Another GMAT Scoring Snafu

University Testing

Only months after the embarrassment of admitting that nearly one thousand Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores were erroneous (see Examiner, Summer 2001) and belatedly correcting them, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) is facing yet another problem with its computer adaptive exam. In late summer and early fall, at least 2,100 GMAT test-takers saw a “fatal error” warning pop up on their monitors at the conclusion of the exam when they asked for their scores to be reported.


Many students who reported the error message say they received substantially lower scores than on practice tests they had previously taken, including ETS’ own PowerPrep coaching software. Several told FairTest they are considering altering their admissions plans and applying to less competitive business schools because of their poorer GMAT results. So far, ETS is refusing to cancel scores or to offer free retests.


A similar problem had occurred in 1998 when more than 400 students taking the GMAT received “fatal error” messages after they completed the test. At that time, ETS explained that the flaw was in a new version of software that had just been installed on its global computer network and pledged that it had been fixed. No refunds or free test retakes were offered, though a few students say that ETS relented after threats of lawsuits.


The recurrence of the “fatal error” message is more evidence that ETS rushed computer adaptive testing to the market before it was technically ready (see Examiner, Spring 1997). Even if scores were reported correctly, many test-takers were psychologically traumatized by the experience. Not surprisingly, ETS will benefit financially from the situation when more business school applicants retake the test because the error warning made them believe their scores might not be accurate.