The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 72.0°F | Overcast

Revamped GRE Will Be Longer And Feature Stronger Security Changes to Be Made by Next October, Will Address Cheating


The Graduate Record Exam, the graduate-school entrance exam, will be revamped and lengthened as of next October in an effort to give graduate schools a more useful measure of students’ ability and to prevent cheating.

Although the test will still include sections on verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing, every section is being revised, and the test lengthened to about four hours, from two and a half hours. About 500,000 students, 20 percent to 25 percent of them foreigners, take the general G.R.E. each year. E.T.S., which administers the test, also offers subject-matter tests in such fields as biology, mathematics and physics, but those tests, taken by far fewer students, are not being changed.

To enhance security, every question on the new exams will be used only once, and the test will start at different times in different time zones, so students who have finished cannot pass on questions to those in different zones.

“The revamp is in response to graduate schools’ desires for additional information on students’ ability in verbal reasoning and quantitative,” said David Payne, executive director of the G.R.E. program. “It’s also very much security, and to ensure that the scores we report are valid.”

Security has been a big issue for E.T.S. since a 2002 incident in which an undetermined number of students in China, Taiwan and South Korea raised their G.R.E. verbal scores by logging on to Web sites in those countries and memorizing questions and answers posted by previous test takers. Later that year, two Columbia University undergraduates were arrested for using high-tech transmitters to send out test questions.

“Security has been a real concern,” said Susan Kaplan, director of the graduate program at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions. “E.T.S. is also planning to cut back on how often the test is administered. Right now, it’s given almost every day of the year, but so far, it sounds like it will be offered about 30 times a year.”

As of next year, the test will no longer be “computer adaptive,” with test-takers getting questions tailored to their performance on previous questions, so that each gets challenging questions that provide a clear picture of what they can do. Instead, every student taking the test on a particular day will get the same questions, and those questions will not be reused.

Mr. Payne said the old approach required a huge number of questions, making it unwieldy if each administration was to have all-new questions.

“The personal tailoring is really powerful from a psychometric perspective, but to get a good assessment, you have to have a large number of questions,” he said. “And if examinees go out there and share the questions they got with others who then happen to get the same questions, their scores can go up dramatically. We want to be sure the scores we report are valid.”

On the new exams, the verbal reasoning section will consist of two 40-minute sections rather than one 30-minute section, and will place less emphasis on vocabulary and more on higher cognitive skills.

“Instead of antonyms and analogies, which depend on vocabulary, we want to measure the ability to understand reading passages, so we would ask students to indicate the sentence in a passage where the author presents an argument contrary to his thesis, or find the two sentences that are equivalent,” Mr. Payne said.

The quantitative reasoning section will grow from one 45-minute section to two 40-minute sections, with fewer geometry questions and more on interpreting tables and graphs. And the analytical writing measure, which had a 45-minute essay and a 30-minute essay, will now have two 30-minute essays.

E.T.S. began field-testing the new exams earlier this month.

“I wonder if it’s going to be a test too far,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest, which opposes the broad use of standardized testing. “They’re changing the length, the range and the format all at once, so it could prompt the same kind of backlash among students and admissions offices alike as the new SAT has. It’s true that the old test didn’t do a good job of predicting graduate school performance, but when you add in everything everybody asks for, you get a camel — a camel being a horse built by committee.”