Computerized GRE could be defective

By Michelle Roberts

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The number of dates available for students to take the computer version of a national graduate admissions test was reduced by 75 percent after accusations of security flaws last month.

On Dec. 9, 1994, Kaplan Educational Centers gave the Educational Testing Service what Kaplan spokeswoman Melissa Mack said was evidence that approximately 70 to 80 percent of the questions on the Graduate Records Examination's computer version could be replicated.

The computer version of the GRE is different from the written version because the test adapts according to how students respond to each question. Each question and its difficulty is determined by whether the student got the preceding one correct.

The test was also unique because, up until the end of last week, students could take it at any time, five to six days a week.

Beginning next month, the computerized test will only be available on the first week of every month. But Margaret Savko, senior office specialist in the University of Arizona's testing office, said the office will make times as the need arises. She said the office will accommodate as many students as possible.

Mack said some of the students using the test preparation service told Kaplan's local centers that they saw many of the same questions their peers did.

Last month, Kaplan sent 20 investigators in to take the GRE and then asked them to list the questions they could remember, Mack said. They were able to remember what Kaplan believes is 70 to 80 percent of the question pool.

Kaplan believes that at the time of the investigation, the pool consisted of 600 questions. ETS spokesperson Ray Nicosia said the number of questions in the pool could not be released for security reasons.

Mack said Kaplan's study also showed that students with similar abilities received tests with about 50 percent overlap.

"You can't give a test of this importance with this much overlap," Mack said.

Melissa Martinez, a graduate college student assistant, said out of 109 graduate programs at the UA, 79 require a GRE score and 30 do not.

According to Mack, Kaplan took the results of its investigation straight to ETS and did not share the information with students.

On Dec. 30, ETS filed a lawsuit in federal court against Kaplan alleging it violated copyright laws by sending researchers in to obtain the questions, which are copyrighted by ETS.

Nicosia said that it is possible for students to memorize questions,

but that Kaplan's research was not fair because its researchers all went in at the same time with the sole purpose of seeing what could be memorized.

"What they did was break the law," Nicosia said.

He went on to say that Kaplan wanted to discredit computer-based testing, because the number of people enrolling in coaching services has dropped dramatically.

But Mack said Kaplan has experienced nearly 20 percent growth since computer-based testing was introduced.

"Is it possible for someone to rob a bank?" Nicosia asked in response to allegations that students are able to cheat on the GRE.

Savko said people can be resourceful and desperate when trying to take exams like the GRE.

"It's amazing how creative people can be (about cheating)," she said.

Jalyn Richardson, a watershed management graduate student, took the computerized GRE. She said she could not remember any specific questions but like any test, there were probably some questions students could remember, particularly if the questions are difficult.

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