PHILADELPHIA – Graduate school applicants will soon face a new hurdle in their bids for admission: a longer and revamped GRE that test administrators say more accurately assesses the skills needed to earn advanced degrees.
The revised Graduate Record Examination will be given at test sites across the country beginning Monday. Taken by about 675,000 people last year, the GRE general test is used for admission to U.S. graduate schools and, increasingly, business schools as well.
The latest version includes new types of questions in the verbal and math sections in addition to a different scoring system — collectively, the biggest changes to the test in 60 years, officials said.
"We really wanted the test to better reflect the kinds of thinking that students do in business and graduate school," said Dawn Piacentino, a spokeswoman for Education Testing Services, which developed and administers the exam.
The changes come following a 57 percent boom in fall enrollment in graduate, medical and law schools — from 1.7 million in 1988 to 2.7 million in 2008, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The new GRE stresses real-life scenarios, reading comprehension and data interpretation, Piacentino said. The writing portion will remain largely the same, but changes in the rest of the computerized test include:
— Eliminating the verbal section on antonyms and analogies, which officials felt presented words out of context.
— A longer testing period, at nearly four hours instead of three
— More flexibility to skip questions and return to them later
— A new set of math questions that requires numerical entries instead of picking from multiple choice.
— Use of an on-screen calculator
— And a new scoring system for verbal and math results, now given on a scale of 130 to 170, instead of 200 to 800.
Officials say the new range will allow for more accurate score comparisons. A 10- or 20-point difference under the old system, which might look deceptively big, becomes only a one- or two-point difference in the new system.
Lee Weiss, director of graduate programs for Kaplan Test Prep, described the exam as "essentially changing in every way possible." He stressed the need for mental stamina and cautioned students against using the new calculator as a crutch, saying "the GRE is a reasoning test, not a calculating test."
"In many ways, this is a more challenging exam," Weiss said. "There's obviously some nervousness."
Northeastern University law school student Deena Sharuk, who is looking into the GRE to apply to doctoral programs, said she first heard of the new test when she went to buy study materials and saw books labeled "Revised GRE."
Though she hasn't yet registered for the exam, Sharuk said she's worried that early test-takers will be like "a group of guinea pigs." She's also disappointed with the loss of the antonyms and analogies section and is anxious about how the newly scaled results will be translated.
"Maybe a 160 is good, maybe a 150 is good — there's no real way to understand it," said Sharuk, 25, of Boston.
The revised scale will take some getting used to by admissions committees, too, said Ralph Rosen, associate dean for graduate education at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Arts & Sciences.
He predicted "some initial shock" in dealing with the new scores but plans to hold meetings on the topic after school starts in the fall.
"The faculty will catch on pretty quickly how to read them and how to interpret them," Rosen said.
Piacentino noted the scoring change will delay the official results of Monday's test until mid-November. After that, results will be available after the usual wait of about two weeks, she said.
And, understanding the trepidation of potential test-takers like Sharuk, ETS is offering 50 percent off GRE fees — $80 instead of the normal $160 — for exams taken between Monday and Sept. 30.
ETS, based in Princeton, N.J., administers the GRE at more than 700 test centers in 160 countries.
Kathy Matheson can be reached at www.twitter.com/kmatheson