Why is the GRE changing?: the influence of the marketplace on education

Davis: Hey, everybody! Welcome back. This is GRE Bites. I’m Davis, an educator with over 10 years of experience.

Orion: And I’m Orion, the founder of StellarGRE.

Davis: We’re here to bring you your weekly bite-sized episode on GRE prep and grad school admissions. Check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at stellargre.com. You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships. Let’s get to it.

Okay, so in a recent episode, we talked about the fact that the GRE is changing, coming September of 2023: coming in at roughly half the length, but with the same content and same form. So we want to get into a little bit about why this is changing, why this change is taking place. So I want to get your thoughts on these subjects, Orion.

Orion: Sure. So first we’ll talk about the official line from ETS. The official line from ETS is that the test is changing to accommodate the student. And there might be some truth to that. The president of ETS has basically said, “we’re listening to the students. The students have complained that the test is needlessly long. We are receptive to our audience, and to our customers. And so, while maintaining the rigor and validity of the test, we are accommodating student wishes.”

And they also have the line that, by making it shorter, they can decrease the turnaround in the dissemination and release of the official scaled scores. Which means that graduate programs will receive those scores more quickly than they used to. I don’t buy the second one nearly as much as the first one, because, like, you can see your scaled scores within two minutes of taking the current administration.

The bottleneck is on the essays, which – while they are graded by a computer algorithm – need to also be graded using the same rubric by a human grader. By cutting it from two essays to one, I guess you can cut the review time in half, functionally. So maybe that is true, that with only one essay to grade, as opposed to two, human graders can confirm the algorithm’s assessment more rapidly. But I do think that that really hasn’t been much of a bottleneck, either. I got my start as an essay grader. And after just a few weeks, you can rate an essay in less than 60 seconds. So if you have just a few essay graders, this is something that you could handle en masse in the current form very easily. In any case, those are the official lines for why the test is changing.

Davis: And you mentioned in a previous episode that you had taken the test to get your perfect score right at the transition between an older form and the now-current form, but soon to be old form. What benefit is it to the market, to universities, even to students to have a test that changes every 15-to-20 years?

Orion: Yeah, that’s a good reminder. It’s been about 15 years since the last major revision. And it was a major revision. They introduced the writing section. They introduced new question formats and they deleted old question formats. The Verbal section, in particular, looked very different between the pre-2008 and the current version.

By comparison, the transition from the current version to the one that’s going to be available later this year, is really mostly in terms of the length, as opposed to the content or the format. So it’s a smaller change. But it’s going to feel very different to a lot of students because of that cut from four hours to two hours.

It’s interesting, because we might learn the fuller story as to why this change is occurring as time progresses. Because, for example, one of the major reasons why ETS changed the test back in 2008, in a radical way, was that, around that time, the California Board of Regents, who control the UC system, the University of California system, which is the largest university system in the country, started casting doubt on the appropriateness and validity of standardized tests. And they were toying with the possibility of not requiring those standardized tests in their admissions process. And that would have been a huge hit for ETS. There would be hundreds of thousands of fewer tests sold every year, if the UC schools no longer required them.

And so my understanding is that ETS and the Board of Regents had a lot of backroom conversations about, well, what kind of changes would make the Regents feel comfortable enough to keep the standardized tests an appropriate and relevant aspect of their admissions process. And that’s where we got the essay, because they thought that there should be a greater focus on actual writing ability when, I can see their point, you do a lot of writing in college. And so I’m not going to say that the Regents dictated what was going to happen with the new test, but the test graders, I think, certainly took that feedback, because the UC program was one of their biggest, let’s say, affiliates, and they were adapting to maintain their market share.

And I think something similar is probably happening today. About five years ago, the GRE was unstoppable. It was gobbling up market share in the testing industry. It was a big coup when business schools began to accept the GRE, as well as the GMAT. The GMAT used to have that its own little niche in the marketplace, and the GRE came in and swallowed that up. And then even law schools started accepting the GRE. So the LSAT no longer had its little niche. So the GRE was just like becoming this leviathan in the marketplace. Almost every grad school program of any kind, unless you were going to become a medical doctor, accepted the GRE about five years ago. It was doing really, really well.

Then COVID and the shutdowns happened, and a lot of programs waived the GRE requirement for a few years. Some programs have brought that back, a lot of programs haven’t. There’s also been the introduction into the marketplace of a few shorter tests, like the Executive Assessment, which is about 75- or 90-minutes long, and is now being accepted at – not all MBA programs – but at a lot of executive MBA programs, next to the GRE. And I think the GRE has been losing market share in the last three years, because of changes in requirements around the COVID shutdowns and increased competition from shorter tests, like the EA. And I think this is its way of staying relevant in the marketplace.

I think it’s actually a really smart move. I mean, they were so gargantuan five years ago, it was almost like they had nowhere more to go up. And certain factors started chipping into its dominance. And they’re adapting to try to maintain their market share, while they are still the largest player. That’s my two cents.

Davis: No, I really appreciate that. So ETS has kind of official statements that they want to maintain rigor and validity, but also address student experience. You know, create a better experience for the students who need to take it. And then we kind of have this overarching history of the evolution of the test, and how it changes both from, you know, economic forces, business forces, but also the university affiliation forces, as well. I really appreciate that deep dive into that. And if you want to know more, please check out stellargre.com.

Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another bite-sized episode of GRE Bites. If you have a topic you’d like discussed on a future episode, let us know at stellargre@gmail.com. And if you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at stellargre.com. You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships there. Talk to you soon.

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