Alterations to tests elicit mixed responses

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1. 55. 28. 1250. Some students are just looking at the numbers.

Those considering graduate school are reading prep books, skipping out on sleep and shelling out hundreds of dollars on prep classes to get the best score possible on standardized tests like the LSAT, MCAT and GRE.

“It’s extremely hard,” said senior Joanna Tsikis, a pre-med psychology major. “This has been a really stressful semester and I know there are a lot of people in the same boat. Everyone is trying to send out more applications, take more tests and figure out their lives while handling a full course load. It’s pretty tough.”

Tsikis has taken the MCAT and is now preparing for the GRE  in order to apply for a one year master’s program in biomedical science to broaden her options after graduation.

While standardized tests are a challenge on their own for grad school hopefuls, the formats of the tests are rapidly changing and contributing to students’ worries.

“I have been planning on taking the GRE sometime in the indefinite future, but now I’m going to take it before it changes because I heard they’re making it harder,” said Julia Strasser, a senior majoring in international studies. “The consensus of my international studies class which is mostly grad students was, ‘If you’re going to take it in the next two years, you should take it now.’”

The GRE, LSAT and MCAT have all seen major changes to their structures that will affect students seeking graduate and postgraduate degrees.

The AAMA, the administrators of the MCAT, announced a set of preliminary recommended changes for the test. While the changes would not go into effect until 2015, they are the most drastic changes the AAMA has proposed in 25 years. The test would be changed from five and a half to seven hours, would no longer have a writing sample and would have an additional section to test students on their knowledge of psychology and sociology.

Test prep businesses like Kaplan feel that the test is moving in the right direction.

“We feel it’s ultimately the right thing. We think it will bring the MCAT into better alignment with the medical field today,” said Dr. Jeff Koetje, the director of academics and pre-health-programs at Kaplan.

However, other students think the changes do not reflect the actual requirements of medical school.

“Psychology and sociology, although applicable to doctors, aren’t as demanding or pertinent as the other subjects that are tested,” freshman Ravin Sajnani said.

One of the major concerns with the test is the need for additional classes.

“Pre-meds already have so many prerequisites that it becomes burdensome to add sociology and psychology. I shouldn’t have to take any more extra classes to prepare for the MCAT,” junior Gaurav Dhiman said.

Yet some feel the test should reflect a student’s schedule anyway.

“You can’t memorize everything- that’s the point, that’s how it’s supposed to be,” said senior Erin Kelly, a pre-med student who was accepted to Indiana University after taking the MCAT twice. “ It’s really reflective of your effort. If you learned what you needed to during your science classes, you’ll be fine.”

The GRE is also seeing major changes starting on August 1 to each of its sections. Test takers will be able to revise answers within sections and use a new on-screen calculator. There will also be only one prompt in the writing section instead of a choice of several prompts. The test is also putting more focus on reading comprehension instead of vocabulary knowledge. In the math section, there will be more focus on interpreting data and word problems that involve realistic scenarios.

Most students considered the emphasis on reading comprehension a smart decision for the GRE.

“Reading comprehension will help because the English was all vocabulary. You either knew it or you didn’t. I had more problems with the English than the quantitative,” senior Scott Hawley said.

However, the GRE’s lack of options on the essay portion of the test worries many who are planning on attending graduate school.

“It’s terrible. I definitely would have preferred a choice of a few. I’ll probably look at more sample test questions to prepare,” sophomore Lilly Marlaine said.

Because the LSAT’s changes took place in 2007, the pre-law students preparing for the exam are feeling the effects now. The LSAT changed from testing students on one long passage to testing students on two shorter passages with questions that involved comparing the two passages. Most students felt the comparative readings were a positive change.

“Analyzing multiple texts is a useful skill for any career. You have to be able to pick apart arguments, ideas, anything,” freshman Mia Pedersen said.

Kylie Banks may be contacted at kbanks@themiamihurricane.com.


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