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The Educational Testing Service is announcing today that applicants to graduate school will no longer have to submit all their scores on the Graduate Record Examinations, but will have the option to select the best scores to share.

The move is similar to one made by the College Board with regard to the SAT in 2008. For test takers who worry about having an “off day,” the shift is likely to be popular, as they will gain the option of retaking the test without flagging for admissions offices that they once had a low score. ETS will require an entire administration to be submitted, so a test-taker couldn't submit part of a GRE score from one day and another from another day.

ETS may gain from the move in its competition with the Graduate Management Admission Council. ETS has been promoting the GRE for use in business school admissions. While the GMAC’s Graduate Management Admission Test is the dominant exam in M.B.A. admissions, that test is not focused on business-related questions, and ETS has been encouraging applicants to submit GRE scores instead of GMAT scores. Currently all GMAT scores must be submitted, so the new GRE policy could sway some business school applicants to consider that exam. But ETS is also facing some questions over whether the move will simply encourage more students to take the test multiple times, and to get expensive test coaching (practices typically utilized by wealthier applicants, but not those from low income levels.)

David Payne, vice president and chief operation officer for higher education at ETS, said that the organization wanted "to give test takers more confidence on test day and encourage more people to pursue graduate or business school." And he said that ETS was going to expand its fee waiver program (the basic fee is $160 in the United States), which has been limited to one per individual, so that people could seek waivers on more than one examination. He said that research by ETS suggests that all test-takers will have "more confidence," knowing of the new policy.

Bob Ludwig, director of public affairs at GMAC, said that group does not plan to match ETS on score choice, and that there is value (to admissions officers) in reporting all scores. "GMAT test reports are reported fairly. They have a full report of a candidate's testing history, and admissions officers look at the GMAT for more, not less insight into a candidate's skills and abilities." Sometimes, he said that look may result in information that favors a candidate, as when a candidate submits two scores, and did better on one portion on one test and an another portion on the second test. But whether the full testing history helps or hurts a candidate, "admissions departments tell us that they want the full picture," Ludwig said.

Payne of ETS said that graduate programs that want all test scores could tell applicants of such a requirement.

Generally, those who rely on standardized admissions testing or who track the industry agreed that applicants would like the concept of score choice being applied to the GRE.

"Applicants will love it, as they ask us this all the time if we can select the 'best scores' for their application," said Thomas P. Rock, executive director of enrollment services at Teachers College, Columbia University. Rock said that admissions officers at his institutions in fact want to view “the score that puts the applicant in the best possible light,” but he added that there may be other things that could be lost with score choice. "From our perspective, we do like to receive the full picture to see how many times a student has taken the GRE and whether they have improved over time," he said. "The current system of receiving scores allows us to consider everything in an individualized and holistic manner."

Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest: National Center for Fair and Open Testing (a group that regularly criticizes ETS), said that the change "is certainly good for test takers because it eliminates the possibility that one day's poor performance becomes a 'Scarlet Letter' permanently attached to an individual's record."

But Schaeffer was skeptical that ETS was acting only out of concern for the stress of test takers. He said that the ETS bottom line would benefit because of an improved position for the GRE versus the GMAT, and a likely increase in the number of people taking the GRE multiple times. "It will encourage some aspiring grad school students to take the GRE more often, knowing that a poor score can be withheld, thus treating it as a practice test until a desirable result is obtained," he said.

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