GRE test changes meant to help students

By The Beacon | March 9, 2011 9:00pm

The GRE test required to apply for graduate school is making format changes

(Photo Illustration by Alexander Domingo -- The Beacon)

By Rachel McIntosh, Staff Writer --

Testing has entered the 21st century with the new computer-based GRE – the Graduate Record Examination. On Aug. 1, 2011, Educational Testing Services (ETS) will release a new form of the GRE General Test prospective graduate school students are required to take before they can be accepted into some graduate programs.

"We are changing to make sure the questions we are asking on the test are closer to the student's demonstration of skill and knowledge," Vice President and COO of the Higher Education Division at ETS, David G. Payne said in a conference call with reporters from college newspapers across the country. "The test shouldn't place any burden on students."

ETS wants to ensure the material on the GRE corresponds with what students should have learned by the end of their undergraduate studies. Every test taker will be administered questions compatible with his or her ability levels, according to the ETS test information website. The test assesses a student's ability level after each question and then provides the next questions with a difficulty level that corresponds to how they answered the previous question. The skills measured on the test cover verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing.

The switch from questions based on memorization of vocabulary to the test's emphasis on reasoning skills was implemented because graduate schools are looking for a picture of the student's ability to reason through problems rather than memorize textbook answers.

"As far as standardized testing, it's been a long standing test," professor Barbara Braband of the School of Nursing said. "It offers a benchmark of academic proficiency. There is a definite relevance to the test, but it's not the only thing that matters in a student's application."

The new form of the GRE will be administered through a computer, but the regular pencil-and-paper tests will be available as well. This allows for students to skip questions and be able to go back later on and change or check their work. Also, the computer test has a calculator that pops up for math related questions.

"It's a friendlier test," Payne said. "We don't waste your time with easy questions or questions that are way too difficult. From a measurement perspective it is cutting edge and accurate."

The same type of analytical and reasoning skills will be assessed as before, but the way the testing company measured the skills has changed. Because there are fewer questions on the new GRE, the highest score attainable is no longer 800 as it was for the old test. It has changed to 170. The test is graded on a one-point scale and scores for each section will be balanced across the board. This also means the new format of the GRE is testing students' skill levels in fewer questions that are more applicable to the information learned in the undergraduate program, according to Payne.

Anyone seeking to apply for a graduate school program can take the test, regardless of his or her undergraduate major. Test scores will be accepted by graduate school programs for up to five years.

"It is important to note that there is a greater demand for graduate degrees in many fields, so programs across the nation are becoming more competitive," Greene said. "Many consider graduate education as critical preparation for an increasingly complex and global work environment. This perspective fuels the increased demand. Data also still indicate a positive correlation between graduate degrees and earnings."

Registration for the revised test opens on March 15, 2011.