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February 7, 2006

GRE format is reformed to improve accuracy

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE), a standardized test required for admission to many master’s and doctoral programs, is undergoing significant revision. The changes represent the most significant overhaul of the test in its 55-year history.

“These changes are intended to make the GRE General Test a more accurate gauge of how qualified prospective students are to do graduate-level work,” said David Payne, executive director of the GRE Program, in a press release from the Education Testing Service (ETS), the nonprofit organization that administers the test.

“We’ll also offer more interpretive information to graduate deans and faculty, including providing access to test takersí essay responses on the Analytical Writing section,” Payne said.

According to ETS, the biggest change to the GRE will be its format. The current test follows a computer-adaptive format, in which a test taker receives easier or more difficult questions based on answers to previous questions. The revised GRE will no longer be computer-adaptive, and instead will consist of a computer-based test that poses exactly the same questions to all test takers.

The new format, according to ETS, fulfills test administrators’ goals for boosting security and test validity with regards to cheating. Under the test’s new policies, questions will not be recycled for future exams, and as an added shield against cheating, the updated GRE will only be administered 30 times throughout the year.

Matt Fidler, GRE product manager at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, elaborated on the threat of cheating in the current exam format. Foreign students could memorize questions from an exam, post them online, and make them available to test takers in the United States who, according to Fidler, could theoretically be asked the same question.

Timothy Blackman, associate dean of students in the Social Science Division, said that he did not think there was any consensus among graduate officials at the University of Chicago on whether or not the updated GRE will be given any more weight than the current GRE in admission to graduate school.

Blackman was reluctant to comment on ETS’s claim that graduate admission officials would perceive the new GRE as a more valid examination of an applicant’s critical thinking skills. He noted that besides GRE scores, a candidate’s transcript and letters of recommendation also take high priority in applications for graduate school.

Louis Tremante, Senior Advisor in the College, however, recalled that several years ago officials from the Biological Sciences Division had said they felt that the computer-adaptive test format of the GRE made it a less reliable examination.

“My impression was that they subsequently gave it less weight,” Tremante said.

Besides changing the format of the GRE, the ETS is also changing the content, scoring scale, duration, and cost of the exam.

“We’ll include more real-life scenarios and data interpretation questions, and new, more focused writing questions,” Payne said in an ETS press release.

The new GRE will still test verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. But according to an ETS report on the test changes, each section will undergo revisions to promote “skills that are necessary for success in graduate school.”

The new GRE will contain two 40-minute verbal sections instead of a single 30-minute verbal section. In an effort to discourage rote memorization of vocabulary, the revised verbal section will no longer consist of analogies and antonyms, focusing instead on critical reading skills.

The quantitative reasoning portion of the exam will now include two 40-minute sections, as opposed to a single 45-minute section. The revised quantitative section will also have fewer geometry problems in lieu of more word problems and data interpretation questions.

Finally, the new analytic writing section will be administered in two 30-minute sections, in which test takers must compose one essay in each section. The new analytic writing section is actually shorter than the current test’s section, but will have more specific questions and will be made available to graduate school admission committees.

While exact changes have yet to be finalized, ETS also plans to alter the scoring scale.

The new examination will be four hours long (almost an hour and a half longer than the current test) and will be more expensive, although ETS has yet to make its cost public.

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