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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


COVID-19 causes graduate student exam adjustments and delays

A multiple-choice exam. Several testing sites that offer admissions exams have shut down due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. ALBERTO G/FLICKR VIA CC BY SA 2.0

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused several testing sites to be shut down — and an even greater deal of uncertainty for prospective graduate, business, law and medical schools students who rely on these exams for their applications.

As testing centers close across the nation, entrance exams have made major adjustments to how their tests will be administered. The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), Graduate Admission Test (GMAT), Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) are the main admissions exams to change the format of their exams, according to Executive Director Jeff Thomas of the admissions programs for Kaplan Test Prep.

Thomas explained that the necessary adjustments have been made and noted that applicants should not worry about these new methods affecting their applications.

“They were already computer based, it’s just the environment in which they’re taking it is different,” he said. “The same tried and true method of comprehensive preparation they would’ve taken in the past, absolutely applies today.”

The LSAT, GMAT and GRE are all exams familiar with computer-based testing and have opted to make their exams remote.

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) has already launched their online GMAT. According to an FAQ section on the GMAC website, the online GMAT will have a similar content and structure to that of their standard exams. The only difference is the removal of the Analytical Writing Assessment portion.

The GMAC also released an online version of their Executive Assessment on May 1. The Executive Assessment is a GMAT alternative released in 2016, designed for “busy, experienced professionals,” according to the GMAC website.

In recent years, business schools such as New York University’s Stern School of Business, have been willing to accept the Executive Assessment in place of the actual GMAT exam.

Another exam making their at-home test identical in format, is the GRE, the most common exam for graduate student admissions. 

In a press release issued in March, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) — administrators of the GRE — introduced online examinations as their at-home solution to the COVID-19 outbreak, after they suspended testing at exam sites. 

These at-home solutions are identical in content, format, on-screen experience, scoring and pricing as the TOEFL iBT test and GRE General Test taken at a test center,” the press release read. “Every test feature that students would expect in the test center — such as the ability to preview, skip questions, review and change answers on the GRE General Test, and the ability to view Reading and Listening scores at the end of the TOEFL iBT test — will still be available to test takers via this solution.”

Executive Director Alberto Acereda of the Global Higher Education Division at the ETS, explained the modifications made to the exam. 

“Test takers can expect the same valid and reliable tests that are administered in test centers from the comfort of home,” Acerda wrote.

The GRE is one of the most widely taken exams, with approximately 700,00 test takers every year. The ETS took measures to ensure that students are able to fully adapt to these new circumstances.

Senior Director Chrystal Molnar of the GRE Program, explained the decision by the ETS to move forward with a remote testing format.

“When the health crisis started impacting people around the globe, we are committed to supporting students and institutions during this time,” Molnar said. “We could provide a convenient, flexible, and a safe option for students to test.” 

With the increased use of online mediums replacing in-person meetings and classes, online safety and academic integrity has become a huge concern. The GRE is only allowed to be taken on a laptop or desktop computer, using a Windows operating system. 

To proctor these exams, the GRE and LSAT are using ProctorU, a new virtual tool using human proctors and artificial intelligence. 

ProctorU tracks test takers’ hand and eye movements as they take the exam. While the company’s privacy policy states they do not use or sell any information from their users, students have still labelled the mode of monitoring as “invasive.”

Molnar insists that the ETS has crafted their exam in the safest and most secure way.

“We are confident in the security that we have available during the test,” she said. “The level of security that we have does meet ETS standards.’

Similar to the GRE, the LSAT is also using human proctoring for their at-home testing.A new exam, called the LSAT-Flex, will be available for students who registered for the LSAT in April. Students who were scheduled to take the exam on April 25 will be able to take the LSAT-Flex starting May 18.

The Law School Admissions Council has also made the decision to have June 8 registrees take the LSAT-Flex the following week, on June 14.

Similar to the GMAT, the LSAT-Flex will also omit a portion of their standard exam. Instead of five, 35-minute multiple choice sectionsone reading comprehension, one analytical reasoning, one variable section and two logical reasoning sections — the LSAT-Flex will only have one logical reasoning portion. The writing assessment will still remain.

While the GMAT, GRE and LSAT have all moved to online, proctored examinations for their students, the MCAT is the only test to have not made the switch.

Senior Director Karen Mitchell, at the Admissions Testing Service for the Association of American Medical College (AAMC), explained the decision to cancel all their MCAT testing dates through May 21.

“The AAMC understands that these are unprecedented times that we are all facing and we recognize the impact this has on medical school applicants,” Mitchell wrote in an email. “As such, we are continuously monitoring guidance from the CDC, WHO and state and local health authorities and have processes in place to modify MCAT program operations during this rapidly evolving situation.”

The AAMC canceled all their testing dates through May 21. Three new testing dates — June 28, Sept. 27 and Sept. 28 — have been added to their calendar as in-person tests

“The anticipation for anyone applying to med school is [that] they will be testing on-site the way they historically would,” Thomas said. “They’ll just be fewer items on the test.”

The MCAT will be shortened to a testing time of about five hours and 45 minutes, compared to a usual run time of about seven and a half hours.

With registration for the MCAT opening up at 6 a.m. on May 7, a high volume of students trying to register caused the registration system to shut down by 8 a.m. 

Taking the exam at a testing site not too long after a pandemic, is worrisome for some pre-med students.

“I’m pretty nervous,” Jeri Ann Ramilo, a junior biochemistry major on the pre-med track at Stony Brook University, said. “It’s a one step at a time type of thing, you can’t tackle it all at once.”

Ramilo was planning on taking the MCAT on May 9, at the Pearson Learning Center in Brooklyn.

“I had a really big feeling they were probably going to cancel May test dates,” she explained. ‘I can’t deal with this anxiety, I’m going to move my date.”

Ramilo now plans to take the MCAT in July. 

Many colleges are trying to alleviate the stress that students like Ramilo are facing. The University of Washington and Northeastern University are some of the schools that are making these exams test optional for their future applicants.

Stony Brook University’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences has waived the GRE requirements for their Fall 2020 applicants.

Prospective students are still trying to remain positive despite their circumstances.

“Regardless of what’s happening, it’s still the same exam,” Ramilo said. “Med school is still med school.”

Thomas said that students shouldn’t feel disadvantaged or scared that these exams will negatively affect their career paths.

“I would not recommend they let this national health crisis necessarily stop their plans,” Thomas said. “This situation is hopefully temporary, their career is forever.”

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