April 5, 2002

Essays Replace Multiple Choice in GRE New GRE

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As of Oct. 1, 2002, students planning to take the Graduate Record Examinations General Test (GRE) will have to write two essays as part of the test, instead of completing a multiple-choice analytical section. The GRE is the test taken by students who want to apply to graduate school in the sciences, arts, and humanities.

“The GRE Board has seized on a significant opportunity to strengthen the General Test,” said Robert Thach, chair of the GRE Board, in a press release. “The Writing Assessment is based on brief essays written by the test takers, thus expanding the overall test beyond multiple-choice.”

The GRE currently consists of three sections — verbal skills, quantitative skills, and analytical skills. With the new test, the analytical section will be discontinued, and the Analytical Writing Assessment will take its place.

The writing assessment will consist of two writing pieces that students will have to complete. In the first essay, students have 45 minutes to write an opinion essay, while using information to support their claims. In the second essay, students will have 30 minutes to analyze an argument and determine its feasibility.

A six-point holistic scale will be used by evaluators to determine if the overall essay content meets the expectations for the question. Two readers will look at a particular test, and the two scores will be averaged to compute a final score. If there is more than a one-point difference in the two scores, a third reader will evaluate the essays.

According to Educational Testing Service (ETS), the institution that develops the test, on the GRE web site, “scorers are trained to focus on the analytical logic of the essay responses more than on spelling, grammar, or syntax. The mechanics of writing responses are weighed in their ratings only to the extent that these impede clarity of meaning.”

To adjust for the test change, the fee for the GRE will rise to $115 in the United States, which is a $10 increase from the current fee.

With the increased interest towards including more writing sections in standardized tests, ETS says that the new test change will help graduate admissions to better evaluate their applicants, especially since the number of graduate school applications has risen due to changes in the economy.

“The GRE General Test is responding to the movement toward performance assessment, the desire among graduate deans that we assess the practical competencies of prospective graduate students,” said John Yopp, vice president of graduate and professional education at ETS, in a press release. “Our data show that a variety of groups within our test taker population use this assessment effectively to display their skills in analytical writing.”

One person in the test preparation field commented on the changes ETS is making to the GRE.

“They are saying [that the test is being changed] because the test will test the skills more adequately needed for graduate school,” said Jaime Bederman, Princeton Review’s marketing director for graduate school programs.

There are concerns that the change to the GRE will affect engineers and other science-oriented students, since their programs of study tend to put less emphasis on writing. There is also concern that students with a limited understanding of English will be affected since they might have difficulty working through the writing section, in contrast to the multiple-choice analytical section.

Many agencies specializing in test preparation are making changes to programs to accommodate students.

“We’re modifying our courses from June to October,” Bederman said. “The courses will be teaching both versions of the test. We’ve created some material students can get at local Princeton Review offices about the new changes.”

When students register for the GRE, they will receive software that helps them prepare for the test. The software includes sample essays that are scored, along with information on the other sections. The software can also be downloaded for free from www.gre.org. It is not compatible with Apple MacIntosh computers, since the program was made from the software students use to complete the GRE, which is only PC-compatible.

Scores from the GRE can be used for five years, so graduate admissions offices will have to distinguish between the two different tests when accepting applicants.

The GRE Program plans to update the Guide to the Use of GRE Scores to help graduate admissions interpret the scores. The guide will include descriptions of general writing skills at each scoring level.

A system is also being developed in which a student can make complaints about their writing assessment scores. The test would be rescored for a certain fee, and if there is a discrepancy in the grading, the money will be refunded to the student.

Archived article by Kelly Samuels