Feb 19, 2008


In preface - I'm not against a form of "standardized" admissions criteria for applicants. I think it's basically a good idea, but the GRE program (especially the general test) has some serious flaws in the way the data is gathered and presented to graduate schools. There are also flaws in the operation of ETS itself. Thankfully, the GRE is only a part of an individual's application, and the schools are free to evaluate the applicant on whatever criteria they choose to emphasize. I'm mentioning these concerns as someone who's already been successful in a biotech career. My problem with ETS lies not so much with the tests as with their philosophy, attitude, and methodology.

1) The exhorbitant test fees. How much does it cost to have a lacky with less than a high school education plug a sheet of paper into a scanner to calculate the score? 130 dollars a score sheet for a subject test? If you take the test more than once, you have to pay them the same fee every time you take it. If you take a subject test, and want your scores earlier than one month after you take the test, you have to pay ETS an extra $10. ......um, this is total BS. The General test is 115 dollars just to sit in front of a piece of crap computer and have it spit the score back to you when you finish. Why ? And how LONG does it take to have someone run several hundred test score sheets through the scanner? Not a month, for sure.

right. Because they know we'll pay their fee, and live with their rules, since there are no alternatives.

2) I think there have been some Wall Street Journal articles about why ETS really are the bad guys. It's a total, global monopoly in every sense of the term. Who is their competition? (ans. = none) If anyone can provide links to these articles, it would be fun. And if this is the case, why they maintain the "gre.org" website instead of "gre.biz" or "gre.com" is a really nice joke.

3) ETS makes a big deal with all these admonishments about "test fairness" and "fair reporting of scores" and "fair computation of scores" and "fair use of scores" - they're the real benevolent purveyor of admissions criteria, and are really looking out for us, yeah? Who knows what they do with, and how they calculate the scores? Do you know? Does anyone you know know? I certainly don't know, and neither does anyone I know. Everything is a "secret". How many tests are circulating? How many examinees take the test? How do they compute percentile? Who decides which test items (especially on subject tests) are scored and which ones aren't scored? For goodness sakes, how CURRENT are the tests? NO ONE KNOWS! we only find out 5-10 or so years after we've taken our test(s), and by then it's a moot point anyway because we don't care anymore.

4.) The fact that a significant portion of test takers (many of them foreign applicants) make a perfect (800) score on the quantitative section of the general test is a real curiosity to me. This trend has only become very evident in the last 5-6 years. This implies beyond a doubt that there's something seriously wrong with that test. ETS has planned significant revisions to the format of the GRE general test in '06. You can bet that highly-motivated individuals will master the test, no matter what ETS's modifications are, or the nationalisic origins of the test takers. Basically, ETS knows the general test is a pile of dung, and they're scrambling to come up with a format that minimizes the advantages of memorization. However, schools keep taking the scores and relying on them as admissions criteria because there are no alternatives.

5.) The universities who accept ETS's test scores are no better in this whole scheme than ETS. Every university I know of requires general test scores, and more and more of these universities are wanting subject test scores. What do they provide ETS for this nice little arrangement? Do they pay a "membership fee" to have the scores and statistics sent to them? If they do, they're just lazy. This is data that "just comes in"...the universities do nothing to help gather the data except, probably, in a reciprocal arrangement, the universities provide a "testing center". ETS has the monopoly-advantage of convincing everyone, including universities, that students must take the ETS tests to be admitted to grad school. The problem with this philosophy is that everyone believes it! My guess is that the universities do not question the accuracy or authenticity of the data, nor the methods used to collect the data.

Actually, I have some pretty good sources in this arena. I'll research this aspect of score reporting to universities and the ETS realtionship and post it here if and when I find out something significant.

6) Only prospective graduate students, who are so pavlovian-conditioned not to make a fuss, and who will do anything asked of them regardless of the conditions, would tolerate this type of attitude from a private corporation that proclaims to generate data deeming their suitability for graduate study. Geez, why don't they just give everyone the Stanford-Binet IQ test and go from that? Oh, I see...those tests are too "Biased". Why, then, is the GRE not considered biased? If ETS were a government-run institution, such as the department of homeland security, then I could reason the clandestine attitude. But it isn't - It's a for-profit corporation...and no one seriously questions the ethics, or methods of ETS. Unbelievable. We seem to be so desperate for admission to a good school that we forget to question and make a fuss of the methods used to judge our suitability. And understandably so - the univesities and ETS really know how to silence a squeaky wheel.

7.) Finally, and the GRE Biochem subject test is my criteria here - why on earth would ETS post an ancient relic of a cobbled-together test on their website as an example, and then charge 80 bucks to unsuspecting souls for the "test prep manual", which contains another 11 year old test, and then slam us with the test we just encountered?...it's ridiculous. The "format" of the test was the same, but the nature of the questions we encountered, I thought at least, were vastly different from the samples. I felt better off in 1994 with no prep material whatsoever, and probably will have scored better 10 years ago. At least I didn't have something on which to base my preparation that seemed in retrospect to be deliberately misleading. Glad I didn't spend the 80 bucks for that "prep manual", and someone posted it here. Further, I'm glad I found this forum and was able to get a hint beforehand that it was worthless...otherwise, I might have shelled out the cash for it and been very, very pissed afterward.

8.) As a result of #7, do you trust ETS's prep materials for the subject tests after this? Do you trust ANY ETS prep material? I don't, and I'll stay as far away from them as possible. That 80 dollar sample test was a joke compared to what I endured on April 2. Why would ETS want to prepare you to do well on their tests anyway?

But the problem again is...there's no alternative. "We prepare the tests - let us prepare you!"

Right. Seems we all fell for that line.

9.) If you listen to ETS, and read the legalese, you'd begin to think they're not even in the business of test-making and test-administering. Their only function in life, the only thing they do, is gather and compile data. We, the test-takers, are nothing more than providers of statistics to them, and the only thing we represent is a "data point". We don't even have rights to our own test scores to be distributed as we see fit. Once we turn in that test booklet, everything we've done becomes their property.

I don't know what the alternative is to all this bellyaching, but it seems to me that there should be "some alternative" in this American system...maybe a test-administering organization that's equally represented by university faculty and students, rather than solely by a for-profit "climber" of Wall Street. The problems lie not in the tests themselves, but in ETS's self-serving need to claim that they alone are the source of reliable data to universities, who probably have no stake or concern in the reliability of the data - except to look at it and make decisions based upon it.

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