Study shows test scores indicative

A University study re-emphasizes the importance of entrance exams.

Karlee Weinmann

Students planning to pursue graduate degrees might have an even greater incentive to adequately prepare for entrance exams, according to a recent University study.

More than prior grades, courses taken and recommendations, the final study – a composite of 2,000 smaller, independent studies reflective of approximately half a million students – showed standardized tests scores best correlate to students’ future scholastic success.

The study was compiled over a six-month period by authors Nathan Kuncel, assistant professor of psychology, and Sarah Hertzell, a senior research scientist at Personnel Decisions Research Institutes.

Most of the data was drawn from studies conducted at postsecondary education institutions across the country to determine students’ success in graduate and professional programs.

“Individual studies can be very noisy,” Kuncel said. “When we compile them together, we can get a very robust estimate of what is actually going on.”

Hertzell said the vast application of the study’s findings across disciplines was somewhat surprising, though many test administration companies have conducted research with results paralleling the study’s findings.

Educational Testing Services administers the Graduate Record Examination, and senior research director Cathy Wendler said she was glad to see the study’s results, but not surprised by them.

She said standardized test scores are most valuable because they are a precise, consistent measurement among many variables.

“Graduate or undergraduate types of education can be different from one department to the next, even in the same university,” Wendler said. “Is an ‘A’ always an ‘A’? Is a ‘B’ always a ‘B’?”

Dave Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Graduate Management Admission Council, which offers the Graduate Management Admission Test, said grade point averages, letters of recommendation and essays can not be guaranteed to offer unbiased, accurate assessments of students.

“While our (test) performance is not improving, our grades are. Grade inflation is a reality,” he said. “Measurement does matter, and if we’re going to improve as a nation in the world, we need to have an objective measure of our own improvement.”

As a former member of an admissions committee at the University of Texas at Austin, Wilson found standardized tests to be the most helpful part of students’ portfolios in deciding admission.

Ellen Julian, associate vice president of the Association of American Medical Colleges and director of the Medical College Admission Test, said standardized tests are imperative, but leave other factors unacknowledged.

“I think that admission tests do a great job at what they do, but I fear they’re often overused because they’re only assessing one part of an applicant’s entire profile,” she said. “It’s the part we know how to test, but that doesn’t make it more important than the things we don’t yet know how to test.”

Julian said noncognitive traits like ambition, altruism and compassion are crucial to success in the medical field, but are difficult to quantify with standardized testing.

Kuncel, who has done other studies in related areas and teaches classes associated with the topic, agreed that character is currently an incalculable component meriting analysis.

While the study reinforces the importance of a high standardized test score, pressure on students might be proportionally amplified.

Geneva Sarni graduated with a degree in Asian languages and literature in December. She plans to take the GRE this summer and is nervous about the growing influence of the exam in the admissions process since she has test anxiety.

“The way people perform on tests is much different than in the classroom,” she said.

Having to relearn certain math and science skills for the test is also a concern for Sarni.

“I honestly don’t think it’s a good predictor for me,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind taking (the GRE) if it was more key to what I’ll be doing.”

For the University graduate programs requiring scores, a holistic review of various application elements is done alongside exam score analysis, according to Andrea Scott, director of the graduate school office of admissions.

“There are many factors and they all are very important,” she said. “But to say the GRE score outweighs anything else, I don’t think that can be said about our programs.”

Scott listed undergraduate transcripts and research, and GPA trends as other considered aspects of the applicant’s profile.

Only two-thirds of University graduate programs require students to report their GRE scores.

“The programs that are not using (scores) are probably missing out on information that is most valuable in choosing students who are most likely to succeed in their programs,” Hertzell said.