Changes in air for Graduate Record Examination

Karlee Weinmann

For those planning to take the Graduate Record Examinations, the prospect of major test format and question changes has been looming for months.

After setting an early fall date for a test overhaul, Educational Testing Service, the test’s distributor, postponed the changes indefinitely in April.

Last week, the company announced changes will be phased in gradually to ensure accommodations can be made for all wishing to take the exam.

“This fall we had planned on introducing an entirely new test, a brand new GRE,” ETS spokesman Tom Ewing said. “We canceled plans to do that because Ö we determined we just didn’t have enough test centers and seats to test everybody.”

The same issue led to the first delay of the new GRE’s launch in 2006.

When fully implemented, the test will be delivered over a new, Internet-based testing network.

Beginning in November, samples of two new question types will be randomly added to some general exams, marking the first phase of changes.

Numeric Entry questions will be the first nonmultiple-choice math questions on the GRE. Instead of having multiple choices, test takers will do their own math calculations then input answers to a blank box.

Text Completion questions will be comprised of sentences with two or three blank spaces for answers. Test-takers will choose words from lists to appropriately fill in the blanks, and fill in each blank correctly to receive credit for the question.

The new questions will not count toward test-takers’ scores at first, and Ewing said students will know when ETS decides to do so. In the meantime, the new questions will provide test makers with comprehensive data to analyze before restructuring the test.

Political science senior Thomas Leeper took the GRE in August.

He said he took two math sections of the test and faced uncertainty when he learned parts of his test might or might not have contained these types of experimental questions not counting toward his score.

“It was a little bit unsettling when I got to the second math section,” he said. “Was the part that counts the part I already took? Or is it the new section? Those kinds of (experimental) questions made me really nervous.”

In the past, ETS has conducted focus-group style testing of new questions, but Ewing said evaluating how well actual test-taking students do with the questions will be more valuable.

“There’s nothing like putting them in an actual live test and having several hundred thousand people taking (them),” he said. “There’s much better data and it’s more accurate.”

Other test adjustments will be implemented according to data drawn from modified exams.

Since ETS has not announced a timeframe for further test changes, Katherine Lynn, GRE program manager for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, said students should consider taking the exam as soon as they’re ready, especially since test scores are valid for five years.

“It’s always best to take a test when you know exactly what to expect,” she said. “The new question types are more challenging; that’s certainly not going to make the test any less difficult.”

A concern raised when test changes were first discussed was test availability. As it stood, if the test was changed completely at once, test sessions would be cut drastically.

Under the current plan of gradual changes, Ewing said students will be able to take the GRE – which will continue to be offered nearly every day – just as they always have.

A new test-scoring system will not be calibrated until the test is fully changed.

Andy Lucas, assistant to the dean in the graduate school, said about two-thirds of University graduate programs require applicants to submit GRE scores.

He said while no students have addressed him with concerns about test changes, if issues regarding test availability arise, graduate school officials will consider taking action.

“If it becomes tough for students to take tests or tough to find a place to take it or if the format changes, sometimes we’ll talk to faculty about not requiring (the GRE),” Lucas said.