And Then There Were None

Andrew Wickerham

Colgate students readying their graduate school applications are breathing a little easier this week. Their collective relief comes after the Educational Testing Service’s (ETS) announcement that the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) General Test will not include previously scheduled changes during the 2007-2008 academic year.

“It was a complete surprise that this happened,” Associate Director of the Center for Career Services Ann Landstrom said.

The GRE, one of the principal entrance examinations for American graduate schools, was slated to undergo the largest set of changes in its 55-year history until ETS’s April 2 announcement. A change in the number of test dates – from an open, year-round schedule to 30 set administrations per year – was part of the Internet-based design of the new test and was cited as the principle reason for ETS’s decision. The new exam was to be phased in with the beginning of the new academic year in September.

According to ETS, GRE officials made the decision because they believed problems guaranteeing complete access to the new Internet-based test outweighed the benefits of immediately moving to the new format.

The current GRE contains one verbal reasoning section, one quantitative reasoning section and one analytical writing section comprised of two essay prompts. The exam takes approximately two hours to complete. The revised GRE was to be twice as long and would have focused on higher, more complicated reasoning and analytical skills.

The change comes after nearly two years of programming changes at colleges and in the test-prep industry in anticipation of the new exam.

“We feel that this is generally good news for students, as the test was going to be longer and more challenging,” Jung Lee, GRE Program Manager for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, said.

Lee said that Kaplan, an industry leader in exam preparation, had developed an entirely new course and set of GRE materials in advance of the switch, a body of work that will be set aside, at least for the time being.

“For now, since the test is staying the same, the course will stay the same, though we constantly are improving the courses,” Lee said. “ETS has made it clear that there won’t be any changes for the 2007-2008 cycle but they have left the door open for future changes.”

Both Landstrom and Lee stressed the possibility of future changes in the exam, despite the current decision to keep the test as is.

According to Lee, ETS spent approximately $12 million on the venture, and it is unlikely that such a vast body of work will be tossed out.

ETS publicly announced its decision with a media release, but the reversion attracted minimal media attention. Landstrom said that Career Services informed Colgate the community on April 12 with an e-mail sent to all students connected to graduate school advising programs.

While Kaplan and ETS may face financial losses because of the decision to continue with the same test, Landstrom explained that Career Services was relatively unaffected by the announcement. Much of the office’s efforts at making the switch came during advising sessions, not with actual test preparation materials.

“I don’t feel as if I’ve wasted any time or effort,” she said.

Landstrom added that some students have already expressed their pleasure over the news.

“I’ve had a few students e-mail to say how happy they are,” she said. “I think some were nervous about the change from the computer-adaptive format.”

The new GRE would have seen all students take the same exam, rather than a dynamic test tailored to individual student responses.

In light of the changes, or lack thereof, both Landstrom and Lee said that they are now free from the burden of deciding which exam format to write, and should continue their test prep unchanged.

“There’s no reason to delay or rush to take the exam,” Lee said.