The internet is filled with interesting, informative, and helpful information. Lots of the time, that information is also factually accurate. Lots of times, it’s not. What makes the internet so fantastic a tool — its freedom of access and populist design — is also the thing that can often leave it riddled with factual potholes. The test preparation industry, like any other, struggles with this problem. Given all the companies, tutors, teachers, and individuals sharing information, anyone seeking info on the web should double check what they find.
Recently we came across this particular “article” published online by the Chicago Tribune. It a great example of how even with legitimate sources, whatever you find should be taken with a grain of salt and vigorously double-checked. What we found, in general, was that the article could cause unnecessary anxiety and worry for potential test-takers looking for information because it exaggerates changes to the tests and makes them sound more intimidating then they are. However, putting the info and article in context, which you should always do when researching, could reduce some of that potential worry. Let’s take a look at some excerpts to see how and where this could be done.
1) “Special Advertising Section”
This isn’t really a quote from the article itself, but rather the source of the article. Most people that read it could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that the primary message is “take a prep course.” This, in and of itself is sound advice, it just seems like only one test prep company is being recommended. I almost wanted to sign up for a Kaplan course myself until I took a closer look.
The “article”, it should be noted, was part of a “special advertising section.” Check out the picture below to see if you spot those important words amidst all the clutter and other advertisements and giant “Education Today” headline.
The message? Pay close attention to the source and intent of what you’re reading to put it in context.
2) “Greatest changes in its 40-year history”
So, uh, what’s on the new GRE? You’d be hard pressed from the
article advertisement to figure that out. The only information given is that it’s “gotten longer” and “question types and even the scoring scales are different.” While the changes to the test are superficially significant, meaning that some of the formats are pretty new, including questions that require multiple answers, the test itself is pretty much testing the same stuff it always has (math concepts, vocabulary, and reading comprehension). In fact, the biggest change to the test was probably removing the stupid analogy questions (which I personally liked but found a ridiculous way to test people for graduate school). Big changes? Maybe, but not really.
3) “Getting into graduate school just got harder.”
Really? How so? Because the test is a little longer and has changed a bit? While the test is a little bit different, what schools are using to evaluate candidates has not really changed. You still have to submit scores, show your GPA, get recommendations, and write essays. In fact here’s what ETS says about why the test was changed:
“ETS has revised the test to better reflect the kind of thinking you’ll do in graduate or business school and improve your test-taking experience. New types of questions now more closely align with the skills you need to succeed in today’s demanding graduate and business school programs.”
Maybe the test is harder, maybe it’s not. For some it will be harder, for others it will be easier. Saying that getting into school just got harder because the test changed is at best unprovable. At worst, its yellow journalism and fear-mongering that you have to wonder whether the root of which was plain cluelessness or some ulterior motive.
4) “Other things that have changed on the GRE are the questions. One of the two essays has been removed and the remaining one must be written in 30 minutes, not 45.” We weren’t sure if this was a typo or basic ignorance or confusion over all the recent/upcoming changes to the major tests (GRE & GMAT), but the bottom line is it’s false. Here’s the real scoop on the test structure:
Still two essays, 30 minutes each. I’m not sure if there is still a research budget at the Trib, but before you trust a newspaper for your test prep info make sure you back it up from other sources.
5) “How do you prepare for something like this? Take full-length practice tests.” That’s the advice given for preparing for the GRE, along with several references to Kaplan Test Prep courses. Problematic advice without context. Far too many people are falsely advised that the best (or only) strategy for preparing for the GRE or the GMAT is to take a bunch of practice tests. For a select few who already have all the knowledge they need for the test, this may be a good strategy. For everyone else? Probably not going to help you improve your score much. The GMAT and GRE test specific knowledge and reasoning ability. You need to have this knowledge and hone your reasoning abilities, not just take timed, full-length practice tests.
6) “The scoring has changed, too. The new GRE is an adaptive test.”
This one is true, kind of. The old GRE was also an adaptive test, and in many ways a more rigorous one. The new GRE is section-adaptive (adapting from one section to the next) while the old GRE was question-adaptive (adapting from one question to the next within a section). The implication that the new test is harder because it is all of a sudden adaptive again reeks of fear-mongering. Speaking of which…
7) “There will likely be fear and loathing”
This was a quote attributed to a test preparation professional speaking on the possible reception of the impending changes to the GMAT in June 2012. There are a few problems with this statement: 1) practical implications of the changes to the GMAT will be negligible for a while until graduate school officials, most notably admissions officers, decide how they’re going to interpret the scores; 2) the practical changes to the test itself are negligible (one essay is being removed while the integrated reasoning is being added; nothing else is changing); and 3) we should all ask ourselves what may be spurring this feeling of ‘fear and loathing’? Could it perhaps be the fear-mongering in articles such as this one, which is particularly troubling given that later in the advertisement it is pointed out that a survey indicates “83 percent of schools say they’ll weigh applicants who have taken the current test and the new test equally”?
8) “Kaplan recommends two to three months’ preparation for the GMAT.” & “Kaplan recommends three months preparation for the GRE.”
Hmm, let’s forget for a moment that industry consensus indicates most people view the GMAT as the harder of the two tests. Let’s forget questions about how Kaplan came up with these numbers. Let’s instead focus on the simple fact that every test-taker is different. Some people need 2 weeks. Others need 2 months. Some people need 6 months. Recommending a specific time frame for preparation, rather than recommending to prep until your practice tests indicate you’re ready for the real deal, instills false expectations and can undermine effective planning.
9) ” ‘The difference in total practice hours between a 600 and 700 score (out of 800) is about 100 hours’ “
This is another quote attributed to a test prep professional referencing the correlation between prep time and GMAT scores. I don’t know where they got these numbers, but I wonder what GMAC (the people who put out the GMAT) would have to say given this data it released:
10) “That number will go up when the new section is added. So there is an advantage to preparing now.”
Another quote speaking to the relationship between prep time and scores. If that last one was questionable, this one is too. I’m not sure how they would know this.
As we can see, even information from well-respected outlets needs to be viewed critically. This particular article seems like its pushing people to take a prep course (which we generally advocate as well), and preferably take one with Kaplan (which, obviously, we aren’t on board with). The single source of information, loose writing, and location of the article, made us wonder if someone or some company paid the Tribune to put this in as a marketing/advertising piece. If you overlooked that the piece was in an advertising section, and even if you didn’t, you might have assumed it was unbiased and objective. The bottom line: if something seems off, double-check it. If you’re serious about your prep, consult more than one source. Beware of slick marketing designed to do little more than get you anxious and get you to spend money. As always, be wary.
If you’ve found something tesp preparation related that you think is sketchy, false, disingenous, duplicitous, or out and out wrong, let us know. We’d love to take a look.