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by Vault Education Editors | July 13, 2009


If you've ever sat for a standardized test, you know what it feels like to be just a number. Entering bubbles with a No. 2 pencil, choosing A-E, writing a timed essay in a little blue book. Once the test is taken, you are still just a score. What if there was a test that could give admissions office a sense of who you are as a person? A number that quantified your creativity, integrity and innovation? In other words, what one recent graduate calls "standardized subjectivity."

The Educational Testing Service (ETS)--the company that administers the AP, PSAT, SAT, GRE, TOEFL and more--is filling in the void. Last week, ETS announced the addition of the Personal Potential Index (PPI), a grad school test to complement the GRE and "standard" narrative recommendations. The PPI is a web-based evaluation that asks professors and other recommenders to rate a student based on his performance in six different categories on a scale of 1 to 5. Students can have up to six evaluators participate in the PPI. Once all the evaluators have completed the questionnaire, PPI averages the scores for each category and then calculates an overall score.

The categories were deemed by graduate school deans and faculty as "essential for successful graduate study." The complete questions and categories are below:

Knowledge and Creativity

  • Has a broad perspective on the field
  • Is among the brightest persons I know
  • Produces novel ideas
  • Is intensely curious about the field

Communication Skills

  • Speaks in a clear, organized and logical manner
  • Writes with precision and style
  • Speaks in a way that is interesting
  • Organizes writing well


  • Supports the efforts of others
  • Behaves in an open and friendly manner
  • Works well in group settings
  • Gives criticism/feedback to others in a helpful way


  • Accepts feedback without getting defensive
  • Works well under stress
  • Can overcome challenges and setbacks
  • Works extremely hard

Planning and Organization

  • Sets realistic goals
  • Organizes work and time effectively
  • Meets deadlines
  • Makes plans and sticks to them

Ethics and Integrity

  • Is among the most honest people I know
  • Maintains high ethical standards
  • Is worthy of trust from others
  • Demonstrates sincerity

Will the PPI work? It's true that standardized tests have thus far been able to rate a potential students' creativity and other "soft" skills--but isn't that what narrative recommendations, essays, portfolios and interviews are for? Enabling admissions officers to quickly compare students is a good thing, but only if the PPI is an addition to the application's personal sections, not a replacement. I'm registered for a webinar on the PPI on July 23rd, so I'll withhold any further conclusions until then. So make sure to check back in next week!


Filed Under: Education

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