The Revised GRE for B-School Aspirants, Part II: Redefined Navigation

by on April 9th, 2010

Guest Author Bob Verini is a 30-year Kaplan veteran teacher, trainer, and curriculum developer

Those considering the GMAT vs. GRE decision (in preparing for the business school application process) will be extremely interested to note that beginning in 2011, GRE examinees will have the ability to move forward and backward within a section, and even to change answers that they’ve already submitted. As you’re probably aware, both GRE and GMAT permit an examinee only to move forward. Up to now, adaptivity – the algorithm’s power to raise or lower the difficulty level of each successive question based on the student’s previous result – has required that no one be able to return to previously-answered questions.

The GRE is retaining its computer adaptive nature. But in ways that could interest only the most committed psychometrician, it has evidently become sophisticated enough to allow examinees to flag questions, and to move past or come back to the flagged material, while still maintaining the integrity of the adaptive scoring.

The impact of the change should be clear, and is huge. It enhances examinee control. It reduces pressure on high- and low-scorers alike. In essence, it merges the best feature of the traditional pencil-and-paper exam – the freedom to invest time where the examinee sees fit – with all the high-tech characteristics of the computer format.

Are there downsides to all this freedom? Potentially, sure. Just as on a pencil-and-paper test, an examinee may find himself wasting time in worry about whether he should go back to a problem or re-do it from scratch. A lot of second-guessing is likely to go on. In many cases, answers revisited will mean right answers changed to wrong ones. In other words, there’s something comforting and direct about the GMAT’s (and current GRE’s) demand that you hunker down on a problem till you’re happy with it, remove it from your consciousness, and recoup down the road should you have gotten it wrong. All of that, for many test takers, may yet trump the new GRE’s permission to work ahead and come back.

Will GMAT respond in kind? Too early to say. Presumably whatever changes to the algorithm and test design the GRE folks have come up with are available to the GMAT team as well. So it may be a matter of marketing and politics as to whether the GMAT goes the same route. One thing you can be sure of: Changing a test this radically is harder than a trucker’s executing a three-point-turn in a narrow alley. If GMAT elects to go this route, we’ll hear about it far in advance.

Next time I’ll begin considering the new GRE’s content changes, and how they promise to stack up to the GMAT.

Read Part I: The Revised GRE for B-School Aspirants, Part I: The Scoring Scale

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