Sat, Mar 10, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Cheating leads to complete overhaul of graduate exam

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

Rampant cheating by tech-savvy students in East Asia, including those from Taiwan, has forced the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the US-based testing organization with an annual budget of nearly US$1 billion, to promulgate a new, "cheat-resistant" version of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) worldwide, testing officials said yesterday.

The GRE is a standardized test that most US graduate schools require prospective students to take.

Officials from the Taipei-based Language Training and Testing Center, which administers ETS-developed tests such as the GRE nationwide, said yesterday their center planned to unveil the new GRE at the same time as US testing centers.

"The new GRE will be out sometime in September. Right now, the plan is to begin offering it here in Taiwan at the same time [as US testing centers introduce it]," said a center official who identified herself only by her surname, Lin ().

"But our experience has been that as the release date approaches, delays usually occur," she said.

With what testing officials described as a multibillion-dollar market in books and classes helping students prepare for the old GRE, earning ETS big revenues, why is the organization implementing what its vice president Mari Pearlman called the most "significant revision of the GRE in the test's 60-year history"?

The answer to that, said Andy Liu (劉惟中), 25, a Taichung English instructor, is as clear as the heavy security at testing sites countrywide. Armed with electronic jamming devices and other high-tech toys, police officers are regular fixtures at testing sites during days when major tests like the GRE are administered to students eager to test into grad schools abroad, he said.

"You've got students with ear pieces receiving information transmitted from outside. Cheating on big tests in Taiwan is a more common phenomenon than in the US, and it's often a sophisticated operation, too," said the US-educated teacher.

Lin agreed, saying students' cheating on tests such as the GRE was rampant throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

"We've had to deal with a number of cases," she said, without elaborating.

So rife is cheating that ETS had to nix its online version of the GRE and revert to a paper-based format after Chinese and South Korean hackers broke into ETS' database and stole and posted the test's content on multiple Web sites, said Joe Harwood, an English language proficiency test researcher at the Taipei-based National Development Initiatives Institute.

"That happened three or four years ago, but ETS had been tinkering with the GRE even before then," he said.

According to ETS' official Web site, "the primary reasoning for the revisions is to address current and potential future security challenges."

ETS couldn't be reached for an interview as of press time.

Registration for the new GRE will begin in July, an ETS press release said, adding that the old version would be phased out by July 31. The Language Training and Testing Center, meanwhile, said it would announce any delays in registration or administration for the new GRE.

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