GRE test changes postponed

Karlee Weinmann

After announcing an overhaul of the current Graduate Record Examination, the test’s distributor postponed adjustments until an undetermined later date.

Last Monday, Educational Testing Services decided the planned changes – which would make the test almost twice as long with modified content and available less frequently – could not be implemented without disrupting the test-taking process.

Since the test would be scored on an entirely new scale, a large number of test takers would have needed to take the exam shortly after it was initially offered to calibrate the scoring system.

“We needed hundreds of thousands of students to take it in a very short period of time and we just didn’t have the (testing) centers or the seats,” ETS spokesman Tom Ewing said.

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

ETS originally planned for the revamped test to be released earlier, but postponed its circulation until September 2007.

“We needed to delay for a year to ensure that all the students who wanted to test had access to the test,” ETS spokeswoman Karen Bogan said.

Officials communicated the first postponement six or seven months ahead of the scheduled release date. This time around, the closer proximity to the test’s circulation date coupled with a lack of warning surprised test preparation companies.

Ben Baron, vice president of graduate programs for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, said his company was working to create a new preparation course coinciding with the new exam.

“The announcement was a surprise because until very recently (ETS) had continued to talk about change and moving forward,” he said. “They had given no indication prior to the announcement that this could happen.”

Since the plan to implement test changes on a widespread scale has faltered twice, Bogan said GRE developers are revamping their strategy to eliminate a total renovation of the test.

“We’re definitely going to be still implementing improvements to the current test, but they’re going to be implemented in a way that doesn’t cause a major overhaul of the test,” she said.

Currently, ETS is working to prioritize its agenda of changes. Content improvements will likely be made first.

Under the current system, the GRE is administered daily. Due to the high volume of tests given, each exam’s questions were not necessarily unique. In the past, test questions have been leaked and posted online, causing concern to exam administrators.

The new system would have cut back test availability to about 30 times per year to avoid question and prompt repeats.

“Security was a concern but it wasn’t our biggest concern,” Bogan said. “Our GRE staff believes that they can improve test security without having to overhaul the whole test format.”

ETS will phase in security modifications based on feasibility and practicality, though a specific method for doing so has not been defined.

For the two-thirds of University graduate programs requiring applicants to report GRE scores, little will change.

Andrea Scott, director of admissions and recruiting for the graduate school, said she was in the initial stages of alerting programs to the scheduled GRE changes.

Some students expressed concern to the University about test modifications because the new test was meant to be a better gauge of graduate success.

Scott said she had concerns of her own since the test changes were already postponed once.

“As the clock ran down, closer and closer to September, I was questioning whether they would be in a position where they could call it off this late,” she said. “I think it’s pretty late in the game, but in terms of it being news to me, it’s absolutely not.”

Baron encouraged students to stay in step with their plans to take the GRE.

He said students planning to take the revised test in the fall should simply prepare using materials tailored to the current test.

Scott said the new exam’s deferral will quell nervousness among some students, as well as graduate school administrators.

“(Students) who were most anxious will feel this is better for them,” she said. “There were serious fears about not being able to get in to take the test. From that perspective, I’m glad they did withdraw the launch for September.”