptive. It requires test takers to answer each question in order, without the ability to move freely within a section, to review or change answers.

The GRE General Test also features the ScoreSelect service which lets test takers decide which scores to send. So, if they sit the test more than once, they can send only those scores they want schools to see.

Will ETS continue to provide the option to test at home? Does this format require a different type of preparation?

The GRE General Test at Home and the TOEFL iBT Home Edition are now permanent offerings from ETS. They are safe and convenient options for test takers who prefer to take their test at home rather than at a test centre. The home tests are offered everywhere that the GRE and TOEFL tests are normally available, based on the country of the test taker’s account address, except Mainland China and Iran. Home testing is available around the clock, up to seven days every week.

Home tests are identical to the tests taken at a test centre. They are taken on the test taker’s own computer at home or another secure location and monitored by a human proctor online through ProctorU. Because they are the same tests, preparation for testing at home is the same. Test takers can select the study methods that work best for them, from online practice tests to books, study plans, sample questions and much more.

GRE and TOEFL Measure Skills for Success at Graduate LevelWhat are some recent innovations to ETS tests and services?

The TOEFL programme recently launched the TOEFL Essentials test, a convenient, friendly test that uses a multistage adaptive design to test the four core language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking – in about one and a half hours. The TOEFL Essentials test gives test takers another option to fulfil English proficiency requirements for university applications and other purposes.

Both the TOEFL Essentials and TOEFL iBT tests now offer MyBest scores, which are the combination of the best section scores from all valid tests in the last two years. ETS continues to look for ways to support learners as they pursue higher education, no matter their individual journeys.

What resources for test prep does ETS provide?

We offer a variety of free tools to help test takers prepare for the GRE General Test and the TOEFL iBT test, so they feel more confident on test day. Test takers can prepare with official books, ebooks, additional practice tests and services available for purchase through the site.

The website,, provides test takers with prep specific to all three measures of the test, sample questions with explanations, tips and strategies for answering the different question types, and scoring guides.
TOEFL iBT preparation materials include practice tests, an online course, videos about the question types, and scoring guides. See the full array of prep materials at

When and how should candidates start preparing for GRE tests to achieve a competitive score?

Creating a study plan and allowing for the time needed before the test will facilitate a smooth and rewarding preparation period. Test preppers should consider the amount of time they have to prepare and how they learn best, because a good plan will depend on these and other personal factors.

To make the most of any amount of prep time, GRE test takers should take a free POWERPREP Online practice test to get a clear picture of preparedness, to see what skills they have already mastered and identify those areas where improvement is needed.

The free practice tests simulate the actual GRE General Test and provide a great opportunity to experience the test format and helpful features. And, if those preparing take it like it’s the real thing (timed mode, proper scratch paper or white board, no interruptions), they will get a good idea of the section timing.

Having all of this information gives test takers a solid starting point to help them study more efficiently. For previous test takers, the free GRE Diagnostic Service can pinpoint areas they need to focus on as they prepare to improve on their Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning scores. By using these materials, test takers will become more familiar with the test, allowing them to approach test day with confidence so they can do their best.

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