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Taking the GRE® General Test at Home: What You Need to Know

GRE General Test online at home ETS

The GRE® General Test is now available online to ensure prospective students can take the test from the comfort of their own home while test centers remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To find out more about the at-home version of the test, QS held a webinar for students to learn more about testing at home from Matthew T. Bashi-Kadlubowski, Associate Director of Global Client Relations at ETS.

ETS as a company

Matthew said as soon as the pandemic hit and institutions and centers began to close, ETS was extremely proactive. He said: “We felt there was an urgent need to move forward with something that would help not only the test taker but also institutions and minimize disruptions within the traditional admissions flow.

“We wanted to offer something that was convenient and flexible, but most importantly, safe during this pandemic.”

During the webinar, many students asked about the human proctoring process used when taking the GRE test at home and how it all works. Matthew said: “ETS joined forces with ProctorU who work with colleges, universities, and independent enterprises. They've administered over 5 million exams including high stakes exams like the TOEFL® and GRE tests.

“Students can virtually interact with the proctor should there be any questions or issues. It's a lot stronger testing experience.”

A common worry for students taking the GRE test at home is internet connection, and what would they do if faced with any problems.

But Matthew assures students, should they have any technical issues, they can communicate with the proctor directly online or by phone on 855-772-8678. He added: “Should there be a major interruption, the test taker would be offered a free retest through ETS.”

Test taking expectations

You might think taking the GRE General Test at home would have required major changes, but Matthew says that’s not the case. He said: “It's the same valid reliable test, testing format and screen experience that test takers would have had in a test center.”

Your preparation method doesn’t need to change, and the same retest policies are in effect too. Students can take the exam once every 21 days, no more than five times in any continuous, rolling 12-month period. Similarly, the exam fee (US$205 in most countries) is also the same.

But what should you, as a student, expect while taking the test? Firstly, you’ll set up an ETS account, then you’ll go through an environment and equipment check. Matthew said: “[You need] a PC or a laptop, with either a Windows operating system of seven, eight or 10, or a Mac computer with macOSof 10.5 or higher.”

Once a test taker begins their registration via ets.org/gre, within 24 hours students will receive a link from ProctorU and information about selecting their test date and time through the ProtorU system.

The test is offered around the clock Friday through Monday until June 30, 2020, and seven days a week from July 1 through September 30, 2020 so there’s no need to worry about test availability. Appointments may be available as early as 24 hours after you register as well.,

However, some students voiced concerns about how institutions will react to the at-home model. Matthew said: “The test went live on March 27, and we've had minimal institutions inquiring about the at-home version, other than to learn more about the test takers’ perspective.

“There is no specific indicator on the scorecard that tells institutions where the test was taken.”

Test taking possibilities

ETS recommends careful test preparation, and to ensure you have a fighting chance, ETS recommends using its own websites and material, especially our free POWERPREP® Online which provides sample test questions, information, and various resources to prepare for the exam.

Matthew suggests taking practice tests under time constraints, as time management, speed and accuracy are just as important as content knowledge.

He added: “We also provide free math review and math conventions which go over terminologies, symbols, definitions, properties. We also have a link to the Khan Academy which is extremely popular with people preparing to take the GRE General Test. All those resources are free.”

Matthew said: “If a student is scheduled to test in a physical test center, and they don't feel comfortable – safety is paramount – they can change that physical test center date to an at-home version at no additional cost.”

How the test works

Test takers can navigate freely within sections, skip questions, mark answers, come back to them if they’re not sure on the answers, and there’s also a review screen that lets them see questions they've answered. But it’s worth noting that the test is adaptive.

Matthew said: “How well you do on the first verbal and quantitative sections will determine the difficulty level of the next.”

As the only at-home exam using 100 percent real-time proctoring, ETS ensures there is no room to cheat. Matthew said: “ProctorU diligently trains all their proctors, so any attempt to cheat can be detected immediately.

“We also use artificial intelligence technology that determines if a student tries to open up an unauthorized browser such as Google or if they try to download any unauthorized software. If they attempt to do something malicious, it would be detected immediately, and in most cases, the exam will be terminated immediately.”

ETS does, however, allow students to take notes with an erasable marker on either a whiteboard or a blank sheet of paper, visible through a transparent sheet protector.

Matthew said: “Notes need to be erased in view of the proctor in their entirety before the end of the exam for security purposes.”

One attendee asked how the ScoreSelect® option, which allows students to put their best foot forward while making an application, works. At the end of the exam you’ll be prompted on whether or not you want to report your scores. If you do, you’ll see your unofficial verbal and quantitative scores and be able to designate the universities that you want to send your official scores to be sent off to your university of choice.

Words of wisdom

If you’re serious about attending graduate school, Matthew suggests you take the exam while you’re still in an academic mindset. He said: “GRE scores are valid for five years from the date of administration.

“If you're going to take a gap year, or if you are going to work for a year or two and then come back to graduate school, at least you have a portion of the application process already completed. And it's one less hurdle to worry about.

“This is just a test, don't stress out, just approach it in a positive way. ETS provides resources; we want to  help you do better in the exam, and hopefully help you build your confidence levels as well.”

Niamh Ollerton, Deputy Head of Content at QS
Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (TopMBA.com; topuniversities.com), creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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