GRE and LSAT to see formatting changes

The standardized test for most graduate students will nearly double in length next year and the law school entrance exam will see minor changes.

Students taking the Graduate Record Examination, a test most graduate programs nationwide require for admission, will have a completely new exam beginning next September. The Law School Admissions Test will make changes to its comprehensive reading section beginning next June.

The GRE will change in length from two hours to four hours and 20 minutes. It will also only be offered 30 times per year, rather than anytime during the year like it is now. The 3,500 test centers worldwide will offer a strictly Internet-based test, but a paper-based format will be available at locations with limited Internet capabilities.

A representative with Educational Testing Services, the company that administers the GRE, said the change was made to improve the system.

“The two biggest reasons for the change in the GRE are the greater security and the increased predictive validity of the new test,” said David Payne, Educational Testing Services’ GRE executive director.

ETS said they are also changing from a computer adaptive test format to a linear test format. An adaptive test format varies the questions presented to each examinee according to his or her performance on previous questions. The linear testing format gives all examinees testing at the same time the same questions.

The test was initially scheduled to change to an Internet-based exam this fall, but in February ETS announced the change would wait until fall of 2007. When the test changes, ETS will also change the length of the test.

Fees for taking the new GRE will likely increase from $130 due to the “costs for test development and delivery,” according to an ETS Web site report. Payne said no cost changes have been finalized.

The security problem with the old computer adapted format was it utilized a large, constant pool of questions, Payne said. Students remembered questions from this pool and shared them with other test takers to use on future exams.

He said the new test will focus less on specific areas, looking for broader skills instead. The new verbal reasoning section will eliminate analogy and antonym questions and focus more on critical reading, while the new quantitative reasoning, or math section, will focus less on geometry and more on data and graph interpretation questions.

“It is unlikely that memorizing a set of vocabulary words will help you when you are getting your Ph.D., and the new test addresses this,” Payne said.

Significant changes are not a good thing for students, said Liz Wands, executive director of graduate programs at the Princeton Review, a company that offers tutoring and instruction for many of the standardized tests ETS offers. She said students will now have to prepare for an entirely new exam that is more than twice as long as the old one.

“They have done little testing on this new exam; they simply want to save money,” Wands said.

Kristin Williams, GW’s director of Graduate Student Enrollment Management, said students should not be worried.

“The GRE is only one piece of the application,” Williams said. “Decisions for graduate admissions are made holistically and do not depend on any one measure.”

GW graduate admissions will continue doing what they have done in the past – looking at percentile rankings of a student’s score, Williams said.

Junior Davis Najdecki said he would jump on the opportunity to take the old GRE before the changes next September.

“My biggest problem with standardized tests is endurance,” he said. “A four-hour test is not something that I think will be an accurate measure of my ability to succeed in graduate school.”

LSAT changes are not expected to increase the length of the exam and are meant to target a skill set not grasped in other exams, said Wendy Margolis, spokesperson for the Law School Admissions Council, the company that administers the test.

Instead of four longer passages with reading comprehension questions after them, the new reading comprehension section replaces one of the passages with two short texts. The questions following the two excerpts will be comparative.

“We believe that this skill will be used quite extensively in law school,” Margolis said. “To succeed in law school, students need to be able to understand and comprehend what they read. This change is a refinement of the testing process.”

-Sarah Scire contributed to this report.

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