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Admission test for business school moves to adaptive computer format

When officials with the Graduate Management Admission Council announced a new, computer-adaptive test for people interested in applying to a university for a master's degree in business administration, they invited MBA program administrators and directors from around the country to take a sample test before the new test was introduced, so they could understand the new system.

Thomas G. Gutteridge, dean of UConn's School of Business Administration, and David Palmer, executive director of the MBA program, were the only takers.

"There's going to be some tension (when MBA candidates take the Graduate Management Admissions Test)," Palmer says. "They are taking a test that may determine their future, and they're going to be nervous. By taking the test myself, I can tell the recruits what the test is like, and I'll be much more credible if I can say I sat at a computer and took the test, not that I've only read about the new system."

Gutteridge praises the two and one-half hour exam, which gauges a candidate's skill level after every answer and adjusts the next question to increase - or decrease - the challenge, depending on the applicant's skills: if a correct answer is given, the next question is more difficult; if an answer is wrong, the next question is slightly easier, and so on.

"I expect that every test-taker will find the exam difficult, because by the end of it, everyone will be answering questions at their highest level of ability," says Palmer.

While the adaptive nature of the test is interesting and important, Gutteridge says, still more important is that by using a computerized testing system rather than paper and pencil the potential student can take the examination virtually any time of year, rather than on one of four pre-scheduled dates that may or may not provide results in time for a student to join a university's next regularly scheduled program.

"In the past, if you missed the October exam date, you couldn't get into classes until after the April test. Now, even if students don't choose to take the exam until November, we can enroll them in classes that begin in January. The testing service can schedule an exam at any one of their testing centers with just one week's notice," he says. "It also helps us, and other schools, because applications are spread out more evenly throughout the year, rather than a huge glut of applications coming in at the same time."

Palmer notes that UConn is one of just six full-time MBA programs in the country that require students to come to class equipped with a laptop computer. The new testing method is more in line with the times, he says.

"Prospective (MBA) students are using computers in a wide range of ways today. And it's particularly important at UConn, because of our emphasis on high tech," he adds.

The Graduate Management Admission Council began using the new computerized method of testing in October 1997. Once the service completes building an international network of testing sites, the computer-adaptive GMAT will replace all paper-based testing.

The computerized exam will offer test-takers unofficial scores on the verbal and quantitative sections immediately after taking the test. Official scores are mailed out within 10 days of the exam.

Richard Veilleux