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Graduate Record Exam to be computerized by 2000

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 22 - March 2, 1995

By 2000, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) will be a completely computerized, adaptive test with five parts, a GRE board member and an Educational Testing Service (ETS) program director told administrators attending a series of programs on campus recently.

Virginia Tech receives about 7,000 GRE score reports per year. The GRE began in the 1950's to test verbal and quantitative skills of college graduates as a tool used for evaluating candidates seeking admission to graduate school. In the late 1980s, a test of analytical reasoning was added to the GRE and the test was offered four times per year.

In recent years, however, the test has been computerized and was offered experimentally six days per week as ETS moved to design a more comprehensive, `adaptive' test that will adapt to the test-taker's skill level, offering more difficult or less difficult questions depending on how the subject responded on each question, reported Jackie Briel, ETS program director.

The new test also will include a choice of either a quantitative-reasoning or a mathematical test section, depending on the test taker's discipline, she said. Because the present quantitative reasoning test does not adequately measure math ability for engineering, physics, chemistry, and other math-based majors, these individuals will be encouraged to take a more advanced mathematical test that better reflects their skills. Social science and other disciplines may take the quantitative reasoning section, although they may elect to take the math section later. The fifth section will test general writing ability using an essay format. Students will have 45 minutes to present views on one of two topics; ETS will publish the 80 topics from which the two on each test will be selected. Also being considered is a 30-minute task of critiquing an argument.

The traditional sections also will be changed, with analytical reasoning changing from 70/30 deductive/informal reasoning to closer to 50/50. The verbal section of the new test will add multiple passages for testing reading comprehension.

Implementation of the new test has been delayed by a protest from a test preparation service about the computerized version of the traditional test. GRE board member Leslie MacLemore explained that the test-prep service had test-takers memorize portions of the computerized test to demonstrate that the test was not secure.

"Coaching schools have had a hard time preparing people for the computerized test," MacLemore said. "It's not one big date you can prepare for like the super bowl. It was cutting into the bottom line."

ETS has taken steps to make the test secure. The computerized GRE is now offered the first week of each month at selected sites, and uses additional questions so all tests are not the same. "We have monitored scores and there is no evidence of (memorization-based) cheating, Briel said.

Now work to develop the new GRE has resumed.

"The new GRE began in 1987," MacLemore said. "It reflects new times in terms of technology, and in terms of who takes the test. ... More minorities and women, and graduates of an increasing number of masters' degree institutions, are taking the test." Briel reported that 52 percent of test-takers are female, 62 percent are over 24, 26 percent are over 30, 21 percent are international, and 14 percent of the domestic test-takers are minorities.

"The computerized adaptive test is more efficient and leaves room for more diverse testing," Briel explained.

The adaptive test will mean more useful assessment beyond multiple choice answers, improved fairness because it will weed out extraneous factors not related to the skill being tested, improved use of the test results, and greater convenience, Briel said.

Students prefer the computerized test because they can move on to the next section as they finish the last section, and they receive their scores immediately, before they are sent to the schools. They can decide not to apply to a particular school based on their scores. The written portion of the new test will slow reporting results on that section; ETS researchers are trying to determine how it can be scored quickly. Writing will be judged on overall quality using a six-point scale. Two readers will be used. Readers will be trained to apply a scoring guide.

The consistency of grading writing was questioned, and Briel pointed out that graduate admissions committees could decide to give different weights to different sections of the GRE.

Before development was interrupted in order to improve security against memorization, ETS was responding to another criticism of the adaptive test from the GRE board.

"You can't go back and review your answers. Students don't like this and the board doesn't like it either," explained Briel. "We're doing research to see if we can offer review of some or of the last few questions. But ... studies show that few students review their answers and even fewer change their answers." Nonetheless, "there is a board mandate that something be done," MacLemore said.

Another change as a result of the new test will be more testing sites. There are 250 sites in the U.S. and Canada now. Additional institutional sites will be added.

Before the new test is implemented, the paper and pencil test will go up from $56 to $64. The computerized test is $96, and plans are to keep the cost of the new test under $100, although there may be a fee for scoring the written exam. The ETS fee waiver program for students with financial need will still be in place.

The development of computerized subject tests has also been delayed while ETS adds enough questions to insure security.

Additional information about the new test will be sent to John Eaton, associate dean of the Graduate School, and will be available to faculty.