GRE may come with new scoring system and content

Aspiring graduate students planning to take the Graduate Record Exam or GRE in 2011 might take a new, reformatted version of the test featuring a new scoring system and changes in test content.

The Education Testing Service, the nonprofit institution that administers the GRE, announced its plans to change the test at a December meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in San Francisco, according to an article by The New York Times. More than 600,000 graduate school hopefuls take the GRE each year.

A representative for ETS told the Skiff that she could not comment on the changes to the test because nothing is official yet.

Andrew Mitchell, director of graduate programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, said one of the format changes ETS is considering for the GRE is how the test is scored. The scoring system for each section of the test would change from a 200-to-800 point scale to a 130-to-170 point system, he said. This shift will make the scale narrower and the process more competitive for the students taking the test, Mitchell said.

“Essentially, when you’re preparing for the GRE, you’re trying to get a competitive score,” Mitchell said. “You’re trying to beat your competition, whatever level of competition you’re shooting for, and this smaller scale is gonna mean that it’s that much harder to differentiate yourself.”

Mitchell said the quantitative section of the test will have less geometry, more data analysis and an added online calculator. He said students may initially be excited about the calculator, but it may not be the gift they imagine because the kind of math featured will likely change, too.

“What we’re likely to see is that straightforward problems will be replaced by more complex math,” Mitchell said.

As for the verbal section, Mitchell said the antonym and analogy questions would be eliminated from the new version of the test. Reading comprehension and argument analysis would also be added to make for more challenging content, he said.

Mitchell said that with these changes, the ETS is trying to create a test that is useful and accurate yet presents scores that are as meaningful as possible.

“The job of the GRE is to be a predictor of success in graduate school,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell did not say whether the test will be more difficult but added that scores tend to go down after a major format change.

“Students considering grad school would be smart to take the test now before it changes,” Mitchell said.”They know what the test is, they can prepare for it and the scores are going to be good for five years.”

Stephanie Futscher, a senior psychology major and future GRE test taker, said that if the changes are implemented, both versions of the test should be offered.

“I think they should offer both of them for at least the first year or two before it’s just the new one and you have to deal with it,” Futscher said.

Andrew Neill, a senior mechanical engineering major, said he thought the proposed changes would benefit students who are high achievers in math by making that section more challenging. Neill took the exam Nov. 13 in preparation for fall graduate school application deadlines.

“I don’t feel like it represented my proficiency in math very well because I think myself and most of my engineering peers got very high grades,” Neill said. “I’m sure there are people who are not as good in math, but because it’s so easy they still got good grades.”

Even though the planned changes to the GRE may cause some anxiety, Mitchell said there is a chance that they will not come to pass, noting that the ETS has planned major test changes in the past only to decide not to implement them after all. Changes to the GRE set to be enacted in 2006 were delayed to 2007, when they were canceled.

Planned changes to GRE

The current 200 to 800 point scoring scale, with its 10-point increments, will be replaced by a new one-point increment scoring scale of 130 to 170 points.

The quantitative section will see less geometry and more data analysis.

An online calculator will be added, which will likely mean more straightforward math problems will be replaced by more complex ones.

The computer-adaptive GRE will allow test takers to skip questions within a section and come back to them. Currently, students must answer each question before going onto the next one, whose difficulty level is determined by whether or not the previous question was correctly answered.

The new verbal section will eliminate antonym and analogy questions, but will include more reading comprehension.

Source: Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions