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'The future of examinations will be simulation'

Last updated on: September 5, 2011 16:56 IST

'The future of examinations will be simulation'

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Divya Nair

David Payne, VP, COO, Educational Testing Services talks about the challenges of facing entrance examinations today and why GRE is more effective and student-friendly over GMAT. Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

Since August 1, 2011, the Graduate Record Examinations test underwent a change of pattern. The revised changes that focused on endorsing out-of-the-box thinking also ensured that it would naturally reduce cramming among test takers. Well, this may just be the beginning of a revolution in the history of entrance examinations and skill testing of candidates.

The revised pattern also saw some student-friendly additions which included an on-screen calculator to make mathematical calculations easier and the flexibility to go back and forth between sections as per time, convenience and level of difficulty.

Needless to say, these changes were aimed at making the exam more convenient and student-friendly for test takers.

The efforts are paying off as well, for the number of GRE takers is increasing by the day. Meanwhile, to keep up with the changing trends and to make it more effective, the Educational Testing Services team is in the process of starting a revolution which will change the face of entrance examinations in the years to come.

In an exclusive conversation with Get Ahead, David Payne, Vice President and COO of Educational Testing Services (ETS) for GRE, who recently visited the country, takes us through the strategy behind the revised GRE pattern.

He also tells us about the effectiveness and future trends in entrance examinations from a global perspective and offers expert tips and suggestions to candidates to improve their performance. In the following pages, we bring you excerpts from an interview.

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Image: The number of GRE takers is increasing by the day

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'In the previous pattern, test takers could not go back and forth between sections'

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What are the changes introduced in the new GRE pattern? And why were they introduced?

The new GRE pattern was introduced to address a few primary goals. One of the goals was to improve/increase the ability of skill testing so that it was easier for the subscriber of the test to understand the test taker and get closer to the skills he possessed.

We realised that some of the questions asked in the Verbal Reasoning section were not really necessary at graduate level. So we tried to change that and thereby included more items that were accessible and necessary from a graduate point of view.

Similarly, in the previous pattern, test takers could not go back and forth between sections and hence, found it difficult to skip a question, which was a constraint among most. The current pattern ensured that test takers can skip a question and move to the next one and come back to the skipped ones, whenever they have the time.

Also, we realise that every test taker had a different ability to solve questions. So, the computer-based test is designed such that it is receptive to the user's skills and ability and will pose questions that closely meet his intellectual skills and ability.

For example, the computer may start by asking a question that is relatively mid-level in terms of difficulty. If the student answers it correctly, the next question will essentially chase a higher level of difficulty. Similarly, for every next question, the difficulty level will increase or stay consistent as per the test taker's ability.

So, if the student is unable to solve the question, the computer will automatically make a note of this and step down one level to meet their intelligence and abilities. This way, we ensured that the difficulty level was fair enough across all candidates.

The other challenge we noted was for solving questions in the Quantitative section. Students had to use pen and paper to scribble Maths problems. To rid them of this inconvenience, we introduced an on-screen calculator, which students have confessed is highly convenient.

Similarly, the scoring system in the earlier pattern was non-friendly. For example, if I scored 500 and my colleague scored 520, although it was a matter of two questions, this made a huge difference from the perspective of the subscriber, who saw this difference as 20 marks, not 2 questions.

We tried to reduce this ranking and made it seem like 500 and 502. This way, students feel more satisfied with their performance report and so do subscribers, who are now getting a clear perspective of the students.

All these changes have made the test seem more result-oriented. The adaptive nature of the test makes it convenient and student-friendly. At the same time, from the subscriber point of view, it gets them more closer to understanding the skill sets of the test taker.


Image: David Payne

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'When we started, the GRE was certainly not very popular'

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While these changes may seem convenient from the computer-based test point of view, what changes have you incorporated for the paper-based test?

I agree that the computer-based test is more adaptive and convenient. Considering that it is practically next to impossible to devise 1,000 different sets of papers for the differently abled candidates, we have come up with a solution in the form of increased questions.

The paper-based test will have relatively more questions addressing all types of difficulty levels, allowing test takers to answer questions that they think are capable of answering.

Despite the GRE being so convenient, why is it that the GMAT is more popular? How do you plan to address this challenge?

When we started, the GRE was certainly not very popular. However, since the past few years, the trends are changing, the number of GRE takers is only increasing by the day.

If you were to compare the two today, a test taker would realise that the GRE is less expensive and is more accessible, considering that there are more test centres for GRE than GMAT in the country. Similarly, with the revised changes, GRE is student-friendly and offers a better test-taking experience.

In the last few years, we have seen a steady increase by 18 percent of test takers. The figures speak for themselves. With this growth, we are certain that GRE will soon become accessible, acceptable and popular with most universities and educational institutes in the world in the days to come.


Photographs: Careers360
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'The possibility of having an immersive 3D environment is also on the cards'

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In view of the new changes, what resources are you offering to test takers?

Once you register with us, we offer frequent updates on the test, how to prepare and improve your scoring ability. We also provide a lot of practice versions, which are readily available on the ETS website to download.

There are specific help centres to guide you on every section of the test. There are strategies and tips which will give you an experience of what type of questions you can expect from the test.

In your opinion, what is the future of entrance examinations going to be?

The future of examinations will be simulation. There will be simulation tests for subjects like chemistry, physics and other applied sciences where the aim will be to create a simulation laboratory environment replete with apparatus and skill testing devices.

The candidate will be tested for their skills relevant and specific to the interested field of study. The possibility of having an immersive 3D environment is also on the cards.

With 3G technology fast gaining populace, it will soon be possible to involve the subscriber and test taker in groups/ communities in a face-to-face conversation to enable better and relevant dialogue as per mutual convenience. This is going to be the future of testing, globally.

Illustration: Rediff Archives



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'Read expert columns in newspapers'

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Tips to solve analytical writing

When you read essays or case studies, try to analyse the issue mentioned in them. Once you finish reading an essay, you can start by thinking about the issue and try to come up with arguments that are both in favour and against the issue.

Similarly, if you pick up any leading newspaper or news magazine, you will find a section called view and counterview. This will essentially discuss a happening event or issue of the country or a certain industry.

You can also read daily/weekly columns where experts analyse the pros and cons of the given issue and present their arguments favouring these opinions. This is an excellent way to develop your analytical skills.

Following this, even you can decide on an issue, do your homework and then list down a set of arguments that are in favour and against the issue. This exercise will go a long way in helping you do better in the analytical writing section, which deals with a similar type of question.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier



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'You must be proficient with passages'

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Tips for Reading Comprehension

To improve reading comprehension, you must read a lot of undergraduate level text material. You must be proficient with passages -- reading , understanding and analysing text material.

After reading a comprehension briefly, it is important that you browse through the questions as well. This will give you an understanding of what is expected of you from the passage and give you a better focal point.

It is difficult to find the right samples for reading comprehension, but there are plenty of resources available online and at college libraries for you to practice. The more you practice, the better equipped you will be when you take the actual test.

Some of the leading news magazines I could recommend would be TIME, News Week, The Economist etc. Similarly, as far as news reporting is considered, the language used to report in New York Times and Wall Street Journal is detailed and highly recommendable.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh



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'Avoid delays in admission procedures'

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General tips

  • While applying to a university abroad, do your basic homework and find out all details about the university/institute and course of study.
  • Also check for the requirements for your course of study and the eligibility criteria to apply to the institute.
  • Do all your necessary preparations for your chosen course of study in advance and keep relevant documents and test scores ready to avoid delays in admission procedures.
  • If you are applying to multiple universities, keep a tab on the application dates and deadlines and ensure that you adhere to them well on time.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh



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