Graduate entrance exam faces changes

By next October, the Graduate Record Exam will have completed its biggest makeover in 55 years.

Students around the country take the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, each year as they apply to graduate schools. Admissions officials use scores from the test to predict how applicants may perform in graduate school.

Based on data gathered over four years of research, the Educational Testing Service, or ETS – the nonprofit group that designs the test – will incorporate different formats and questions into the existing verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing sections. The changes will lengthen the test from two and a half hours to over four hours.

In addition, there will be increased protection against cheating.

“These changes are intended to make the GRE . a more accurate gauge of how qualified prospective students are to do graduate-level work,” said David Payne, executive director of the GRE program for the Educational Testing Service’s higher education division.

The group said it considered guidance from the graduate education community in making changes to the test.

The verbal reasoning measure will soon consist of two 40-minute sections instead of one 30 minute section, and it will place a greater emphasis on cognitive skills and less emphasis on vocabulary, the test-makers said. The section will also include a broader selection of reading passages and an expansion of computer-enabled tasks.

The quantitative measure will include two 40-minute sections instead of one 45-minute section, with fewer geometry questions and more real-life scenarios with data interpretation. There will also be an on-screen, four-function calculator with a square root feature.

The analytical writing measure will be 15 minutes shorter with more focused questions to ensure original analytical writing. A 30-minute argument and issue tasks portion will also be added.

Due to additional questions in the verbal and quantitative sections, the point scale on which the test is graded faces changes. ETS plans on finalizing the new scale as of next November.

Unlike the current exam, each version of the revised GRE will be used only once, making it more difficult to cheat on. The exam will be given 29 times each year around the world.

“The new test will emphasize complex reasoning skills that are closely aligned to graduate work,” Payne said. Payne believes that changes to the test will improve its usefulness to students and graduate schools.

Although ETS insists that these changes are beneficial and necessary, Robert Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, said that he suspects the remodeling of the test to be a “marketing ploy.”

FairTest is an advocacy group that works “to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial.”

Schaffer said that the test will also likely be more expensive for students. Schaeffer said the changes resulted from ETS losing parts of contracts for the new SAT and GMAT, other entrance tests the group manages, within the last year. In an effort to keep demand for the GRE up, Schaeffer said ETS made cosmetic changes to the GRE.

Schaeffer said he believes ETS has a monopoly on graduate admissions testing, and that the new test has its setbacks, “without necessarily improving its value as a predictive tool for graduate admissions.”

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