GMAT 2022

January 14, 2022, by

 

From 2012 to early 2020, nearly everyone taking the GRE did so in a computer lab.  Beginning in mid-2020, the ETS began offering the GRE as an at home test.  It is now offered in both formats, which leaves it up to the test taker to decide: would you rather take the GRE in a computer lab or at home?

 

What is it like to take the test in a computer lab?

When you sign up to take the GRE in a lab, the specifics will vary from one lab to another.  The computer labs that offer this test will offer many other kinds of tests as well, so you may be the only person taking a GRE in the room.  You register a few days in advance, check in with a front desk person shortly before your scheduled start time, and get placed on a computer, usually in a sort of cubicle area with dividers on both sides.  The computer then handles most of the rest.  You will not be allowed to bring food or a drink into the lab.  Some will offer cubbies or lockers to store those kinds of things so you can access them during the break, while others will not.

What is it like to take the test at home?

You take the test on your own computer using ProctorU software.  Your system has to meet certain requirements, for instance, you have to be using a Windows or Mac desktop or laptop and cannot use a Chromebook or tablet.  You can check using the ProctorU Equipment Check page to see if your system meets the hardware and software requirements.  When you begin your test, you will be placed with a proctor who you can talk to using your computer’s speakers and microphone.  The proctor will also be able to see you through your camera.  They will guide you through the specific instructions for getting started, including some security steps such as showing them your room and workspace to make sure you don’t have any prohibited devices or materials close on hand.  The software then does the rest.  Your interactions with the proctor after you start the test will be minimal to nonexistent.  The software records video and audio of you taking the test, which are then stored.  These recordings are unlikely to be reviewed unless there is some specific issue.

Is the test different in a lab versus at home?

No – the test has the same time limits, numbers of questions, and content regardless of whether you take it at home or in a computer lab.  It is computer adaptive in the same manner in either format.

How do I pick?

The difference is in the experience of taking the test.  If you have a living situation in which you have limited control over noise levels or other possible disruptions, opt to take the test in a computer lab.  If you can be home alone for a few hours or know your housemates will respect your need for no interruptions, taking the test at home can prove a much lower stress experience than taking the test in a lab.  Most people feel more at ease in their own room than in a lab setting.  You’ll also be able to take it alone and unmasked at home, whereas you’ll likely be in a room with several other people and will need to wear a mask during the test, if you opt for a lab setting.

 

For those who do have a good home situation for at home testing, the only remaining downside to taking the test at home is the greater potential for technical issues.  The computer lab is almost guaranteed to have computers set up perfectly to take the GRE.  Your home computer might work completely fine for the test, but there is a chance that you will have tech issues that will delay you starting the test.  The ETS is sympathetic and usually helpful in getting these resolved and will normally let you reschedule your test for a few hours or days later if needed with little trouble on your end.  That being said, any tech issue will feel like the end of the world when it is happening, and it can be difficult to emotionally recover quickly when such an issue gets resolved and it is time to start the test.  I’ll give two test case examples from students I’ve worked with (names changed) to help illustrate.

 

Student Examples

Ashton took the GRE in a computer lab before he started test prep with me.  He had some a fair amount of studying and then got a real score that was right around his lowest practice score ever.  He contacted me to get some help prepping for a retake.  We determined that his biggest issue was stress and anxiety.  In addition to working on some techniques and doing some substantive skill development covering some test areas, we decided that he should take the GRE at home next time because it was a much more relaxed setting and would therefore be conducive to better performance.  When he took the at home test, everything went great and he upped his score considerably, outperforming just about all of his practice test work.

 

Another student who worked with me recently and took the GRE at home is Janelle.  She opted to take the at home GRE as well after doing some prep work with me.  When she went to start her test, she couldn’t get it to load.  She restarted, tried updating her browser, etc, and eventually was able to get the test up and running.  She had spent nearly an hour trying to get it to work though, and by the time she started her first section, she was rattled.  She felt stressed out and off her game for the first half of the test before she really got into the groove.  She wound up getting a decent score, but decided to take the test again, correctly assuming that she would do better without the stress at the start.  She decided to take it at home the second time as well.  That time she had no issues and did even better.  However, needing to take the test again had already cost a fair amount of time, money, effort, and stress.

 

These two examples are fairly representative – I have had several students who had similar experiences in the last year.

Conclusion

If I were taking the GRE this year, I would take it at home with no hesitation.  That being said, I feel tech savvy enough to be confident that I can resolve any compatibility issues with the testing software quickly, and I have the luxury of being able to be in a quiet home by myself during the day.  If I had loud roommates, young children not in school or daycare, or lived in a dorm without much privacy, I would certainly opt to take the test in a computer lab instead.  The biggest takeaway from this should be that if you plan to take the test at home, do everything you can to avoid technical issues.  Update your operating system, update your browser, make sure you have the newest version of any relevant software, plug in, driver, etc that might matter for the test.  Use the ProctorU testing software to confirm compatibility.  If you can arrange for it without too much trouble, have a backup computer on hand, whether it’s an old one you don’t use much anymore or one you borrowed from a friend or relative.  Anything that will decrease the chance of having major tech issues will pay dividends in a lower stress testing experience.  Of the dozens of students Marks Education has helped prepare for the GRE since the at home testing option began, about 1/3 had tech issues that delayed their start by 15 minutes or more, and about half of those had to spend about an hour or more trying to resolve the issue, or had to reschedule their test for another day.  These problems are not insurmountable, but they are a big risk when taking the test at home.

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