The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 48.0°F | Rain Fog/Mist

Switchover to Computer-Based GRE Goes Unnoticed by OCPSA

By Dudley Lamming
staff reporter

On April 10, thousands of college students will partake in a Saturday ritual for the last time. With number two pencils in hand, they will go to test centers located in college gymnasiums to take their Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). After that, students will take the GRE at various times throughout the week, and instead of a pencil they will be using a mouse.

In addition, beginning this month, the essay portion of the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) will be graded by computer.

Changeover goes unnoticed

As many college juniors are aware, the paper-based version of the GRE is being phased out. It is being replaced by an adaptive test taken on the computer. Adaptive testing is somewhat controversial, but surprisingly, members of the Career Services and Preprofessional Advising Department were unaware that this changeover is taking place.

When asked about how students were being advised to the end of paper-based testing, Elizabeth A. Reed, Associate Director of Career Services, responded, "I didn't know it was happening." Similarly, Christopher G. L. Pratt, Director of Career Services, was unaware of the changeover.

"I haven't heard any student concerns about it," he said. Staff counselors who work directly with students have also not heard any concern.

Computer tests are individualized

The computer-based tests differ significantly from the paper-based versions. No two test takers will take the exact same test. Each question will, instead of being predetermined, instead be based on the question before it. As questions are answered correctly, the following questions will be raised in difficulty. As questions are answered incorrectly, following questions will be easier.

Since the answer to each question determines the next, test takers are unable to return to previous questions and fix their answers. Furthermore, the length of the test can vary dramatically. If someone answers all the questions correctly and quickly, the test itself can be over in about an hour.

Since every test is different, the score is now computed based on statistical models of how many people get particular questions correct. Those departments that require the GRE exams plan to accept the computerized exams as equivalent with the paper exams. Decisions on how to use GRE scores are made on a departmental basis, as are all graduate admission decisions.

Essay to be scored by computer

The switchover to computerized testing for the GRE is but a harbinger for things to come. Beginning this month, students who take the GMAT will have their essay read by a computer. This electronic reader, called e-rater, will evaluate organization, structural analysis, and presentation of ideas. All essays will, for now, still be read by at least one human. E-rater assigns scored based on previously scored essays on a specific topic; it is not completely independent of precedents.

ETS documentation state that "ETS has conducted research studies indicating that these scores are comparable."