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Ensuring the Fairness of GRE Writing Prompts: Assessing Differential Difficulty GRE DIF

Broer, Markus; Lee, Yong-Won; Rizavi, Saba; Powers, Donald E.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
RR-05-11, GREB Report No. 02-07R
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Graduate Record Examination (GRE), Writing Prompts, Fairness, English as a Second Language (ESL), Ethnic Minorities, Gender, Item Characteristics, Differential Item Functioning (DIF), Polytomous DIF, Differential Item Difficulty


Three polytomous DIF detection techniques—the Mantel test, logistic regression, and polySTAND—were used to identify GRE® Analytical Writing prompts (Issue and Argument) that are differentially difficult for (a) female test takers; (b) African American, Asian, and Hispanic test takers; and (c) test takers whose strongest language skills are in a language other than English. Prompts in the gender comparison showed low differential item functioning (DIF) values. Higher DIF values were found in the White versus African American comparison (for Argument prompts), while a smaller number of prompts showed moderate DIF to the disadvantage of the Hispanic (for Argument prompts), Asian American (for Issue prompts), and English as a second language groups (for Issue prompts). No DIF values were found that were large enough to warrant the removal of prompts from the item pool. Several potential causes of high DIF values for some prompts are discussed with respect to the content characteristics of these prompts.

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