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Students who took the Graduate Record Examination last week were given the option--unprecedented among nationwide standardized academic tests--of taking the test by computer.

The new computer-adaptive format is being heralded as a future replacement for traditional standardized assessments, in which students use pencils to fill in circles on computer-coded sheets to complete the exam.

The innovative system is designed to gear the test questions to students' academic abilities and thus provide a quicker, more precise measure of student achievement.

All students start, for example, with a randomly chosen question of average difficulty.

If a student answers the first question correctly, the next question the student gets will be slightly more difficult. If not, the next question will be slightly easier.

"With this technology, we have the capability to produce a spread of color photos about a student's abilities, rather than a black-and-white snapshot,'' said Nancy S. Cole, the president-elect of the Educational Testing Service, the New Jersey-based company that administers the graduate exam.

Fewer Colleges Report Rise in Applications

Fewer colleges and universities reported increases in applications this year than in 1992, according to a survey released by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors this month.

Of the 703 institutions responding to the survey, 61 percent reported a rise in applications to the freshman class this year from the previous year, compared with 71 percent in 1992. This year's figure is still higher, however, than that of two years ago, when 50 percent of respondents reported such growth.

In the area of student recruitment, 38 percent of the institutions reported an increase in the number of admissions or recruitment publications they distributed, the same percentage as last year. But a higher percentage of respondents reported decreases in visits to high schools beyond a 100-mile radius.

Several questions about the use of volunteers in admissions activities were included in the new survey. Just over two-thirds of the surveyed schools said they used alumni volunteers, with private institutions more likely than their public counterparts to do so.

For the fifth year in a row, students' college-preparatory course grades were the top factor in college-admissions decisions.

Boarder Babies: At least 22,000 infants in 1991 were abandoned in hospitals with little or no hope of being released to biological parents, a U.S. Health and Human Services Department study reveals.

The study searched hospitals for infants who were left by parents either unwilling or unable to care for them, or whom child-welfare agencies determined could not safely live with their parents, but had not yet been placed in an alternative-care setting.

The survey identified 10,000 "boarder'' babies--those left in hospitals beyond the date of medical discharge--and at least 12,000 "abandoned'' infants--those still hospitalized for medical reasons but unlikely to leave in parents' custody.

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