Grad students react to new GRE

Unless they crack the books a little earlier than planned, Yalies hoping to go to graduate school in the next few years may face a very different entrance exam.

The Educational Testing Services announced that beginning in the fall of 2011, the GRE, a standardized test required for admission to many arts and sciences graduate schools in the U.S., will feature a different grading scale, 30 to 45 minutes of added time and a new option allowing test-takers to move between questions within sections of the test. While a majority of the 10 Yale graduate students interviewed who have taken the GRE in its current form said the changes will improve the test, some said that the new test will be too long.

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One test preparation expert, Andrew Mitchell, director of graduate programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, advised students interested in graduate school to take the test before the changes take effect. Mitchell noted that test results are accepted by graduate school admissions offices for up to five years.

“It’s better to take it now when they know what they’re getting,” he said, noting that changes in standardized tests like the GRE typically lead to lower scores for a few years.

Those scores themselves will take an unfamiliar form, as ETS changed the current GRE grading scale of 200 to 800 points with 10-point increments to a scale of 130 to 170 points with 1-point increments.

“The difference is that the one-point increments allow tighter view of a test taker’s competency,” ETS spokesman Mark McNutt said. “You’re really narrowing down on that scale.”

McNutt said ETS has been planning for these revisions for several years in order to more accurately test for skills required of contemporary students in graduate schools. The test will be a better assessment of students analytical skills, not their ability to memorize formulas, McNutt added.

Neill Seltzer, who was the lead author of Princeton Review’s “1,014 GRE Practice Questions,” said he sees the revisions as a much-need improvement.

“The GRE is just old,” he said. “Content-wise it really looks like what the SAT used to be. The SAT has evolved. The GRE has never evolved — it’s a fairly archaic test.”

Out of 10 Yale graduate students interviewed, seven said they preferred the revised exam over the one they had taken. Most said they appreciated the new computer feature that allows test-takers to skip questions and go back to them. The GRE, taken on a computer, previously required test-takers to answer a question before they could see the next question.

“I like the way they are making more like a paper test,” Justin Khoo GRD ’13 said.

But not all students said they like the changes. International and Development Economics student Anusha Misra GRD ’10 said the test-makers should have kept the analogy questions because they tested analytical thinking. She said she also dislikes the increased length of the exam, which already takes up to three hours.

“I think three hours is enough — the attention span of a person is not that long,” she said. “[The revised exam] is stretching mental limits.”

McNutt said the revised GRE will be launched around August or September 2011.


  • Genuflecting to Princeton, the new Vatican

    Princeton speaks ex cathedra and the world genuflects?

    Who made Princeton (ETS)the Vicar of God?

    The idolatrous worship of standardized tests is a dehumanizing influence in our society, blindly accepted by the masses.

    “…changes in standardized tests like the GRE generally lead to lower scores for a few years”

    Does anyone see the blatant unfairness here?

    So for a few years people’s futures and careers wills be decided by
    whether or not they know the “ropes” of the new tests (how to “take”, “maximize” or outwit them).


  • Yale 08

    Has the GRE spokesman cited in this article ever seen the current GRE test? First of all, if you “memorize formulas,” that in and of itself isn’t going to get you too far on a test that requires students to apply mathematical concepts, frequently in less-often-seen ways. Second, last I checked there are (800 – 200) / 10 + 1 = 61 possible scores a test taker may receive under the current GRE scoring method; by contrast, under the proposed alternative, there would only be 170 – 130 + 1 = 41 possible scores. Seriously, which of these two schemes is more likely to produce the most well-specified assessment of competency? Hopefully ETS will brief its spokespeople better next time to explain to them that the number of points between score levels has nothing to do with how precise a test score is; what matters is the size of those increments relative to the range of possible scores.

  • anonymous

    I think the decline in grades might actually mean those who use test prep companies won’t do as well because they can’t prepare as well for a test that isn’t as well know so, in a sense, it might lower the playing field.

    They will almost definitely not change the distribution substantially.

  • grad

    I disagree with #2’s comment about applying mathematical concepts “in less-often-seen ways”. Maybe that is true in the subject test, but the general test has nothing sophisticated at all.

    Compare that with the Chinese students who can’t speak English but get high verbal scores. The also pass Yale’s SPEAK test before they are allowed to teach.

    The GRE general test is nearly all common sense and basic literacy. Any Yale undergraduate should easily hit the 95th percentile or higher in every category in freshman year.

  • another grad

    When I took the adaptive computer-based GRE general exam a few years ago it was just a speed test. The questions were easy but you could see how the answers were constructed to trap careless thinkers. A high score means only that you can do simple things quickly and reliably. That’s how it always is with standardized tests. They don’t test anything except how well you do on them.

  • * All Made of Ticky-tacky…

    Except for the comment “They don’t test anything except how well you do on them”, these posts about the new GRE’s are frightening for their bloodless, statistical analyses.

    They betray an apathetic acceptance of standardized tests by standardized students on their way to becoming standardized citizens.

    It seems like a nightmare of cookie-cutter education come true —the death of the liberal arts and the triumph of Betty Crocker curricula:

    Just add ingredients, mix, stir to rubric specifications and bake in a charter school for four years at a benchmark of 350 degrees and you get a perfectly shaped human being capable of taking standardized tests forever–even at Yale.

    Pardon me while I vomit.


  • Y’09

    PK, I think you’re being unfair. (Oh, sorry, I’ll wait while you finish purging yourself. Done? Great, I’ll continue.)

    If a student wants to go to graduate school, and graduate school requires the GRE, the student must care about doing well on the GRE, at least to some extent. Would you argue that the very desire to go to graduate school of any kind is characteristic of people on their way to becoming “standardized citizens”? That seems extreme and, frankly, silly.

    Also, your tirade against the “cookie-cutter education” engendered by standardized tests is illogical in this context. Perhaps it’s a problem in middle and high schools, but the idea that Yale professors would “teach to the GRE” is absolutely laughable, not to mention impossible. It’s true that the material on the GRE has very little to do with anything we learn at a school like Yale – that’s why students must study separately for these exams. The exams do not reflect the breadth of focus, depth of analysis, and emphasis on critical reasoning of a liberal arts education.

    For the record, I took the GRE this fall, and I agree that standardized tests measure little besides ability to take standardized tests. However, as long as graduate programs still require them, students – especially those at elite colleges – will strive to do well on them. If you want to criticize the test-taking culture in this country, start from the top down. If you want to criticize the ethos of Yale undergraduates, at least pick a relevant topic and construct a decent argument.

  • * Standardized Murder of the Soul


    Hyperbolic? Yes. Unfair? No. Yale isn’t “teaching to the GRE’s”, but it is being populated by a generation of students who accept standardized testing as a way of academic life.

    Russian education used to be criticized for separating children into camps of potential talent and non-talent at an early age–Super-tracking if you will.

    Standardized testing does the same thing.

    It was fascinating to hear Tim Burton , movie director (Edward Scissorhands, etc) whose watercolors are now a one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art,lament on a recent Charlie Rose interview, that while ALL children know how to draw, schools may kill that talent for many students by a certain age (puberty?).

    That is the LEAST damage which education does to the human spirit, with its incessant evaluations, assessments, labels, grading and reawrd/punishments.

    I shudder to think of the automatons who successfully rise through the ranks of such systems to become the elites at places like Yale.

    What else besides “drawing” have they had cruhed out of their spritis by the time they have tread the competetive mill to arrive in New Haven?

    When you have children you will know of what I speak, as you watch the joy, spontaneity and spirit squeezed out of them like toothpaste out of a tube year after competetive school year.

    John Dewey, Paul Goodman, Howard Gardner, bart Giamatti, where art thou?

    PS: I have written in my blog about the deadening impact of education on the human soul and the modern world’s “athleticization of life” (Arne Duncan’s “Race to the Top”) as Yale President Giamatti warned.

    However either you or another poster persuaded me a week or so ago on my Bloom post, that it is crass and vulgar to advertise my blog in these posts so I am omitting its name and url.

    If you are interested I’m sure you can find it somehow. In the meantime, go study for success instead of for joy. It will make the next 50 years easier for you.

  • @#4

    The GRE verbal is by far the hardest part of the test. Scoring in the 95th percentile of verbal is very difficult. When you get in the 700 range, the CAT mechanism of the GRE begins throwing you complex reading comprehension questions, sometimes 7-8 in a row. The strategy is simply to turn your brain to goo. The diff. btwn a correct and incorrect answer is often so ludicrously small that it becomes almost subjective. The vocab is extremely high and of course, mostly useless.

    The whole test is a miserable joke that does a poor job of assessing actual ability at the graduate level.

  • Yale ’08

    The GREs are awful, pathetic tests. It’s absurd and humiliating that graduate students still need to take these antiquated and moronic tests. OK, I understand the need to cull an applicant pool filled with tens of thousands of undergrads who have little to show in their lives except potential (thus far). But to assess graduate students in the same way is ridiculous. What PhD writes a research paper in 30-45 minutes based on an extremely selective (and often asinine) question?! What PhD uses the selective and obscure vocab. selected for the GRE instead of the technical jargon of their chosen field?

    Is this country still that obsessed with robotic and brainless thinking to have to subject its talented graduate applicants to this nightmare testing process?

  • YDS Standing Against the GRE’s

    Just for the record: some academic entities do rebel.

    After I graduated from YDS (1980) there was a debate among faculty about whther or not to require the GRE for admisssion.

    To their everlasting credit and honor, the Divinity faculty agreed that ONE major divinity school had to STAND AGAINST the trend of evaluating human beings on the basis of test scores, and they decided NOT to require the GRE for admission.

    That principled stand may since have been reversed with the increasing trend toward valoriziing conservative theology
    evident in recent years at YDS.

    But there was a shining moment in its history, when the country’s oldest and most distinguished divinity school rejected the notion of requiring the GRE’s as screening process in evaluating human beings.


  • to #9 and #10

    Obviously a verbal score at the 95th percentile is difficult, but that is by definition of what percentiles are. It sounds like #4 may not be cut out for the quantitative section.

    But on the other hand Yale students are supposed to be an incredibly selected group. How can anyone here not reach the 95th percentile? Shouldn’t we all be in the 99th? The math section is trivial, and while #10 complains that the verbal section requires “selective and obscure” vocabulary, how could we possibly lack that literacy level after three or four years at this or a comparable institution?

    To #10, you may not expect to write a coherent research paper in 45 minutes, but preparing the closing comments to a conference panel is exactly that. Except that you probably have four different sources to draw together, at least one of which is incoherent or unrelated to the others. Plus you have to be diplomatic. Plus you may have only ten minutes while simultaneously moderating question time. Compared with that, the GRE is a breeze. That is why it identifies people who think badly, but does not identify people who think well.

  • Shaun

    I’m not a Yale student and I never will be (after a month at Harvard, I chose to go to Purdue instead). I scored in the 95th percentile and I’m now a trained Psychologist. Just to set the record straight, the GRE verbal test has historically correlated with general intelligence better than most standardized exams. And, nothing has ever predicted job performance (or any kind of academic/job-related performance for that matter) better than general intelligence. Therefore, whether we like it or not, the GRE does a pretty darn good job at what it seeks to accomplish. It’s not easy to write those exams.

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