If you’ve been looking around on this site for a while, you know that the whole point of standardized tests is that they’re not constantly changing in any ways that matter. That’s what makes them standardized, and that’s also what makes them beatable.

But sometimes, actually, after years or even decades, they do change, massively, all at once. This happens when the company that makes the test decides to overhaul it.

As I write this, one of those massive changes is actually about to happen to the GRE. I wanted to take a second to talk about this change so you can have an idea of what it looks like when a test actually does change, so you’ll be able to tell whether your test is about to change before you take it (it almost certainly isn’t, by the way).

When a test changes, one of the big things you’ll notice is that the test’s web page announces the change all over the place, like this:

announcing upcoming GRE changes

An official ETS announcement that the GRE times were a-changin'

You’ll also notice that there are news articles about the changes, like this:

Google News result for "GRE changes"

This is what google news showed for "new GRE" right when the GRE was getting ready to change in 2011.

Contrast that with the google news results for the LSAT, for instance, at the moment that I’m writing this:

LSAT news from google

This is what Google News returned for "new LSAT" on the same day.

Now you might be wondering why you should care about any of this 🙂 Well, if you’re getting ready to take a standardized test, you need to know if it will undergo any changes in the near future, because those changes might affect your overall admissions strategy.

For the few years right after a big change, schools will have to consider scores from both versions of the test, even if they have different scales. One of those versions will almost certainly be easier for you, so you’ll probably want to take both. (Of course, make sure your target schools will let you count whichever percentile ranking is better for you–they almost always do, though.)

You’ll also have to make sure you find out how the schools will account for any changes in format (like the addition of a new section, or the elimination of a question type); sometimes a school will only count the parts of the new test that it thinks are similar to the old test. If that’s what your target school is doing, then you can basically ignore whichever parts of the new test won’t count for you.

One other major thing: If your test actually is about to change around the time when you’ll be taking it, and if you decide to take the new version, make absolutely sure you only practice with real questions in the new format, published by the testing company itself. Don’t buy practice questions from a third party like Kaplan or Barron’s, because that third party will be even less likely than usual to have a good idea of how the new test goes. Remember, real test questions are key.

On the other hand, if your test isn’t about to change (which is more likely to be the case, again, because the whole point of a standardized test lies in the standardization), then you’ll probably have a lot more valid practice tests available to work with, which is also nice.