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Standardized test administrators at Educational Testing Services recently announced radical changes to the Graduate Record Examination, the admissions benchmark for most graduate school applicants. After years of complaints that the test — which has not been significantly altered in its 55 years until now — fails to fairly and accurately measure aptitude for graduate studies, the exam is expected to be much different come October, emphasizing skills that might actually factor into graduate studies.

We are glad to see ETS taking longstanding and valid criticisms of the GRE into account, and in a manner that seems comparable to the its reworking of the Scholastic Aptitude Test. But in attempting to address fundamental problems with the nature of the exam, we are concerned that the testing service has made the GRE a much more frustrating requirement for graduate school applicants.

The new form, set to debut this fall, includes two 40-minute verbal sections instead of a single 30-minute one, with the antonyms and analogies sections traded for new “sentence equivalences” and a greater variety of critical reading passages. The 40-minute section devoted to quantitative reasoning has been bumped to two 45-minute sections said to feature more word problems and data interpretation at the expense of geometry. Dual 30-minute writing segments are said to have been redesigned in an attempt to focus more on argument and analysis. Essays themselves are now available to admissions officers, who were previously supplied only with raw essay scores as graded by ETS staff.

These changes all seem designed to refocus the exam on real-world applications of knowledge rather than strict vocabulary memorization or rarely-used formulas, and in the long term, this can only help both those taking the test and those using the scores. But they also expand GRE administration time from two-and-a-half hours to at least four, which — beyond simple inconvenience — raises questions of fairness if the test begins to reflect endurance rather than aptitude. And other concerns for equality suggest the revised exam will still be far from perfect.

In addition to the lengthier time and the difficulties inherent in comparing scores on the old GRE to the new version’s, the untried types of questions to be added have prompted a “scoring delay,” meaning the scale for the new GRE will not be finalized until the exam has been administered at least three times. This will mean a considerable lag, as the once almost-daily exam will now be administered only approximately 30 times per year. Although ETS says its pilot testing of the revised exam does not demonstrate performance bias among ethnic or other subgroups, the company has acknowledged that with substantially more difficult critical reading and verbal questions, examinees whose native language is not English are likely to find the test more challenging.

We are glad to see ETS attempting to reinvent the GRE, and some of its changes are long overdue. But like any new exam, the revised GRE faces considerable growing pains. And since it is becoming much longer, much tougher and possibly much more expensive, we recommend taking the test sometime before October.

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