Changes to GRE set to take effect in August

Educational Testing Service has developed a new format for the Graduate Record Examination General Test that will place an emphasized focus on testing students' higher reasoning skills.

The restructured GRE, which launches on August 1, will be a computerized multi-stage test lasting three hours and 45 minutes.

"These are the biggest changes in the history of the GRE. Basically every aspect of the test is changing in some way," said Lee Weiss, director of graduate programs at Kaplan Test Prep. "Graduate programs have had some concerns about the current GRE. They wanted some different question types in there to make the test more like what students are actually studying in graduate school."

Each test section has undergone revisions that ETS hopes will better assess the skills they deem necessary for graduate students to possess. According to Weiss, the revamped verbal reasoning section will no longer feature out-of-context vocabulary questions and will focus more heavily on higher cognitive skills. The quantitative reasoning section will have a renewed emphasis on applying mathematical concepts to real-life scenarios. The analytical writing section will not change dramatically, but will ask students to write more focused responses to questions.

ETS has also restructured the format of the test. During each section of the test, students will be given sets of questions of varying difficulty. Based on students' performances in these initial sections, the questions will either become more complex to give students the opportunity to earn a higher grade by demonstrating mastery of difficult material or decrease in difficulty to better assess the student's competency of more basic concepts. The test will continually readjust to provide questions that best distinguish the skills of the test taker.

According to Weiss, ETS will also be implementing a new scoring scale that will measure the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections on a 130-170 score scale as opposed to the current 200 to 800 scale.

"The scaled scores don't match up very well with the percentile scores right now," he said. "At least at launch, ETS tells us that the new scoring scale will match scaled scores with percentile scores."

Although the new GRE is set to launch in August, Weiss said he encourages students planning to apply to graduate school in fall 2011 to take the current test. Scores for tests taken in August and September will not be reported until early November. Score reporting will return to the regular reporting period of 10-15 days after the test date in December.

Kerrie Bondi, a career counselor in Geneseo's Career Services Office, said the changes are a step in the right direction, but that no test can ever be perfect.

"I think the new changes will benefit students, but … I don't necessarily believe that standardized tests should be the only indicator [of success]," she said. "I think there's so much more that should go into accepting a student to graduate school."