ETS GRE Snapshot Report 2021: Key GRE Statistics

Tyler York

ETS published A Snapshot of the Individuals Who Took the GRE General Test, a comprehensive report on the volume and performance information for test takers who took the GRE General Test between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2021. It’s a deep dive not only into the number of test takers for the period, but also the backgrounds of test takers and the factors that affected their GRE performance.

In this post, we’ll take a snapshot of the GRE snapshot — let’s take a look at the key findings presented in the report, particularly general data in terms of population and performance.

Report Overview

ETS looked at the records of test takers who took the GRE General Exam within a 5-year period: July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 (2016–17); July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 (2017–18); July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019 (2018–19); July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 (2019–20); and July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 (2020–21). Note that the most recent scores were used for a more accurate population total, especially since some test takers had more than one set of scores for the GRE General Test.

Another interesting fact is that data was also captured in one testing year when both the on-site and at-home testing option was offered for the first time: 2020–2021.

ETS has put up a disclaimer, though: the data in the report is not representative of the population planning to attend graduate school, nor of the characteristics and performance of students presently enrolled in graduate schools.

Volume and Performance Information: GRE Test Takers

The table above shows that those test takers who were U.S. citizens slightly increased to 58% in 2017–2018 from 57% in the previous testing year. In 2020–2021, however, there was a significant decrease in test examinees overall, from 467,277 to 366,686, and in the US from 54% down to 49% — possibly an effect of the pandemic when people were still limited to staying indoors.

On the other hand, there was a slight dip in the percentage of non-U.S. citizen test takers from 43% in 2016–2017 to 42% in 2017–2018. But unlike the case of U.S. citizens, there was a 5% increase in the percentage of non-U.S. citizen test takers in 2020–2021, going from 46% the previous year to 51%.

Table 2.2. quite confirms the findings above. U.S. citizen test takers who classified themselves as Hispanic were the largest non-White racial/ethnic group in testing years 2016–2017 to 2020–2021, followed by examinees who classified themselves as Black, Asian, Other, and American Indian. In testing years 2019–2020 to 2020–2021, U.S. citizens who classified themselves as Asians overtook Black test takers as the second-largest racial/ethnic group. Overall though, there was a significant decrease in the number of test takers across all groups from testing year 2017–2018 to 2020–2021.

Table 2.3. shows that the majority of test takers from testing years 2016–2017 to 2020–2021 are between the ages 18 and 30. However, there was a decrease in the volume of test takers in all age groups from 2016–2017 to 2020–2021.

In terms of gender, the percentage of men test takers fared consistently between 44% to 46% in testing years 2016–2017 to 2020–2021. The same can be said for women test takers, whose percentage fared consistently between 53% to 55% on the same testing period.

Volume and Performance Information: Examinees with MBA as Their Graduate Degree Objective

The table above shows that U.S. citizen test takers who classified themselves as Asian had a higher mean Quantitative Reasoning score in the GRE. Now, it’s important to note that the population surveyed are U.S. citizen test takers whose graduate degree objective was to obtain an MBA.

As for test takers who classified themselves as Other, Asian, and White (non-Hispanic), they scored relatively higher in the Verbal Reasoning and Analytical Writing portion of the exam compared to other racial/ethnic groups.

In terms of age, the study found that test takers who were 35 years old or younger had higher mean scores on all three measures compared to test takers over the age of 35. Test takers who belong to the 26- to 30-year-old age group had higher mean scores on the Verbal Reasoning and Analytical Writing portions compared to all other age groups.

Compared to women (46%), a greater percentage of men (53%) indicated MBA as their graduate degree objective. These men had slightly higher mean scores on the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning measures compared to women. However, when it comes to the Analytical Writing section, women fared slightly better in terms of mean score compared to men. 

Majority (78%) of test takers who indicated MBA as their graduate degree objective planned to enroll in a full-time program. What’s interesting is that this percentage of test takers garnered a higher mean score in the Quantitative Reasoning measure compared to those who planned to enroll in a part-time program or have yet to decide on one. But that’s not to leave out undecided test takers — they had higher mean scores in Verbal Reasoning and Analytical Writing in contrast to those who planned to enroll either full- or part-time.

The table above shows that 37% of test takers who were set to obtain an MBA as a graduate degree had more or less two years of full-time work experience. Furthermore, those who had three to seven years of full-time work experience got higher mean scores on all three measures compared to those who had fewer or more years of full-time work experience. In conclusion, test takers who had less than 14 years of full-time work experience had higher mean scores in the Quantitative Reasoning measure, compared to those with more than 14 years of full-time work experience.

In terms of the modality, 69% of test takers who indicated dMBA as their graduate degree objective said that they would prefer pursuing the degree on campus, followed by those who said a hybrid setup would work best for them (12%). Majority of test takers had higher mean scores on all three measures than those who said they’d pursue the degree online or through combined modalities (on-campus and online).

Volume Information: World Region

For two consecutive testing years (2016–2017 to 2017–2018), the percentage of test takers in the United States and China steadily increased, while the percentage of test takers in India decreased. However, the opposite happened during the next few testing years — the percentage of test takers in the U.S. decreased, while that of Indian test takers increased. The percentage of test takers in China stabilized. The only region that had a steady percentage of test takers throughout the four testing years was Europe.

In terms of intended graduate major fields, the percentages of test takers in the United States remained stable across all intended graduate majors from testing years 2016–2017 to 2020–2021, except for Business; Education; and Humanities and Arts. More test takers intended to pursue a Business major throughout those testing years, while the percentage of test takers for Education and Humanities and Arts decreased. It’s also noteworthy that around 12% of test takers are undecided or did not indicate their intended graduate major.

From testing years 2016–2017 to 2020–2021, we could see from the table above that there was a significant increase in the percentage of test takers in India who intended to pursue a graduate major in Physical Sciences and Business. On the other hand, the percentage of test takers with an intended graduate major in Engineering and Life Sciences declined. Among the graduate majors that had stable percentages were Social and Behavioral Sciences; Humanities and Arts; and Education. Thirteen percent of test takers did not specify their intended graduate major. Seventeen percent said they were undecided on what graduate major to pursue in testing year 2020–2021, an increase from 12% in the previous testing year.

From testing years 2016–2017 to 2020–2021, there was an increase in the percentage of test takers in China who intended to pursue Business and Social and Behavioral Sciences as a graduate major. In contrast, the percentage of those planning to take an Engineering and Life Sciences major decreased. Among the graduate majors that had stable percentages were Physical Sciences; Humanities and Arts, and Education. Around 7% of test takers did not indicate their intended graduate major.

From testing years 2016–2017 to 2020–2021, there was an increase in the percentage of test takers in Europe who intended to pursue Social and Behavioral Sciences and Business as a graduate major. On the other hand, there was a decrease in the percentage of test takers who planned to take up Engineering, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Humanities and Arts, and Education for graduate studies. An average 10% of test takers did not specify their intended graduate major throughout the four testing years.

Conclusion

The ETS report A Snapshot of the Individuals Who Took the GRE General Test can help score users (and even aspiring GRE test takers) gain insight into test taker population and possible key performance drivers of examinees. 

Through the figures presented, we may be able to analyze the factors that result in differences in test scores, whether those be interests, skills, knowledge, or even the varying opportunities that test takers receive in terms of the educational and economical aspects. Furthermore, this report could also be useful for evaluators when assessing applicants — varying scores don’t necessarily mean considerable differences in skills and abilities, as errors of measurement may occur from time to time.

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