Graduate Management News
Effective Practices

The Power of Computerized Adaptive Testing

By Lawrence M. Rudner

CAT is a fundamental algorithm underlying the administration of the GMAT exam and many other high-quality assessments. The algorithm estimates the ability of test takers “live” as they respond to test questions—answer a difficult GMAT question correctly, for example, and CAT gives us the ability to make your next question even more challenging. In other words, CAT helps us tailor the GMAT exam to the test taker in real time. CAT is one of the reasons why the GMAT retains its unparalleled effectiveness and validity as an independent indicator of how well students will do in the core business school curriculum.

The Council’s CAT conference, held June 7–8 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, drew 180 people from 16 countries and convened top researchers and practitioners from around the world to talk about their most recent research in CAT applications, procedures, models, and technology.

June’s meeting was the first conference truly devoted to computer-adaptive testing in 25 years. In a sense, our conference continued a series of meetings on CAT that were supported by the U.S. Office of Naval Research a quarter of a century ago. Back then, CAT was more theoretical, and the central questions had to do with applying theory to practice. Now that computer-adaptive testing is widely applied, the key questions are around what the practice shows. (We have sometimes found, for example, that algorithms that look very good on paper don’t work in real-world use.) At the GMAC conference, we were able to share insights into what works and what doesn’t; research discussed in Minneapolis will help enhance the practice of CAT worldwide—and the GMAT exam.

It has been gratifying to see GMAC take the lead in helping the field share new research in CAT, and to know that we have one of the longest continuously running programs that uses computer-adaptive testing. We started CAT in 1997. Just as gratifying was the opportunity to have professor David J. Weiss from the University of Minnesota help run our conference. Internationally recognized as an expert in the field of psychometrics, Dr. Weiss can be credited as the father of computer-adaptive testing. He helped organize the first CAT conferences 25 years ago, and we were extraordinarily fortunate to have him so involved in our conference this year.

The nature of the CAT field is that sometimes GMAC leads in developing new methodologies—at other times we learn from colleagues. No matter the source of new developments, however, one constant is that GMAC regularly builds on new knowledge to improve the GMAT exam. The result? Users of the GMAT know that the methodology underlying the test (and all of the new, forthcoming GMAC assessment products) is truly state of the art. Technologically, the GMAT exam reflects the most advanced practical methods that are available.

Lawrence M. (Larry) Rudner is vice president of research and development at the Graduate Management Admission Council.


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