Long Overdue Changes Coming to GRE

by Amanda Holt
Opinion Editor

The proctor doesn’t believe me when I tell him my back pockets are fake. I am forced to turn my backside toward him and feel myself up to prove it. He confiscates my pencils, my tissues, my jacket, and looks back and forth from my ID to my face for a full minute. Am I about to go to jail? No. I’m about to take the Graduate Record Exam.

Many graduate school-bound college seniors have also faced, or will in the near future, the four-hour beast of a standardized test that is the GRE. The GRE, as it stands now, consists of two analytical writing sections, a verbal section and a quantitative section. These sections and the test as a whole encase countless problems that make the current test a poor predictor of success in graduate study.

Unluckily for those of us who had to suffer through the test this year and in past years, the Educational Testing Service, which produces the GRE, will finally make changes in August 2011 that it should have made years ago.

One of the GRE’s biggest structural flaws became apparent the moment I accidently hit a button changing my correct answer to an incorrect one right before hitting the “confirm” button. Presently, you cannot go back to check and change answers on the GRE, even if you realize you have made a mistake. This is one of the changes ETS has made for the new GRE, a change that seems so intuitive given the proneness to make mistakes when using technology that it should have happened long before now. Such a change will make the test a better reflection of a student’s actual ability by allowing him or her to catch and correct wrong answers.

Another necessary change to the GRE will occur in the content of each section, particularly the verbal and quantitative sections.

If you have already taken the GRE, chances are you frequently thought during the verbal section, “I can use that word correctly in a sentence, I just don’t know the dictionary definition!” when faced with the antonym and analogy subsections. Both of these subsections often require you to know exact dictionary definitions, as they frequently use nuances in the definitions to come up with answers. This is not the way humans learn language. We learn words in context — in sentences, as part of a whole that conveys meaning.

ETS has finally realized this and will nix both of these sections in favor of more reading comprehension and sentence completion questions, which more accurately assess one’s reasoning and comprehension ability.

Finally, the quantitative, or math, section will undergo some of the biggest changes. Currently, the quantitative section is geometry-heavy and rarely, if ever, questions test-takers about statistics. If you’re going into engineering, such a structure might be fine, but if you’re going into the social sciences or a research field, chances are the math section hangs you out to dry by completely leaving out a type of math that you have practiced and will use in your graduate study.

What most every graduate student will have to do, as far as math goes, is interpret data, and that’s exactly the change ETS plans to make in 2011 — more data-interpretation questions.

Additionally, ETS will now provide an on-screen calculator. This long-needed change will allow test-takers to more fully express their knowledge of mathematical concepts without the burden of having to complete long computations on paper under time constraints.

These and several other changes will dramatically improve the GRE’s credibility as a reflector of a student’s ability. The jury is still out, however, on whether the GRE will ever be a “good” predictor of success in graduate school.

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