GRE will include writing assessment

by Sabrina Peric | 3/27/02 6:00am

The Graduate Record Examinations services announced this week that they would be radically altering the existing format of the GRE test by replacing the analytical section with a writing assessment this October.

The change comes in the wake of a more general call to make standardized testing less focused on multiple-choice questions -- especially with the recent demands that the SAT I include a writing section.

"We were really excited about the opportunity to allow students to express their analytical thinking in their own words ... rather than relying solely on multiple-choice questions," said Thomas Rochon, executive director of the GRE Program.

Rochon said that the recent turn away from multiple-choice testing was an effort to develop a fair way of evaluating incoming students. "The fairest way ... is to have the most diverse assessment," he said.

The new Analytical Writing Assessment section of the test will consist of two writing tasks. In the first, test-takers will have 45 minutes to write an opinion piece on an issue of general interest and give a supporting argument for their opinion.

The student may address the issue from any perspective they wish, as long as relevant reasoning and examples are provided.

The second part of the Writing Assessment is a piece of analysis. Test takers must discuss an argument they are given and explain how convincing they find the argument's line of reasoning and give evidence to support their claim.

As of October 2002, the new writing section will be implemented so that the test "has people doing a task much more similar to something they'll be doing in grad school," according to the Educational Testing Service, the organization that writes the GRE.

The Writing Assessment differs in two critical ways from the verbal section of the test. Not only is the verbal section in multiple-choice format, but it primarily tests only reading comprehension and analogous-reasoning skills.

According to GRE Services, the changes are being made in order to "help admissions committees assess higher-level critical thinking and analytical writing skills of applicants" and to "provide a performance assessment that measures a test taker's ability to make and critique arguments."

The new format of the GRE has generated much controversy because it may adversely affect "engineers, hard science majors, non-traditional students and non-native English speakers, who may not write as frequently as other majors," Kaplan Burlington Test Center Director Kristin Murner told The Dartmouth.

"I suspect that this test may cause some problems, but I think that students just have to realize that this is something they will have to do in graduate school, and that it is not at all unreasonable," said David Redman, associate dean for academic affairs at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Princeton.

Rochon asserted that the new section is different from previous GRE requirements because the emphasis will not be on the technical qualities of the piece, "but rather of the critical thinking of the essay."

"We believe that people who have historically had a problem with the multiple-choice questions will for the first time have a real chance to show their abilities through the new test," Rochon said. Each of the essays submitted by the test takers for the GRE will be read by two college faculty members trained specifically by GRE to examine the Writing Assessment. GRE is working on developing a national network of trained readers.

The new test "is a big logistical undertaking," Rochon said, "in terms of transmitting the essays on the Internet and getting back scores and still reporting our score in 10 to 15 days after the test was taken."

GRE is also in the process of setting up a system whereby students may file a complaint about the scores they receive on the Writing Assessment. For an as-yet-undetermined fee, a student may have his test rescored by two independent readers. If a discrepancy is detected and a score needs to be adjusted, GRE will refund the fee. The price of the test will rise slightly to accommodate the new required infrastructure. The new price will be $115 in the United States, up $10 from the previous charge.

Because GRE scores are valid for five years, admissions officers at all colleges will be comparing two quite different GRE tests for a while. "We will just accept [the two different tests] and look at them and try to make reasonable judgements," Redman said.

Redman also emphasized that the GRE has become a less important factor in graduate admissions over the last five or 10 years, "and so it really doesn't loom as large as it used to." Currently, there is one 30-minute verbal section, a 45-minute math section and a 60-minute analytical section comprised of logic puzzles and arguments on the GRE. The entire test is multiple-choice.

The verbal and math sections of the test will remain unchanged.

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