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Revised GRE Release Delayed Until Fall ...07

By Tamar Lewin
THE NEW YORK TIMES

The Educational Testing Service, the maker of the Graduate Record Exam, is delaying its rollout of a revamped test until the fall of 2007. The revised exam was supposed to go into effect in October.

The overhaul is to be the biggest in the test’s history. Although the exam 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.

E.T.S. began field-testing the new exam last October, and the reason for the delay, officials say, is not any problem with the new version, but rather with setting up enough Internet-based test centers to provide access to test-takers.

“The test is ready,” said Mari Pearlman, the testing service’s senior vice president for higher education, “but what we’ve discovered as we roll out our Internet-based network for the Toefl is that any bottleneck in the system is perceived as very serious, which is understandable since this is a life-altering experience for students taking the tests.”

Toefl is the commonly used name for the Test of English as a Foreign Language, also administered by the testing service. A new version of Toefl was introduced this year at Internet-based test centers around the globe. These centers are usually college computer laboratories, which are taken over on test dates with special security measures.

“Establishing the Internet-based tests centers has taken longer than we have anticipated,” said Tom Ewing, a spokesman for E.T.S., which is introducing the new English test on a gradual basis, country by country, over the next six months. “Until we have the network we need, we will run both paper tests and computer-based ones. We had access problems in November and December in part of Italy, France and Germany. We’re sort of learning with the Toefl what we need for the G.R.E.”

About three-quarters of those who take the Toefl are foreign students, and about a quarter are Americans; on the G.R.E. the proportions are reversed. The graduate-school entrance test, taken by almost half a million students a year, is required for entrance to most graduate-school programs in the arts and sciences, education and journalism.

“There is absolutely no room for error when you’re dealing with people who are extremely anxious and believe rightly or wrongly that their whole academic future is at stake,” said Robert Schaeffer, the public education director at FairTest, an advocacy group critical of standardized testing. “E.T.S. has had a history of difficulties with rollouts, where the technology just wasn’t ready.”

The revamping of the G.R.E. was prompted in large part by security concerns, stemming from the fact that questions were reused.

In 2002, an undetermined number of students in China, Taiwan and Korea raised their 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.

After the overhaul, every student taking the test on a particular day will get the same questions, and those questions will not be reused.

The revamped exam will also change the verbal reasoning section so that it 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. 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.