April 11, 2007

GRE Changes Cancelled

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The Educational Testing Service recently canceled plans to change the Graduate Record Examinations after concluding that the new exam format did not provide guaranteed access for all students. The new test would have been launched in September; however, the current exam will continue to be administered until further notice.

The ETS created the new test in order to more closely predict academic performance in graduate school and to combat security problems with the current test, which included the release of current exam questions in online chat rooms, said Ben Baron, vice president of graduate programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions.

The GREs currently consist of verbal, quantitative, analytical writing and experimental sections, which would have been doubled in length if the new test had been launched this coming fall. The test is offered in a computer adaptive format in which the difficulty of each subsequent question is based upon the test taker’s performance on the prior question.

The most prominent alteration to the exam would have been the elimination of the computer adaptive scoring algorithm. Changes would have also included an increase in test length, and that the test would have only been offered 30 times a year. This would have caused a number of problems for students, especially because all testing for the month of August was initially canceled, said Jeffrey Meanza, GRE expert from The Princeton Review.

Besides administrative problems, the new content would have required students to increase preparation time and would have created an unpleasant experience taking the GRE, according to Meanza.

“We did not think that this test was any better than the test now,” said Meanza, “It’s like with the SAT, we don’t think it’s a good test. The way that ETS writes the test, the way that they ask the question; they write it in a way to trick students. Their belief is that there is a bell curve… They make the questions tricky; it has nothing to do with whether or not these students are intelligent,” he said.

Jamie Carlson ’09, who took the exam over winter break, thought that a change in the test would be unnecessary, “I didn’t think that it was too long, I think it was a good test of general knowledge. I thought the math was hard and I’m not good at math, so that may have been a good indicator.”

Shawn McKenna ’07, who took the test this past fall, disagreed. “I think the test should be changed immediately. The test favors the ability to quickly remember random definitions and obscure geometry laws, which seems somewhat unfair to some people who cannot do that easily. Simply making a test longer and harder does not make it a better measure of one’s abilities,” he said.

McKenna elaborated, “Test taking — the ability to sit for a long time, remain focused and work quickly — is different than knowledge of a subject. I feel a change is necessary, but not the one the geniuses at ETS would probably make.”

Regarding graduate school admissions, the change would not have been advantageous, according to Sarah Hale, associate dean for Student Services, Cornell University Graduate School. In light of the changes made to the TOEFL exam two years ago, changing the GRE right now would have caused problems for students because of the risk that they might not have been able to take the exam, noted Hale.

“GREs are imperfect indicators of students’ future success in the graduate program,” said Hale, adding that “they are not the determining factor in the application process.”

For students planning on taking the GRE, there is no word as to what future changes ETS may make on the test.

“For those planning to move ahead, don’t change your plans; for students taking the test down the line, there are no immediate changes. As a student, make sure you’re staying aware of what’s going on,” said Baron.