GMAT To Fully Computerize

University Testing

The last pencil-and-paper administration of the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) will take place this June, if the test's sponsor, the Graduate Management Admissions Council, and its administrator, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), have their way. Beginning in October, 1997, the test will be available only in a computer-adaptive version.


The sudden changeover to the new format has caught many students by surprise and violates the intent of a New York State law passed last year in the wake of the partial conversion of the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) to computer administration. That new statute (see Examiner, Fall 1996) requires test-makers to give students the option of taking exams in pencil-and-paper format. However, its provisions do not explicitly include the GMAT because computerization of that exam was not anticipated.


Though many examinees prefer computer-adaptive tests because they can take them at their convenience in private cubicles instead of at mass Saturday administrations and can receive their scores immediately, others have raised concerns about the huge difference in test-taking strategies required to do well. For example, students cannot leave any items blank on a computer-adaptive test, since subsequent questions are customized based on each individual's response pattern, nor can they go back to review a previously selected answer.


Some experts are also concerned that the change in format will increase the GMAT test score gender gap as well as differences between whites and other ethnic groups (see accompanying box). Of course, test-makers claim the predictive validity of the GMAT will not be significantly affected by the totally different manner of administration.


Test-makers have been surprised at how many students continue to sign up for the pencil-and-paper GRE. At the same time, disclosures by the test preparation company Kaplan Educational Services concerning how easy it was to memorize a substantial proportion of the computer-adaptive GRE, due to the small size of its item pool, and pass that information on to future test-takers (see Examiner, Winter 1994-95 and Winter 1996-97), have slowed down expansion of the new testing technology.


A copy of the employee newsletter ETS Access obtained by FairTest reveals the company's concerns about market acceptance of computer based tests (CBTs) as well as its true motivation for pressing the new technology. Reporting a briefing by ETS Executive Vice President Ernest Anastasio, the staff newsletter notes, "There have been problems in implementing CBT, Anastasio acknowledged, including the attacks by Kaplan and the resistance to change on the part of institutions and students."


"Though our primary score users -- admissions and placement officers -- are not banging on our door for computer-based tests and the market has been somewhat apathetic, moving now to CBT makes sense," Anastasio is quoted as saying. "If we do not take steps to change now, we are certain to face decline."


To make sure his audience understood what was at stake, Anastasio explicitly described the marketplace facing ETS. "ACT is working on CBT," he continued. "The Law School Admissions Council is exploring it, and the competition is significant for the Chauncey Group" (ETS' for-profit subsidiary -- see Examiner, Spring 1996). The ETS newsletter also warns, "Companies such as Netscape, Microsoft and the Psychological Corporation are talking about competing test center networks and a number of testing agencies are developing CBTs."


Unconvinced that propping up ETS' revenues is a sufficient reason to force students to accept a controversial testing format, several New York legislators are contemplating hearings and amendments to the new law to require the GMAT and all other exams to continue offering a pencil-and-paper alternative. Meanwhile, several coaching companies are using the planned format change to encourage students to enroll in their courses and take the final scheduled non-computer administration, noting that scores remain valid for five years.


* for a fact sheet, Computerized Testing: More Questions Than Answers, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to FairTest.


 GMAT Average Scores 1994-95
 All Test-takers  503
 White (non Hispanic)  523
 Black/African American  411
 Asian/Asian American  512
 Mexican American/Chicano  466
 Puerto Rican  426
 Other Hispanic  467
 American Indian/Alaskan Native  481
 Other  492
 All Males  516
 All Females  482

source: Graduate Management Admission Test: Five-Year Summary, Graduate Management Admission Council 1996