Rush To Computerize GMAT Hurts Students

University Testing

Administering the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) by computer was supposed to expedite the examination process, but thousands of business school applicants have run into major problems dealing with the new technology. As of last fall, the GMAT is no longer available in a pencil-and-paper format.

Apparently because too few testing sites existed, long waiting lists of students who wished to ta the test developed in cities such as New York. Delays were even greater overseas. Registration as fa as four months in advance was required in parts of Europe and Asia.

Some test takers encountered computer programming flaws which resulted in a "fatal error" alarm appearing on their screens when they completed sections of the GMAT. Even if scores have been correctly reported, the warning is certain to increase test anxiety.

This problem received major media attention when the entire national computerized GMAT system "crashed" in mid-December, leaving 1,300 anxious business school applicants facing blank screens. Questions about the security of test items which are repeatedly re-used were also raised in New York Times expose.

The only sure winner from the shift to computer adaptive exams is the company that administers them. Sylvan Learning Systems, which has the exclusive contract for the computerized GMAT, as well as for ETS' Graduate Record Exam, Praxis Series teacher licensing tests, and NCLEX exam for nurses, reported that third quarter 1997 revenues increased by 41% from the previous year and that year-to-date profits nearly doubled to $17.7 million. ETS has a small equity share in Sylvan, an investment which has been challenged as an anti-trust violation by the American College Testing Program which makes the ACT.

Given the less than arms-length nature of the relationship, it was not surprising that ETS reacte to the test administration problems by extending its agreement with Sylvan for six more years throug 2005. ETS Executive Vice President Ernest Anastasio even praised Sylvan for being "responsive and dependable."

Anastasio had previously admitted that market considerations were a major reason for substituting computer based exams for traditional pencil-and-paper tests and that the transition had created administrative problems (see Examiner, Spring 1997). Independent researchers have also raised concerns about the exams' fairness and accuracy (see Examiner, Summer 1997).

* For a fact sheet see, Computerized Testing: More Questions Than Answers.