Taking the At Home GRE: What to Expect & How to Prepare

Joa Ahern-Seronde
Joa Ahern-Seronde
February 16, 2021
The At Home GRE is here to stay! Here are the fast facts to help you consider whether this online, flexible schedule option is a good fit for you.
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The pandemic scuttled plans for millions of people, including graduate school candidates all over the world. Thankfully, industries and companies have quickly adapted, including ETS (the maker of the GRE General Test). The At Home GRE became available in March 2020 and allows candidates to take the GRE online from the comfort of their bedroom, home office, or other private space. Even better, ETS has added the At Home GRE to its GRE portfolio of products, so test takers will have the option to take the test online or at a center for the foreseeable future.

To help you prepare for your virtual GRE experience, we’ve put together a primer on what you can expect with the At Home GRE.

Standardized Testing for the 21st Century

The At Home GRE tries to replicate the physical, in-person experience of test-centers as much as possible. The online version of the GRE is identical to the test-center version and includes Analytical Writing, Quantitative, and Verbal sections. Proctoring is provided, albeit virtually, with ProctorU, and you are given the same amount of time and charged the same test fee ($205 USD in most places) as you are for the test-center version. You can take the GRE online up to five times in a 12-month period, with at least 21 days between each test.

The big advantage of the At Home GRE is that you can take it any time, any day 24/7. Appointments may be available as early as 24 hours after you register. The online GRE is available anywhere the GRE General Test is normally available with the exception of mainland China and Iran. This wide availability and flexibility in scheduling means you can schedule to take the GRE at 3 a.m. while everyone else is asleep and there are no roommates or partners or children to distract you. Though make sure it's a time that you're awake and ready to go too!

Technical Requirements

You can take the GRE online using a laptop or desktop (mobile devices like tablets are not allowed) that meets the following technical requirements:

  • PC: Windows versions 10 or 8
  • MAC: Mac OS X 10.5 or higher
  • Chrome or Firefox browser

To minimize potential technical issues on the day of your test, you should download the browser beforehand and run the ProctorU Equipment Check available on the ETS website.

You’ll also need a microphone, speakers (no headphones), and a camera in order to communicate and be monitored by the proctor.

Space Requirements

Ideally, you should find a space where you have four walls to yourself and where you will not be interrupted by anyone for the duration of the test. Public places - cafes, parks, co-working spaces - are a no-no (and probably too noisy and distracting for test-taking anyway).

Your laptop or desktop needs to be on a desk or table surface and you have to sit in a standard chair -- so no reclining on the couch with your computer on your lap. Your desk must be clear of any items that you don’t need for the test, including food and cell phones.

You’ll be monitored by your proctor via camera and recorded during the test and your photo will be taken and shared with institutions that receive your scores. Pajamas are discouraged; comfortable and non-distracting clothing are strongly encouraged. The main rule for clothing is do not cover your ears with a hat or other headwear (though religious headwear is permitted as long as your ears are visible).

Testing Materials

Besides your computer and the required recording and audio devices, you’re allowed to have erasable note-taking materials (not including pencil and paper). You can use either a whiteboard with an erasable marker or one sheet of paper inside a sheet protector with an erasable marker. After you finish testing, you’ll have to show the proctor that all of your notes have been erased.

Preparing for Test

The more you prepare yourself for what to expect, the better. Familiarizing yourself with the entire format of the test means there will be no surprises to throw you off your best performance on test day. ETS provides a detailed explanation of testing policies and procedures for the At Home GRE which includes everything from a step-by-step of the check-in process to the ProctorU tutorial video. Taking the time to understand what to expect may be as valuable as the time you put into memorizing vocabulary!

According to some reviews of the At Home GRE, interacting with your virtual proctor might be the most awkward - and technically-fraught - part of taking the GRE online. Be prepared to give the proctor a 360 tour of your room before you start the test. And if you need to communicate with your proctor during the test, you either have to get their attention via your microphone/camera or a built-in chat function. In the worst case scenario, you could find yourself repeating “hello?” to an empty room or frustrated with a slow chat response.

Takeaways and Other Resources

Who should take the GRE online?

For those test takers who don’t have an open test center near them (and who do not wish to delay testing), the At Home GRE is a great option. ETS rolled out a solid online option that has not needed major updates since it was introduced. Thousands of test takers have registered and taken the test to-date, which demonstrates a high level of confidence in the platform.

If you do have the option of taking the GRE at a test center or don’t mind delaying test-taking, you should consider the logistics before opting for the At Home GRE. Working from home has pushed the limits and boundaries of many families in terms of available, quiet, and distraction-free space and time. You may not have a suitable testing environment or you might find it hard to keep other people, children, or pets out of your testing space. Internet bandwidth is also a big concern. Slow or spotty internet service is frustrating in the best scenarios and can be panic-inducing during a timed test.

What about accommodations?

Some accommodations are available directly through your ETS account, and you can request others through ETS Disability Services. Make sure you wait for your accommodations to be approved before scheduling your test.

Are practice tests available for the GRE online?

Free At Home GRE practice tests are available. They are exactly the same as the actual test except you have the option to save and return to the test later. ETS also has an excellent platform for practicing Analytical Writing, including scoring guides, topic pools, and sample essays.

What about additional questions and concerns?

You can find FAQs for the online GRE as well as a very helpful testing checklist on the ETS website. Good luck with your preparation!

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