Within hours of this week’s announcement that the GRE had launched an at-home option for its exam, the Graduate Management Admission Council rushed out a statement that it planned its own take-at-home version and hoped to have it out by mid-April. What’s more, it would make the at-home version cheaper than the exam it administers in test centers, either narrowing or eliminating the $70 price differential between the two tests.
A GMAC spokesperson, Geoffrey Basye, broke the news on Poets&Quants, saying the organization “is actively working to launch an interim online proctored alternative to the GMAT exam to be used during the extraordinary circumstances caused by the COVID-19 epidemic…This is targeted to be available in mid-April. In light of the current unprecedented situation, this interim alternative will be offered at a lower price point than our current exam.”
Already, the move from test center to home is upping the stakes for prospective students waiting to take the tests. “In terms of the volume of questions I’m getting, it rivals the change from paper to computer,” says Stacey Koprince, content and curriculum lead at Manhattan Prep, the well-known test prep firm. “Everybody is talking about and everyone is concerned about it. Andthis is already a stressful experience in general.”
WHAT TEST-TAKERS CAN EXPECT FROM AN AT-HOME GRE OR GMAT
So far, GMAC is saying that its at-home test will have “the same structure, number of items, time and scoring to the one delivered in test centers” with the exception of not including the AWA section. “Our focus is on maintaining a valid and rigorous assessment, with the relevant security practices and protocols in place, to evaluate a candidates’ ability to succeed in a graduate school business program,” says GMAC’s Bayse.
GMAT tutors expect the at-home test will have many of the same restrictions already announced by GRE for its at-home version. Among other things, students can’t take the at-home GRE on a Mac or on an iOS operating system. You also can’t use an iPad or a smartphone even if you would be tempted to use one. The test can only be taken on 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. Headsets and wireless earphones are not allowed. And your computer’s camera must be able to be moved to show the proctor a 360-degree view of the room, including your tabletop surface, before the test. Food and drink are not allowed during the test.
Those restrictions are even causing some anxiety. “Everyone is concerned about the windows thing because a lot of people in this age group are on the Mac,” says Koprince. “It took people a while to realize all of the restrictions and that someone is going to watch them all the time and record them in their home environment. People are concerned about that and have a lot of questions about that. The restrictions are very Big Brotherish but for that reassures me. I don’t want to know that other people are cheating and cheapening the value of the test. The restrictions are severe but it means that the integrity of the test will be what it has been.
LOTS OF UNKNOWNS ABOUT THE AT-HOME GMAT
“The proctor who is watching has remote access and they will take over your machine for the duration of the test if they suspect something odd. So you cannot have anything else open on your computer screen. And they can track your eye movements. If they see you looking in a different direction in the right from the screen, the proctor will ask to swivel your webcam to the right to see what you are looking at.
Some test-takers who have already sat for the exam in a test center feel they could now be at a disadvantage versus others who can take it from their home. “It completely removes the four-hour rigor of the test at the center and the exhaustion with it, planning and transit to center (and the) distraction from people around you in the center,” complained one P&Q reader. Meantime, for at-home test-takers, it provides the option to take the exam in the “convenience and relaxation of your own home.”
Koprince, however, thinks it’s a wash. “We don’t like uncertainty, whether it is at home or at a test center environment. People are nervous anyway. There are some advantages of sitting at your own desk and taking the exam. But the fact that someone will be watching through your webcam will result in similar anxiety for some people. I think there are plusses and negatives, no matter where you are.”
‘AT-HOME TESTING ISN’T PERFECT’
Either way, Koprince believes the shift to at-home testing will make little difference in how a person should prep for the exam. “I’ve been talking to my fellow teachers and we don’t think you need to prepare differently,” she says. “The questions are the same. The time limits are the same. You are just taking the exam on a different computer. :
Exactly how the at-home GMAT exam will play out, of course, is not yet known because there are few details on the GMAC version, yet. “We don’t know much about the GMAT at-home option,” says Andrew Geller, founder and CEO of AtlanticGMAT.com, a test prep firm. “It could have some inconvenient factor, for instance, limited date options, that could make it less attractive. Also, it seems that the at-home GMAT will be slightly different than the in-person one. At the very least the essay is absent. So even if the score report doesn’t indicate any difference the lack of an AWA score will indicate an at-home exam. Whether that’s a negative admissions-wise is tough to judge but it certainly adds a bit of anxiety for test-takers. The at-home GRE is advertised as identical to the in-person option.”
And then, there is the fact that a person will be taking the test in an entirely different environment. “At-home testing isn’t perfect,” adds Geller. “Especially if you have roommates and everyone is locked down at home.” Still, he is still encouraging clients to take the GMAT or GRE when ready and not try to wait for test centers to reopen. “Also, I can’t imagine that either the GMAT or GRE will maintain the same level of test integrity as they have at Pearson Vue test centers with in-person proctors, palm vein readers, and controlled computers. So, again there’s that possibility of the asterisk next to the score. Overall though we’re seeing healthy competition giving options to test takers. That’s a good thing. I’m glad that GMAT and GRE studiers who’ve been grinding away over the winter will have a chance to compete.”
Both ETS and GMAC suggest that the at-home option is temporary as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and the closure of test centers. But Koprince and other test prep tutors suspect that if the exams go well, this could be a permanent option when test centers reopen. “All of the language we have seen so far is that it is temporary,” confirms Koprince. “Depending on how long this goes on and how successful this will be, we’ll see. They are getting to test something on a massive scale on accessibility and technology. If this experiment works and they can keep the security where it needs to be, I can imagine them certainly thinking whether they want to keep this longer-term. If I were them, I would have to imagine they are having those conversations right now.”