If your plans for taking the GRE have become completely derailed due to GRE cancelations, and you’re wondering if it’s worth it to take the GRE online, then this post is for you! We interviewed Corina, a Magoosh student and aspiring PhD candidate who took the at-home GRE recently, and have put together the subsequent guide to taking the GRE at home.
- Before continuing, you should know that a lot of programs are now waiving their GRE requirement because of the crisis. Magoosh recommends checking with prospective programs about potential changes to their GRE policy before pursuing the at-home GRE.
The following interview is pretty long—we wanted to give you as much info as possible! To help you navigate, check out the table of contents to go directly to whichever topic you’re wondering the most about. Also, make sure to check out our takeaway for our summary of your best options. Without further ado, here’s our interview with Corina and your guide to taking the GRE online!
Table of Contents
- What are your grad school/professional aspirations?
- How did you prepare for the GRE?
- Had you taken the test before?
- Why did you decide to take the GRE at home?
- How did you feel going into the test?
- Did you do any additional preparation because of the new format?
- How do you take the GRE online?
- What should students know about taking the GRE online with ProctorU?
- Were you pleased with your results? Will you take the GRE again?
- If you were to take the GRE online again, what would you do differently?
- What is your top tip for students taking the GRE at home?
What are your grad school/professional aspirations?
I intend to apply to PhD programs in Clinical Psychology this fall to pursue a research career in child/adolescent psychology. The majority of these programs require both the general and advanced (psychology) GREs, which is why I pursued taking both.
How did you prepare for the GRE?
“The first [practice tests] were all from Magoosh, and then about midway through my studying I took the ETS Powerprep test #1 to see my progress. Later I took the Kaplan GRE Practice Test (I wouldn’t recommend it…) and then right before the test I took the second Powerprep test to see if I was ready.”
I spent 5 months utilizing the Magoosh GRE services every week, except for the two-week break I took during the holiday season. On weekdays, I spent about 30 minutes daily watching the Magoosh lessons and/or answering a few practice questions each day.
On weekends, I committed either an extended time on one day, or two shorter study sessions on both days. During those times I would do timed practices as well as review questions I struggled with. I took a practice test about once a month.
The first were all from Magoosh, and then about midway through my studying I took the ETS Powerprep test #1 to see my progress. Later I took the Kaplan GRE Practice Test (I wouldn’t recommend it…) and then right before the test I took the second Powerprep test to see if I was ready.
Had you taken the test before?
No, I took the test officially for the first time with the at-home session.
Why did you decide to take the GRE at home?
“I knew that if I waited to take the test in a testing center, it may be a long time that I would have to continue studying—I decided it would be best to take it at home and get it out of the way.”
I had been signed up to take the GRE originally on March 20th. This was right as the COVID-19 situation was getting more serious, and my test was canceled without warning (I showed up at the testing site and no one was there!).
I felt extremely let down since I had been prepping for March 20th for so long and I was worried I would lose the skills I had acquired. Additionally, I didn’t want to have the test-day hanging over the horizon for an unknown period of time. I knew that if I waited to take the test in a testing center, it may be a long time that I would have to continue studying—I decided it would be best to take it at home and get it out of the way.
How did you feel going into the test?
I was so nervous! And frustrated, to be honest. I attempted to take the test at home twice, and had technological failures each time (once it was ProctorU’s fault, the other time it was my internet connection). The third time, I also had my computer fail on me, so I ended up starting 4 hours later than my planned time.
Going into the exam, I was not in the ideal headspace, however I decided to take a breath, and pretend this was a practice exam. I figured that worst-case-scenario I would take it again, but it was worth it to try it at home to see if I could get it out of the way.
Did you do any additional preparation because of the new format?
Not significantly, but I did ensure I had the ideal testing area. This meant moving all of the things off my walls and surrounding my desk so I had a clear environment for the test. Overall, the test setup was very similar to the ETS powerprep tests, so those would be the best preparation for online test-takers. Additionally I practiced a Magoosh section (one math and one verbal) to test out using a whiteboard instead of scrap paper.
How do you take the GRE online? Tell Me About Your Experience with the At-Home GRE—the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!
“There were some real benefits and disadvantages to being at home…While the ProctorU system wasn’t ideal, the proctors did their best to be kind and work within their system and the ETS guidelines to help it be the best experience possible.”
The experience was incredibly stressful—however I think it was likely similar to the testing center stress, just different things to be worried about! I used a whiteboard during the test and it was totally fine. In fact, it was nice to be able to erase things so easily (less distracting than having a dozen sheets of paper with scribblings around you!). I used the whiteboard exactly how I used scratch paper but just used a tissue to erase the notes between each question.
There were some real benefits and disadvantages to being at home.
- One really nice thing about being home was having the comforts I am used to at my disposal.
For example, I sat in the same chair I had taken all the practice tests in, had the same lighting, was able to control the heat to the perfect temperature, and during the ten-minute break, I was able to cuddle my cat to boost my mood before the second half!
- However, there were some real difficulties which I imagine made the test more difficult overall.
For example, I was very stressed about the technological aspects, I wasn’t in as silent an area as I would have liked (lots of sirens passing my windows), and I was worried that if I made an odd movement ProctorU might erase my scores due to “suspicious activity.” It was also certainly weird knowing that I was being recorded!
I was impressed with the kindness of ProctorU and their proctors. The setup for ProctorU was tedious.
Good to Know
Do not expect to start the test at your scheduled time! It will take about 45 minutes before you can actually start. Despite the tech issues, the proctors were incredibly kind. For instance, halfway through my test setup, my computer (which was very old) required a restart. I restarted and was so worried that I would lose my scheduled time.
However, when my computer was finally on, the proctor completely understood and let me start the process again. While the ProctorU system wasn’t ideal, the proctors did their best to be kind and work within their system and the ETS guidelines to help it be the best experience possible.
What should students know about taking the GRE online with ProctorU?
- The proctors will communicate with you via chat only.
- You’ll need to give them access to your computer.
- No smartwatches or headphones. You’ll need your phone to show that your screen meets requirements before putting it away.
When you go to the ProctorU site on your test day, at the time of your test, a new button will appear which will allow you to begin the process.
You will then be asked to provide access to your computer’s microphone and camera, and they will begin recording you.
Next, you are asked to align your face with their camera so they can take a picture of you. They will then ask you to hold your ID up to the camera as well.
Downloading the Program
Then, they will guide you to download a chat program and allow them to get access to your computer. At this time they will close down any non-acceptable programs which you may have running on the computer. They will then ask you to wait for the next available proctor. (I had to wait for about 15 minutes…).
Once you are connected with a proctor, they will gain access to your computer and set up some programs and enter an administrator password and some other things to prep your computer for the test.
They will then ask for you to show them both your wrists (no smartwatches!) and both your ears (no earbuds!). Next, you will have to show them all four walls of your room, your desk space, and the floor around you. They will then ask you to use your phone’s front-facing camera to allow them to see each corner of your computer screen. After this, they will ask you to turn off your phone and put it away.
Finally, they will finish setting up the test on your computer, make it full screen, and allow you to begin. They will ask that you check in with them after your 10-minute break and after you have completed the entire test. From there, you will be able to begin, and they will be available if you run into any problems (you just speak aloud and they will hear you!)
Were you pleased with your results? Will you take the GRE again?
I am! I mostly spent time studying the quantitative section (I was fairly comfortable with verbal), and my score went from the 40th percentile (my first practice test with no studying/experience) to the 70th percentile (my final score). This is about average for Clinical Psychology Programs—so I am happy with this. My Verbal score also increased from the Magoosh lessons and studying. I started in the 85th percentile, and ended in the 98th. The verbal is considered more important in clinical psychology programs, so this was the more important section.
If you were to take the GRE online again, what would you do differently?
I would have scheduled an earlier start time to plan for the extended time before the ProctorU process began.
What is your top tip for students taking the GRE at home?
I recommend doing the best you can to create an environment which is similar to where you have studied, but completely clear of potential distractions.
Close your window shades, move all of your personal belongings away, and make sure you are in a chair you are comfortable sitting in for a long time. Take advantage of the benefits of being at home (having your personal comforts and control of the environment) and just relax! Good luck!
Well, there you have—the full story of what it’s like to take the GRE at home. As you can see, it can be a tough call to make. Taking the GRE at home can be tricky and stressful due to the strict setup requirements and the possibility of a noisier and less-than-ideal environment than at a testing center.
Despite these challenges, taking the GRE online might be the best thing for you at this time. Maybe these potential challenges don’t bother you and you welcome the opportunity to take the GRE in your PJs! Maybe you prefer to get the GRE over with or you might not have another option due to application deadlines.
Whatever decision you end up making, we hope this post gives you the information to make an informed decision and prepare accordingly. You also might find it helpful to check out this post about the benefits of taking the at-home GRE, which is based on an interview with another student who had a more pleasant experience.
And Magoosh is here to help you with preparation! We’re offering account extensions for our current students and will continue to update this blog with useful information as this crisis evolves.
Although this crisis has made the grad school application process MUCH more stressful and uncertain than it needs to be, we hope you come away from our guide to taking the GRE online with a little bit more clarity.
Take care of yourselves and know that Magoosh will be right here with you throughout this process!
Editor’s note: Previously, the online GRE was only available for the Windows operating system. Now, online GRE takers can use the iOS operating system, too. This interview has been edited to reflect this change.
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