As test centers began closing down six weeks ago due to the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic, the Educational Testing Service put into effect a crash effort to shift its GRE exam online. Within hours of going public with its decision yesterday (March 23), hundreds of prospective students signed up for the at-home test.
The first batch of test-takers who will sit for the GRE in their homes will do so on Friday of this week.
“We pulled this together very quickly,” says Chrystal Murphy Molnar, senior director of global education at ETS. “We actually decided to offer this solution when the global health crisis started happening.” There was no earlier work on an at-home option before the COVID-19 outbreak.
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE: THE DISLOCATION TO ETS STAFF CAUSED BY THE HEALTH CARE CRISIS
Test takers in the United States, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Hong Kong (China) and Macau (China) began registering for the test yesterday (March 23). The at-home exam will be at the same cost of taking the GRE at a test center. In most countries, the cost of taking the test is $205. ETS is working toward making these at-home solutions available in additional locations in the coming weeks. Many scheduling options will be available for each test, with numerous test times each week. ETS also added an at-home option for its TOEFL language test.
Within hours of ETS’ announcement, Graduate Management Admission Council said it would develop its own at-home option for the GMAT and set a target of mid-April for launch. With the exception of not having the Analytical Writing Assessment section, the test will have the same structure, number of items, time and scoring to the one delivered in test centers. But the at-home GRE, accepted by every business school in the world, will be up and running at least a month before anyone could take the GMAT in their own home.
For the GRE, the biggest challenge in creating an at-home option wasn’t software or security, adds Molnar. It was the dislocation caused by the health crisis itself. “We’ve been working very quickly to bring the test at home and have been trying to do that at the same time that this coronavirus has spread around the world. A lot of the ETS staff located in areas that have been impacted in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. People had to work remotely to get this launched. So we’ve been dealing with the health crisis ourselves at the same time that we were trying to get the solution launched.”
ETS USING ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE BESIDES PROCTORS TO PREVENT CHEATING
A key part of successfully testing people from home is the requirement for real-time human proctoring of each test. In a test center, ETS would typically have one proctor for every 20 to 25 test takers at a center. For its at-home exam, the ratio would have to be significantly smaller.
“There is a low proctor-to-test taker ratio,” says Molnar. “When the proctor is interacting with the test taker to verify certain pieces of information, it is a one on one ratio. It’s hard to compare to when they are taking the test at a test center.”
Asked if it would be possible for a test taker to cheat on the at-home exam, Molnar seems satisfied that ETA has taken every precaution to prevent cheating. “The level of security for at-home testing does meet our high standards and equals our security in the test center,” she says. “In addition to the proctor, we are using AI technology to make sure the student does not have other applications or other software running. Those things can be detected and the proctor will cancel the test if there is any attempt to do those things.”
HUMAN PROCTORS WILL MONITOR TEST TAKERS VIA VIDEO CAMERA
During the new at-home GRE, a human proctor will watch a test taker and their computer screen via video camera to ensure that all testing procedures are followed. The entire test session will be recorded and a photo of the test taker will be taken. The photo from the test session will be made available in the ETS® Data Manager as part of a person’s score record to their target institutions.
There are six sections with a 10-minute break following the third section and one-minute breaks between the remaining sections. “You are required to remain in your seat for the one-minute breaks,” according to ETS. “You are allowed to leave your seat during the 10-minute break. If you do not return on time, your test will be canceled and your fee will not be refunded. Unscheduled breaks during the at-home test are not allowed.”
At the end of the test, students will be given the option to report or cancel your scores. If a test taker chooses to report their scores, they will be able to view unofficial Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning scores. Because of the essay scoring process, students will not be able to view their Analytical Writing scores at the end of your test.
ETS said that prospective students can take the GRE General Test once every 21 days, up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period (365 days). This applies even if you canceled your scores on a test taken previously.
To take advantage of the at-home test, students must use a desktop or laptop computer with a Windows operating system, versions 10, 8, 7, Vista™ or XP. The GRE test cannot be taken on a Mac computer or on an iOS operating system.