ITHACA, N.Y. -- The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) does little topredict who will do well in graduate school for psychology and quite likelyin other fields as well, according to a new study by Cornell and Yaleuniversities.
Of the three subtests of the GRE (verbal, quantitative and analytical) andthe GRE advanced test in psychology, only the analytical subtest predictedany aspect of graduate success beyond the first-year grade point average(GPA), and this prediction held for men only. The verbal subtest andpsychology test predicted first-year GPA, but this prediction vanished bythe second year's GPA.
"With these exceptions, the GRE scores were not useful as predictors ofvarious aspects of graduate performance, including ratings by primaryadvisers of analytical, creative, practical, research and teachingabilities by primary advisers and ratings of dissertation quality byindependent faculty readers," said Wendy M. Williams, associate professorof human development at Cornell University.
Williams and her colleague, Robert J. Sternberg of Yale University -- bothexperts on measures and theories of intelligence -- reported their findingsin the June issue of American Psychologist (Vol. 52, No. 6, pp. 630-641).
The researchers strongly suspect that the GREs may prove to lack validityin predicting performance in other fields as well.
"We know from other researchers' work that the GREs also have failed topredict success in the field of physics, and we suspect that the GREs willfail to prove predictive for the humanities as well," Williams said.
"Instead of relying so heavily on the GREs -- and many applicants aren'teven considered if their GRE scores are not in the top group -- we need todevelop and use tests that measure meaningful performances in specificareas. The GREs, including the one specifically for psychology, do notassess many of the types of abilities required for succeeding as aprofessional psychologist," Williams said.
She also pointed out that applicants from less privileged backgrounds, whoare not as likely to do as well on the GRE as applicants from goodpreparatory schools, lose out even though they may have the appropriateskills for the profession they desire. "Graduate programs rely so heavilyon GREs to make their initial cuts, many well-qualified applicants who arestrong in the appropriate areas aren't even being considered. This is ahuge disservice to the applicants, the graduate programs and society atlarge."
The researchers set out to test the validity of the GRE, working within thebroader framework of the triarchic theory of human intelligence. Thetriarchic theory distinguishes academic or analytical abilities fromcreative and practical abilities.
"Academic-analytical abilities are used when one analyzes, compares andcontrasts, evaluates, judges or critiques," said Sternberg, who haspublished widely on the theories of intelligence. "Creative abilities areused when one invents, discovers, supposes, hypothesizes or theorizes.Practical abilities are used when one applies, uses or implements."
To assess the validity of GREs in predicting success or failure of graduatestudents, the researchers asked 40 faculty members of psychology at Yale toprovide ratings on five scales of the 166 graduate students they had hadsince 1980. In addition, the researchers looked at GPAs of students intheir first and second years of graduate training and overall evaluationsof dissertations by outside, independent raters.
When the researchers looked at GRE scores and GPAs, they did find amarginal relationship between the scores and grades in the first year ofgraduate study. When they looked in more detail at the GRE subtests andthe genders separately, they found only one of them (the analytical testscore) successfully predicted more consequential evaluations of studentperformance (dissertation reader ratings) -- but this was only true formen. For women, there was no prediction.
"This study suggests the need to reflect on the use of tests before theybecome firmly -- and, as it sometimes seems, irrevocably -- entrenched.Too often, we believe, the use of a test becomes self-perpetuating, withoutserious attempts to verify its effectiveness," the psychologists wrote."We believe that our results underscore the need for serious validationstudies of the GRE, not to mention other admissions indexes, againstmeasures of consequential performances, whether of students or ofprofessionals."
Next, Williams hopes to look at GRE scores of men and women in the socialsciences, natural sciences and humanities. GREs are developed by theCollege Board of the Educational Testing Service.
The study was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Education.
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