When open ended questions ruled the world of educational testing, the test faced immense criticism for its subjectivity, after-all the evaluator’s biases were too obvious to be ignored. Though there is no replacement for open ended questions ( the reason why they are still the best bet for knowledge assessment at school and college), a new era of objective multiple-choice questions( MCQs), affordable for testing a large number of students, found their place at different levels . Though reasonably reliable, MCQs are not fool-proof either, with their posing a two-way challenge- the chances of guess and the failure to test certain thinking skills if they are relevant to be tested. Unlike open- ended questions, MCQs cannot test creativity, self-expression or a respondent’s thinking process. As an antidote to the ‘guess’ factor, many MCQ format tests come with negative marking.
The emerging computer- based tests( CBTs)
The emergence of computer as a medium of testing, especially in aptitude testing involving large numbers, has opened up many possibilities. With revolutionary software, we can present multiple format questions, adapt test to the test taker’s ability, reduce chances of guessing, evaluate essay responses, equate scores on different
The CAT CBT
The Common Admission Test conducted by the IIMs for admissions into IIMs and many other MBA colleges is now administered on computer ( this year the test will be administered from Oct 16th to Nov 11th). In the previous year, the test had two sections, with a time-limit of 70 minutes per section. The quantitative ability and data interpretation formed one section, and verbal ability and logical reasoning constituted the other. The test permits you to go back and forth with in a section, skip questions for later attempt, and work on any question within a section. The second section will appear only after the time limit for the first section is up. All questions are in the multiple-choice format. There are scroll bars to view data spread across more than one screen and you can highlight text. A review screen will show if you have left any question unanswered. Negative marks for wrong answers serve as penalty.
Statistical procedures, conforming to psychological testing standards, are used to equate scores of different test takers who take different combinations of questions, drawn from a large pool.
The GRE, Section adaptive
The Graduate Record Examination conducted globally by Educational Testing Services USA, for admission into MS, PhD and business courses, had introduced a new computer test format in 2011. The test has three sections - an essay section with two topic prompts, a quantitative ability section with two sub-sections and a verbal reasoning section with two sub sections. Not all questions in the math and verbal are in the conventional multiple choice format. For some questions, you are required to enter a numerical value, click on one or correct answers, or highlight a sentence in a passage etc. As in the CAT exam, you can move forward and backward with in a section(here sub-section), answer questions in any order, or skip a question. An online calculator is peculiar to to facilitate calculations.
A unique feature of the GRE is that the test is section adaptive. The first subsection of each of math and verbal comprises moderately difficult questions. Your performance in this section determines the difficulty level of the questions in the second sub-section presented to you. This means that a good performance in the first sub-section will result in a tougher second subsection, raising your chances of a higher score. The essays are graded two ways – language assessment using an e-rater and content evaluation manually by essay evaluators. The GRE test has evolved so much that scores on the paper- based test and those of the computer-based test are equated.
The GMAT, Question adaptive
The Graduate Management Admission Test, administered by GMAC USA, is one step ahead of the CAT and the GRE, in its format. In addition to the essay, quantitative and verbal sections you have a new integrated reasoning( IR) section. A vast majority of test takers find the verbal section of the test more complex and demanding than that of the other two exams discussed above. The passages are abstract, sentence correction questions tests the intricacies of English language and critical reasoning tests higher order thinking skills. The integrated reasoning tests your ability to analyse, integrate and evaluate data presented in multiple format. In the IR section, you can drag columns and rearrange data.
Unlike section-adaptive GRE, the GMAT is question adaptive. That is, depending on your performance in a given question, the weight age of the next question will be determined. Hence you cannot skip a question, neither can you go back to a question. Each section is separately adaptive. There is no score deduction for unanswered questions; instead a cluster of wrong answers will invite lower weightage questions.
With each admission test posing a new set of challenges, test aspirants must adapt to the changing dynamics of competitive exams. The scores of CAT and other Indian exams are valid only for that year, where as the GRE and GMAT scores care valid for 3-5 years. Since these exams test more or less similar skills, many MBA colleges in India take GMAT or GRE scores. Though there are overlaps in preparation, extra bit of learning will give you more options.
Contributed by Dr. Vijayakumari
GRE, GMAT trainer at semantics Chennai