The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Friday, June 29, 2001


Admission Exam for Graduate Schools Will Add a Writing Component




The Educational Testing Service on Wednesday announced changes in the format of the Graduate Record Examinations General Test for the first time in 20 years. As of October 1, one section of the standardized multiple-choice test will be replaced with a writing section. The G.R.E. will then consist of verbal, quantitative, and analytical-writing portions. The writing section will replace the current analytical section of the test, in which test-takers are asked to solve verbal logic problems.


The writing samples are meant to measure test-takers' abilities to argue logically, a skill that the rest of the test does not measure, said Tom Rochon, executive director of the Graduate Record Examinations Board, which oversees the test.


"We think that making an argument and breaking an argument are the foundation skills of a graduate student, no matter what the discipline," he said. The writing section "has people doing a task much more similar to something they'll be doing in grad school than clicking in an answer on a multiple-choice test."


Applicants to master's and doctoral programs in the arts, humanities, sciences, and engineering take the G.R.E.


The writing assessment comprises two essays: one in which the test-taker has to argue a position on an issue, and one in which she or he has to criticize an argument and its supporting evidence. The G.R.E. board made the decision to swap the writing assessment for the analytical section at a meeting this month, but officials had been discussing the change since January.


"The data we've been getting back tells us [that the writing sample] is a terrific measure of people's abilities," Mr. Rochon said. In addition, studies found that test-takers had a hard time finishing the analytical section of the test, and that it did not measure much that the verbal and quantitative parts of the test had not already covered.


However, for some the new format will not be such a welcome change. "After years of insisting that multiple choice is the only efficient way to assess, they're scrambling to catch up with the real world, which recognizes that actual work is more important," said Robert Schaeffer, the public-education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a group, commonly known as FairTest, that advocates the reform of standardized testing. "It's kind of like old Coke and New Coke: It's the same stuff and neither is good for you."


In Mr. Schaeffer's eyes, the addition of the essay section is simply the result of the Educational Testing Service's caving in to pressure from graduate-school admissions officers, who wanted to see less multiple choice on the test. "This is obviously their marketing response to frustration with the poor value of their product," he said.



Copyright 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education