New computerized test may be tougher

by Amy Semet | 11/24/93 6:00am

The Graduate Records Examination will be computerized by 1996 or 1997 despite concerns about test security and gender and racial bias, the Educational Testing Service announced.

ETS, which administers the GRE, the Scholastic Achievement Test and the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, said it will phase in the computerized version slowly, making it optional over the next few years.

The GRE is required for admission to graduate schools and tests verbal and mathematical skills. Each year, between 100 and 250 seniors at Dartmouth take the GRE, and more than 400,000 people across the nation take the test.

Using the computerized method, all students will begin with a question of medium difficulty. If the student answers correctly, the computer will assign a harder question. If the student answers incorrectly, an easier question appears on the screen.

Each question's value depends on its degree of difficulty.

Currently, the GREs are administered like the SATs. Students are given a booklet of questions and fill in ovals corresponding to their chosen answers.

Currently the test is offered five times a year, but the computerized version would be offered more than 150 times a year. Students would also be able to find out their score instantaneously.

"The new GRE represents the wave of the future. The convenience of the test and the ability to find out one's score immediately would relieve the waiting and anxiety," Associate Director of Career Services Susan Wright said. "If students receive a score and do not like it, they are not obliged to send it to the college they are applying to."

But the Princeton Review, a national test preparatory company, claims the new computerized system has a number of inherent faults.

A statement from the Princeton Review argues that the GRE violates the truth in testing law, a New York State law which stipulates that students be allowed to review their performance on tests.

The computerized version of the GRE does not allow release of scored tests, so students will not be able to challenge ETS on the validity of an answer or the accuracy of a score.

"The ETS is currently working on a test disclosure system, which we hope to have in place by 1996-1997, when the computerized version becomes mandatory," said Kevin Gonzales, an ETS spokesman.

While students can currently purchase a test booklet of actual GREs to prepare for the test, there would be no equivalent computer program that would offer practice tests under the new system.

The Princeton Review statement also noted the possible glitches in test security.

If a large number of students took the exam on a given day, they would collectively have seen a large percentage of the total questions used on the test. If the group discusses those questions with friends, the friends would have an advantage in taking the test.

And Brett Gordon, Princeton Review's director of graduate programs, said a computerized test will heighten racial, gender and socio-economic biases, which raises doubts about the validity of the test.

The increased cost of the computerized version will give some students an unfair advantage over those with less money, Gordon said. The computerized test will cost $93, compared with the $48 for the current pencil and paper version.

"Richer students would be able to take the test more often, and because of the limited number of test questions, a student could receive the same questions on different dates," Gordon said.

Since students can currently take the computerized test only once, Gonzales said the ETS has not come up with a long-term strategy to deal with potential security problems.

Also, test-takers who are familiar with computers may feel more comfortable taking the GRE than those who do not have computer experience.

The computer version features an untimed tutorial session to teach students how to use the computer."Using the computerized GRE will only create greater racial and gender bias than what already exists on standardized tests," Gordon said.

But in field tests done by the ETS on women and minority students with little or no experience with computers, students' scores differed little from what they had received on the pencil and paper version of the test.

"Over half of the women and minority students preferred taking the computerized tests, and the other half had no preference," Gonzalez said.

But Gordon said the Princeton Review is so opposed to the computerized test that it may take ETS to court.

"The Princeton Review feels that the new GRE is a terrible injustice," Gordon said. "We are willing to fight with the ETS about the legality of such a test by going to federal court in order to publish the list of vocabulary words, which have appeared on the computerized version of the GRE."