April 10, 2007

ETS cancels revisions to GRE exam

Educational Testing Service (ETS) announced last week that it has canceled its plans to revise the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), the standardized test used in admissions decisions by most American graduate schools. The new GRE was scheduled to launch in September 2007 with extensive revisions, including new test content, a new scoring system, an Internet-based test format, and an increase in the test’s length by an hour and a half, according to ETS’s website.

ETS said it made the decision since it could not guarantee every student who needs to take the GRE access to the exam in its proposed new format, according to a press release. David Payne, executive director of the GRE Program at ETS, said the changes would have made the test less convenient and flexible for students, which outweighed the benefits of the new test’s content changes. He added that the current exam is still a valid way of determining a student’s preparedness for graduate school study, and that the graduate community is satisfied with it.

“The decision to cancel the revised GRE General Test best serves the interests of test takers and the graduate institutions that use those scores to make admissions decisions,” Payne said in the press release.

According to Deborah Neibel, the assistant director for Undergraduate Preparation at the U of C Career Advising and Planning Services office, students will still be able to plan and prepare for the GRE exam because the cancellation was made far enough in advance.

Susan Kaplan, director of graduate programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, said in an e-mail interview that the change in plans will not have much of an impact on the roughly 500,000 students that take the test each year because students have not yet started studying for the revised exam. She advised students who had already begun to prepare for the new GRE to stick with their timelines to take the test.

“Given the potential impact on test takers, it’s better that ETS recognized the issues and made this decision now instead of after the first tests were administered this September,” Kaplan said.

ETS felt it could not guarantee complete student access to the exam because it was going to limit the number of test administrations from almost every day of the year to only 35 days a year, according to Kaplan. The move to limit test dates was meant to address concerns with students who were memorizing and posting GRE test questions online. Kaplan said she hopes ETS will solve the problem with students’ best interests in mind as it continues to search for a test format that will deter cheating.

Two of the largest test preparation companies, Kaplan and the Princeton Review, both reacted positively to the cancellation, saying that it is beneficial to students who plan on applying to graduate school for fall 2008 and beyond. Kaplan said Kaplan Test Prep had been advising prepared students to take the GRE before the changes were implemented. “The cancellation is generally good news for students, as they were facing a longer, likely more expensive, and more challenging test, with harder question types and fewer scheduling options for taking the test,” Kaplan said.

John Katzman, CEO and chairman of the Princeton Review, was more vocal about the cancellation. “Finally, a test so bad that even ETS pulled the plug,” he said in a press release. Katzman told The Chronicle of Higher Education that the test change “would have been a debacle.” He added, “The new test would have failed on several levels: first on security, and second on complexity.”