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Revised GRE Longer, More Difficult; Begins in Oct. ...07

By Swetha Kambhampati

A newly revised and perhaps longer version of the Graduate Record Examination test, which is needed for admission into most graduate schools, will be administered starting in Oct. 2007. Other major planned revisions to the GRE are a rescaling of the exam scoring scales, a change in the method of test administration, and an alteration in exam content.

A Career Office survey with a response rate of 77 percent shows that 48 percent of students from the undergraduate class of 2006 went on to graduate or professional school. About 2,000 students enter MIT’s graduate programs each year, according to the Admissions Office Web site. Most of these students take the GRE.

The Educational Testing Service, which announced the Oct. 2007 exam launch date in Feb. 2006, is still experimenting with test questions and will not release the exact content changes until Feb. 2007.

Parallel to these changes are revisions of the Medical College Admission Test and Law School Admission Test.

The new GRE exam will no longer be a two-and-a-half hour long test; it will instead be four hours long, according to the Princeton Review Web site. The scoring scales of the Verbal and Quantitative sections will be rescaled from 200–800 to an expected range of 130–170, with a predicted mean of 150, said Dawn Piacentino, a board member of the ETS GRE. According to the ETS Web site, the ETS will offer the new GRE on approximately 30 fixed testing dates annually, instead of offering daily testing throughout the year.

One of the biggest changes taking place is in the method of administration. The current GRE is a computer-adaptive test, meaning that the test tailors the examination difficulty to the performance of the examinee on difficult questions. The score of an examinee is based on how many hard questions he or she gets right. The format will be changed to a computer-based linear exam, in which every examinee will be given the same set of questions, Piacentino said.

The primary reason for this change is security related. “A few years ago we had to discontinue computer-adaptive testing in certain countries due to leakage of questions,” Piacentino said. “We are changing the test from continuous to fixed because of the potential risk of questions being exposed.”

Isaac M. Colbert, the MIT dean for graduate students, noted that the new test format is “more realistic” as it allows for “skipping, omitting, and coming back to difficult questions.”

ETS will also revise the content of the three sections — Analytical Writing (soon to be Critical Thinking and Analytical Writing), Verbal, and Quantitative — in an effort to emphasize verbal reasoning, context evaluation, comprehension, quantitative reasoning, data interpretation, and real-life scenarios, while reducing the amount of rote memorization and computation required, Piacentino said.

Piacentino also said that antonyms, analogies, and single-word questions will be eliminated and a variety of novel question-types will be featured, such as identifying the sentence decribed by a question in a given passage, in lieu of more traditional multiple choice questions.

The Analytical Writing section will feature more focused prompts requiring more original responses, in order to reduce the reliance on a generalized writing formula.

“There was a need to revise the GRE Math portion,” Colbert said. “Some of the arcane language had to be taken out and the number of items that are less relevant today such as geometry needed to be limited.”

According to Piacentino, this revision will mark one of the largest changes in the history of the GRE examination.

“The changes in the new test will increase the validity of the testing,” Piacentino said. “The new test will be better at predicting the critical thinking level of the examinee and consequently the performance of the examinee in graduate school by testing more of the skills students will use in graduate school.”

Colbert said that he believes the new verbal and writing sections offer a “more realistic way of testing a student’s language skills” and a better way of “assessing a student’s writing skills.”

Paul Kanarek, the founder of the Princeton Review in California, said that “the test is very unfriendly to students. Not only is the test more strenuous and long, students cannot jot down notes nor do their work right next to the question they’re working on in a booklet.”

The Princeton Review plans to “design a course that will cover the old and new GRE material so that people can choose to take either one,” said Kanarek.

The new preparatory course material will come out next August, according to Kanarek, and class enrollments are expected to double or even triple over the next three to six months.

“Students are rushing to classes before it changes. Imagine that MIT tomorrow announces that the physics curriculum will be made twice as hard. This is exactly what the ETS has done to the GRE.” Kanarek also said that “the Princeton Review perspective is that these changes to the GRE flat-out suck!”

Colbert said he encourages MIT students to “take a closer look at the array of resources provided.” He mentioned that students should carefully study the resources presented in the ETS website and become familiar with the layout of the test, the content structure, and the time parameters. He reiterated that “practice makes a huge difference.”

In January 2007, the MCAT will make a transition in format, converting from a paper format to a computer-based test, along with reducing the number of questions and testing time, to allow for additional test dates, faster scoring, and a more controlled testing environment.

The LSAT will also introduce changes in June 2007, altering the comparative reading portion of its four-part Reading Comprehension section. Also, the Writing section will give all test-takers a decision prompt, as opposed to randomly assigning either a decision or argument prompt.