Exam week tips

Students study at the Pattee Library on Dec. 11, 2019.

The current global situation has incited immediate changes within the graduate testing world, leaving many undergraduate students lamenting new online evaluation processes in hopes of pursuing a graduate education.

During these unprecedented times, Jeff Thomas, executive director of admissions at Kaplan Test Prep — a test preparation company that prepares students for the SAT, GRE, LSAT and more — reassured undergraduate populations that the issues they currently face due to the pandemic will not affect their graduate career.

Established in 1938, Kaplan Test Prep is the world leader in the test preparation industry. It provides students with various digital and print products to help them find success in the academic and business worlds, according to its website.

Testing sites and test administration centers have been closed due to health and safety reasons surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused "a high degree of uncertainty in the short-term,” according to a Kaplan Test Prep press release.

For a majority of students, tests have become shorter and will be administered online, leaving many questioning whether graduate schools will negatively interpret the accuracy of their scores.

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Despite the seemingly unfortunate situation, Thomas reassured the undergraduate population that a great standardized test score and the role that test scores play in the admissions process will remain the same.

“Graduate programs are in the business of recruiting highly qualified candidates to their programs, and they want to make sure there will be... classes of competitive candidates," Thomas said. "They are ready, willing and excited to accept the admissions test scores in any format in which they can receive them."

Thomas said Kaplan Test Prep understands the unprecedented situation students are facing because there is much uncertainty in terms of how the admissions process will work, as well as the format and location in which students will be taking admissions tests.

According to Thomas, many graduate evaluations have been molded to a digital format in years past, so the process of taking the tests won't really change.

Moreover, given the accessibility of online tests, altering testing methods could lead to evolving the world of standardized testing altogether.

“The ability of students to take the test at home, to take shorter versions of the test, and still receive a valid and reliable admissions test score — those are very student friendly things,” Thomas said. “Under the presumption that these ‘pilots’ or ‘data tests’ processes go well, it would not surprise me if these more flexible testing options did persist into the future.”

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But online testing formats are still in a temporary phase — the GRE and GMAT are available online until the end of July, the LSAT is available twice at home over the next two months, and there are no plans for the MCAT to offer tests at home in an online format.

Thomas said that despite these slight format changes, Kaplan has been proactive in familiarizing the test preparation process with an online medium for nearly 15 years.

The company has also hired psychometricians, statisticians and digital media strategists — leading experts in the field of online education — to work at Kaplan. Thomas himself has been in conference calls with test makers and administrators to keep Kaplan Test Prep as up-to-date and authentic as possible for students.

“Two months ago… we immediately started to provide online delivery to all of our students. We have all sorts of pages and YouTube videos that keep students up to date about the relevant information on testing procedures," Thomas said. “We have made slight changes to our curriculum too to reflect the changes that students will be facing… [and] to make sure that the practice test they are seeing is exactly in the format they will face on their actual test day.”

These changes include recreating MCAT practice tests to reflect the current, shorter format, mimicking the “whiteboard” technology included in the new GMAT testing process, and providing students integrated access to the digital platform resources associated with the LSAT.

In the hopes of providing an uplifting outlook to students impacted by these new processes, Thomas said scores will still be looked at favorably in the process, and that this situation, in comparison to a lifelong career, is temporary.

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"Whatever your dream is and career aspirations are should not be put aside because of this moment of time we're in,” Thomas said. “We applaud and encourage students to use this time to put together the best application they can and not let this health crisis stand in the way of their dream.”

Currently, Penn State Libraries has limited resources surrounding graduate school examination preparation, most of them focusing solely on the GRE test. Because of this, students must find off-campus resources to further prepare for graduate tests.

Penn State Libraries has various guides discussing the examinations, but it doesn’t seem as though the library has many online resources available for students to access during this time, according to Jane Ingold — a reference and instruction librarian at Penn State Behrend.

In response to Kaplan’s efforts and resources, Patricia Birungi — the chair of the University Park Undergraduate Association's Academic Affairs Committee — said she believes acknowledging the various ways that canceled tests could be affecting students is important to helping them succeed.

Birungi agreed with the sentiments set forth by Kaplan, emphasizing that despite student anxieties surrounding these exams, health and safety should be the biggest priority within the academic world. 

“To Penn State students whose tests were canceled, the best advice I would give is to continue preparing,” Birungi said. “As long as you do your part to remain prepared for when you finally do take the test, schools will understand and meet students where they are at."

Birungi said resources like the University Park Undergraduate Association's "Test Prep Week" can offer students preparing for exams reassurance as well.

“I highly recommend using all the resources Penn State has to offer to help you prepare,” Birungi said. “While so many things are outside of your control, many things are within your control and reach, and as long as you use these things to your advantage and keep your ear to the ground — things will end up okay.”

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