October 28, 2005

GRE Takes On New Test Format in Oct. 2006

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Attention, all students who plan to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE): do so before the revamped version is offered in October 2006.

Ben Baron, vice president of graduate programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, agrees. “We are recommending to students that it is a good idea to take the current format,” said Baron. If for no other reason, students who sign up for the GRE before October will avoid the soon-to-be four hour exam.

Come October, the GRE will be a bit over four hours long, an hour and thirty minutes longer than the current test. Exam content and format will undergo several revisions as well.

“From a content standpoint, the test maker has been trying to make a better predictor of grad school performance,” said Baron. To achieve this goal, the new GRE will focus more on critical reasoning and less on memorization.

The current GRE consists of three sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. In October, Educational Testing Services (ETS) will replace analogies and antonyms with sentence equivalencies.

“You’ll read a passage and then choose which one [out of five options] is the best paraphrase,” said Baron. The verbal section will be made up of two 40-minute sections, rather than one 30-minute section.

As for math, ETS will eliminate some geometry and add questions requiring test takers to interpret charts, graphs, and tables. Instead of one 45-minute section, the new quantitative reasoning section will include two 40-minute sections.

Lastly, the analytical writing section will be reduced to 30 minutes and include “more focused questions to ensure original analytical writing,” reports the ETS website, www.ets.org. Why the sudden changes?

“There were several security issues,” said Baron. “Students memorized questions and posted them on the web.”

This enabled future test takers to access questions that could potentially appear on an upcoming exam. The GRE is currently computer-adaptive, meaning that the test’s difficulty is determined by the test taker’s right or wrong answers. So, while everybody receives customized tests, identical questions are repeated on different days.

Michelle Lesser ’06, who took the GRE in September 2005, feels that the computer-adaptive test is problematic.

“I think it puts too much pressure on the first few questions. If you answer the first question incorrectly, your score is already lowered and it is a lot more difficult to bring it up. I do not think that more pressure should be put on the first few questions. People can be more nervous at the beginning of a test [and] would be at a disadvantage,” said Lesser.

Beth Lapman, Northwestern University ’05, has taken the GRE twice now; she does not believe that security issues were serious enough to warrant changes.

“Basically every question that Kaplan, Powerscore, and Princeton Review offer is a question that has appeared on past GREs- the ETS even gives out a book of old tests. Even if people post GRE questions and answers, we all know that just because someone else had it on their test it by no means indicates that it’s going to be on your test – in fact, it probably won’t. If you did happen to receive that same question, you would be just as lucky as if you happened to have studied a certain vocabulary word that then appeared on your test,” said Lapman.

Starting in October, the GRE will become a linear computer test administered on 29 dates throughout the year. Each test date will have its own set of questions, thus eliminating the risk of passing on test information to future test takers. Because the new exam will no longer be adaptive, it will comprise a fuller range of easy, medium and difficult questions.

Scores will change, too. What is now a 200-800 point exam will become a 120-179 point exam. This is not the first time the GRE has been revised. Three years ago, ETS eliminated an analytical section; more recently, the paper test became a computer exam.

“They are trying to make it as effective a test it can be,” said Baron.

For now, Kaplan continues to help students prepare for the current format. Courses are set to change this summer.

Baron warns students who wish to take the test before October 2006 to secure a test spot early. “There will be a big rush to take the test before it changes. This does mean slots could fill up,” said Baron. The number of GRE administrations in any given region will depend on the test volumes in that region.

As ETS releases sample questions, test prep services like Kaplan are beginning to produce practice questions for students taking the October 2006 exam.

“We’ve been doing this for 70 years, so we are familiar with how tests change. This is fairly standard for us,” said Baron. Ithaca’s Kaplan Test Preparation Center will host an informational seminar about the GRE on November 3 at 6pm. Representatives will discuss the current exam and its future changes.

Overall, ETS expects that revisions will increase GRE validity.

The new exam will “emphasize complex reasoning skills that are closely aligned to graduate work. We’ll include more real-life scenarios,” says www.ets.org.

Some people are still not convinced that the current GRE predicts success for students entering into varied graduate programs. Others question the overall effectiveness of the exam’s computer-based administration.

“I understand that – graduate schools need an objective measure for their candidates. However, I do not believe that each program should put equal emphasis on the test. For example, engineering graduate applicants will need to score higher on the math than a classics Ph.D. student. For this reason, I do not think that ETS’s use of percentiles is accurate or should even be considered. It is not fair to compare people with such diverse backgrounds and goals on the same scale,” said Lesser.

Lapman feels the analytical writing segment is the most valid section of the GRE.

“I think [it’s] fantastic. It gives bright people [a chance] to show they are intelligent and eloquent, despite the fact that they don’t know what ‘jejune’ means,” she said.

Perhaps test takers will be more satisfied with the new-fangled October 2006 exam; time will certainly tell. (And, in case you were wondering, ‘jejune’ means ‘unsophisticated.’)

Archived article by Jessica Liebman
Sun Staff Writer