September 26, 2011

Test Takers React to Changes In GRE Questions, Scoring

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The Graduate Records Examination — a standardized test that is an admission requirement for many graduate schools — underwent significant revisions to its material, format and scoring system, effective Aug. 1, to make the test a more effective way of assessing applicants.“This is the biggest change in the history of the GRE,” said Lee Weiss ’02, director of Graduate Programs for Kaplan, which offers standardized test preparation courses.The revised GRE features an overhaul of the scoring system. While the old version was scored on a 200 to 800 scale in 10-point increments, the GRE will now be scored on a 130 to 170 scale in one-point increments.“Some grad programs look at a 620 versus a 600 and say that the 620 is much better,” said Weiss, noting that “the smaller scale emphasizes large distances.” What was a 20 point difference will now be represented as a 2 point difference in the new system.Additionally, the Educational Testing Service will revise the means for each section, which had undergone uneven drift within the old scale. Before the revisions, a perfect 800 on the quantitative sections would get students no better than the 94th percentile, while a 750 on the verbal sections placed students in the 99th percentile, according to Kaplan.Beginning Nov. 1, all GRE scores will be reported in the new scoring scale, including exams taken before Aug. 1. Admissions committees will receive concordance tables from ETS that will outline the scoring change and compare the new and old systems. Between Aug. 1 and Nov. 1, ETS will not send out any scores to allow time to complete development and the transition to the new scoring system.ETS Manager of External Relations Christine Betaneli cited specific changes to the verbal and quantitative sections that include changes to question type and question structure.The verbal section no longer includes antonym and analogy questions, replacing them with passage-based questions that test an in-context understanding of vocabulary, such as fill-in-the-blank, sentence completion and passage analysis. The quantitative section has a reduced emphasis on simple computation and instead focuses on data analysis and reasoning.The ETS, which develops and administers the GRE, has worked with admissions officers throughout the revision process. “Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, from both admissions and students,” said Betaneli. “Students are enjoying the new design features, which have made the revised test more test-taker friendly. For example, the preview feature allows students to move around in a section … this gives students more freedom to use personal strategies.”  Overall, students have said they enjoyed the increased flexibility, though many students seem unaware of the extent of the changes, according to a Kaplan survey.  “The revisions are an attempt at trying to better align the test with skills students are required to have for grad school,” said Betaneli, who cited the increased focus on analytical skills in the new GRE, and the reduced emphasis on simple computation.Some students expressed concern about the changes and whether the available preparation materials will still be useful. “I was worried about the accuracy of the study book because the new version hadn’t come out yet,” said Ting Yuet ’12, who took the revised exam in early August.  Many resources specific to the revised exam are available to students through the ETS websites, which has tried to ensure that the changes will place no additional stress on students.Admissions officials, however, will be facing a time crunch for graduate programs with December deadlines, because ETS will withhold exam scores until Nov. 1. This is to provide time to normalize scores to the new scale, according to Betaneli.  “Any time there’s a transition, there’s a little confusion,” said Jason Kahabka ’98, the director of student services for the Cornell Graduate School. “One issue we are aware of is that the embargoing of scores until November pushes back when the scores will be received to close to the deadlines.”Graduate program applicants will likely not be affected by this issue.“Take the test with plenty of time for your admissions deadlines,” Kahabka said. “And keep in perspective that the GRE is just one factor in the admissions process.” The implementation of the revisions has so far gone smoothly, and ETS expects no negative reactions to the new exam.The GRE is “one of the most widely administered standardized tests,” according to Betaneli, with an estimated 700,000 applicants taking the test each year during the graduate program application process.

Original Author: Duncan Yandell