The Educational Testing Service has released a report with a breakdown of the average scores of people who took a new version of its GRE General Test, an entrance examination used by most graduate-school programs, along with other characteristics about the test takers. Besides data on the gender and racial backgrounds of the examinees, the report provides a revealing glimpse of their intended graduate fields and preferred regions for study.
ETS has published similar data in different forms in the past, but the new report, "A Snapshot of the Individuals Who Took the GRE Revised General Test," provides data from the first year that the revamped test was in use. ETS officials say the report is intended to provide more information not only on the test takers but also on factors that relate to their performance on the test.
The results of the report are based on 466,674 people worldwide who took the test from August 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, and had valid scores on all three measures of the exam. The new test, officials said, more closely reflects the skills that prospective students need in graduate school, such as analyzing and synthesizing written materials, focusing on basic concepts of mathematics and data analysis, and writing clearly and effectively.
Among other results, the report shows that 52 percent of all test takers worldwide who reported their gender were women and 41 percent were men, a gap that ETS officials said is similar to percentages seen in previous years. Among examinees worldwide, 85 percent were under age 30, and 74 percent of all test takers were U.S. residents.
Of the 344,468 test takers in the United States, 82 percent were under age 30, and 65 percent were women. Among examinees who reported their intended field of study, the top three were in the natural sciences (27 percent); a category called "other fields," which includes areas such as library sciences, architecture, and religion (also 27 percent); and social sciences (16 percent).
Only 7 percent of examinees intended to pursue degrees in the humanities and arts, 6 percent in education, and 4 percent in business. A majority of all test takers (62 percent) said their preference was to study in the United States, with a combined total of 60 percent showing interest in the South or West Coast.
As for performance on the new test, the highest possible scores are 170 for the verbal and quantitative-reasoning sections, and 6 for the analytical-writing portion. Among U.S. citizens, men scored slightly higher than women in both the verbal and quantitative-reasoning sections, and both groups scored a 4, on average, in the writing portion. On the verbal section, men scored 154, on average, compared with 152 for women. And in the quantitative-reasoning section, men scored 152, on average, and women 148.
Among racial and ethnic groups, Asian students obtained the highest scores in the quantitative-reasoning section. In keeping with the usual trends, black and Hispanic students had the lowest scores on all three sections of the test.
The disparities among scores for different racial and ethnic groups are of concern at a time when demographic shifts are changing the face of graduate schools and there are growing demands for more diversity, particularly in the science and mathematics fields. The report notes that differences in test scores across gender and racial groups can result from a variety of factors, such as course-taking patterns, or different educational, economic, and social backgrounds.
ETS officials said they wanted to share the results of the report because graduate and business schools regularly request data on test takers. The new report, they said, will help administrators make informed decisions about admissions and financial support for students.