Not Ready For "Prime Time" -- New GRE Postponed

University Testing
Problems with a new, global computer network have forced the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to delay introduction of its overhauled Graduate Record Exam (GRE) by a full year until fall 2007. ETS ran into difficulty implementing its world-wide Internet-based Testing platform, when it was first used to administer the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) at the beginning of 2006. Many students had trouble registering for TOEFL, and there were widespread reports of bottlenecks at overseas test centers.


The revised GRE General Test reflects an ETS pullback from computer adaptive testing, a controversial technology through which exams were "customized" for individual test-takers based on their answer patterns.


An internal ETS newsletter obtained by FairTest revealed that the firm had rushed computerized versions of the GRE and Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) into the marketplace before they were technically ready for widespread use, in an effort to preempt potential competitors (see Examiner, Spring 1997 link). As a result, many test-takers were forced to cope with disruptions such as "the black screen of death" in which large portions of the first global testing network crashed simultaneously (see Examiner, Winter 1997-98). Scores were miscalculated and misreported due to flaws in ETS' scoring system (see Examiner, Spring 1999, Fall 1999, and Fall 2000). Concerns were also raised about the security of exam items that were repeatedly reused despite the fact that some test-takers memorized questions and circulated them on the internet.


Everyone taking the new GRE on the same day will face the same questions, though different versions of the exam are supposed to be administered on each of 29 testing dates during the year. About 500,000 students take the exam annually. To fund development and administration of the new test and its delivery platform, ETS raised the registration fee to $135 in the U.S., $175 in China, Korea and Japan, and $160 in other nations.


Though there still will be three test sections, the new GRE will take more than four hours to complete, an hour and a half longer than the current exam. Verbal Reasoning will feature more and longer reading questions, with less emphasis on vocabulary. Additional Quantitative Reasoning questions will focus on interpreting tables and other data displays. Analytical Writing will include two 30-minute essays.


Results from the GRE's revised Verbal and Quantitative sections will be reported on a scale of 110 to 150, rather than the traditional 200 to 800 scale. This change is likely to confuse both students and admissions officers. The year-long implementation delay does give grad school applicants more time to prepare for the new exams and will allow manufacturers of GRE coaching tools, including ETS, to develop and market revised test preparation products.