Yalies taking the Graduate Record Examination this coming October can expect a lengthier, more uniform exam than the one encountered by students in past years.
Educational Testing Services plans to make major changes to the current format of the GRE, which had not been significantly modified since its creation 55 years ago. While some students and test-prep representatives said they are disappointed with the changes — which include lengthening the test from two-and-a-half to four hours and placing greater emphasis on analytical writing — others said it is yet to be seen whether the changes, which were announced last fall, will have any major impact on graduate school applicants.
Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said it will likely be two to four years before graduate programs fully adjust their standards to fit the new exam.
“The GRE is used by different departments in different ways,” Butler said. “Many departments find it more or less useful in predicting success in graduate school.”
According to the ETS Web site, the changes will better gauge students’ preparation for graduate school by measuring general academic skills with more precision than in the past. A single 30-minute verbal section will be changed to two 40-minute sections. Sections on analogies and antonyms will be removed, while new sentence equivalence questions will be introduced and critical reading sections will be expanded. Quantitative reasoning — lengthened from one 45-minute section to two 40-minute sections — will include less geometry and more data interpretation and word problems. The test will be graded on a scale of 120-179, as opposed to the current 200-800 scale.
Some students said they are not concerned that the new exam format will be overwhelming, despite the increase in its length.
“Four hours is a long time, but I understand the logic behind it,” said Mitchell Vainshtein ’09, who said he plans on taking the GRE before applying to graduate school within the next three years. “Standardized tests are standardized tests. You have to take them as they come.”
But Sam Penziner ’07, who is also planning to attend graduate school, said he thinks the longer exam will measure test-taking stamina rather than skill.
“Making the test longer emphasizes factors like endurance and stress that affect performance,” Penziner said.
While ETS has said the new changes were prompted by a desire to better serve graduate schools looking for high-achieving applicants, some experts in the test-prep industry said they are suspicious of the testing service’s motivations.
Liz Wands, national marketing director at The Princeton Review, said the company has been monitoring GRE changes since ETS first announced plans to alter the test more than a year ago. She said she thinks ETS may be trying to increase their revenues with the new format.
“We believe that ETS only makes changes when their pocketbook is affected,” Wands said.
ETS representatives could not be reached for comment this weekend.
Wands said that since the current format of the test, which varies the difficulty of each question based on the student’s response to previous prompts, is expensive and difficult to administer, the new exam will cut costs by administering the same questions to everyone in the same order. The new exam is expected to be offered less often and will cost more for students that in the past.
In response to the recent changes, Princeton Review will offer a new GRE prep course this summer, but Wands said students should not be scared of the new exam.
“It’s not going to be a more difficult test,” she said. “It’s just testing different skills.”
ETS, which recently lost its contract for the Graduate Management Admissions Test to competitor Pearson Vue, has faced several lawsuits since 2000, ranging from accusations of biased test policies to the delivery of erroneous test scores.
The new version of the GRE will be offered at 30 different times during the year.