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So last night I sat down to see about taking the General GRE and Physics GRE, a process that many prospective grad students will have to tackle in the coming months.

Here's what I learned...
Right now ETS offers an "at home" option for the General GRE! There's an online proctor! Testing is already happening and will be available 7 days a week from Jul 1 - Sep 30! How accommodating! How accessible!

Wait for it.
Here's what you need at home to take the test:

To start, you need a Windows or Mac desktop or laptop. No tablets or mobile devices (the "Mac" bit is also new; when I first tries this a few weeks ago Macs were prohibited)
(I registered for an ETS GRE acct at the time. Not that I'm begging for more spam or anything, but there was no email sent updating me that Macs were now permissible. They DID, however, send an email last week letting me know that "there is no better time to take a GRE test" 👀)
So, right off the bat, you need a personal desktop or laptop. Tablets and smartphones won't cut it.

We already know from virtual teaching this spring that not all students/prospective grads have access to this in their homes.
The computer must have a speaker and microphone - no headsets or earphones are allowed - and a camera that can be lifted and moved to show your online proctor a 360 view of the room and your desk surface.
You need to use Chrome or Firefox, and also need to download the ETS Test Browser software (which wigs out a Mac because it's from an unidentified developer, but sure, let's install this pixel party like it's 1995...)
You need to run the ProctorU system check because a proctor monitors you for the duration of the ~4 hour exam.

This checks your OS and bandwidth (better hope your home internet is up to scratch!), accesses the webcam & sound, monitors apps and keystrokes, and runs FLASH. Sure.
(a computer scientist I know pointed out that this stuff is all starting to sound like an excellent vehicle for getting hacked)

(seriously, get a webcam cover if you do this)
You also need a surface cleared of all items not approved for use, in a room where you can be totally alone for the whole test.

Given how much we've all seen of each other's roommates, partners, children, and pets over the past months, this is a tall order for a 4 hour exam...
(also, if you live in a studio with housemates, or don't have a computer, and were thinking of trying to find an open internet cafe or quiet library corner or similar, you're outta luck: you can't take the test in a public space)
I'll admit I enjoyed this one: "you must sit in a standard chair; you may not sit or lie on a bed, couch or overstuffed chair."

When a rule's this specific there's ALWAYS a reason. I badly want to see the file folder that must have accompanied the Overstuffed Chair Incident.
No food or drink during the test. You DO, however, get one optional 10min break about 90min in when you're allowed to leave your seat, and 1min breaks between each test section where you must stay in your reasonably-stuffed chair.
All right, the tech and test space have been vetted, what's next? "Clothing and Appearance"?

Oh, this always goes well. Whatcha got, ETS?

"Ears must remain visible" and "avoid jewelry, tie clips, cuff links, ornate clips, combs, barrettes, headbands, and other hair accessories"
1) Okay ETS please go have a think about your use of "combs" here.

2) How do long-haired people avoid headbands and other "hair accessories" and also keep their ears uncovered?

3) Is there a "Tie Clip Incident" folder somewhere too?
"Make sure you can be seen on camera by the proctor. Suspicious movements could invalidate your test" They don't elaborate but interviews with proctors mention things like "eye movements"

So it's up to proctors to deem behavior "suspicious"? Can't imagine how this could go wrong
Finally, we've got the "Note-taking Materials" section of the test. Which is fun.

No notes allowed on paper. You may use either a whiteboard or a transparent sheet protector and an erasable marker. You must erase all notes in view of the proctor at the end of the test.
I know this isn't impossible to manage - you can order a cheap dry-erase board online or go pick up some overhead transparency sheets from 1997 - but for many test-takers these are not readily-available house items. It's not a serious barrier but it's for sure a pain in the ass.
Anyway, we're done with the requirements! If you think you can meet them all you can go ahead and register for the GRE.

Now you can create an account, select the test-at-home option, and take a demographic survey. You also get offered $200+ worth of test prep and practice exams during this step. Nifty.

For the privilege of registering to take the GRE you will be paying $205.
And that's just to TAKE the test. ETS lets you report scores to 4 schools for free, but after that it's $27 per school. Many astro undergrads I talk to these days apply to at LEAST ten schools.

So that's 6*27=$162, bring the total GRE sticker price to $367.
BUT WAIT. If you need accessibility accommodations you must request these through ETS before scheduling an appointment.

This means submitting forms detailing exactly what accommodations you're asking for (thought it's pretty unclear what they CAN offer for at-home testing).
ETS will need 4-6 weeks to review this once your request has been received, and another 4-6 weeks after that if they decide they need additional documentation, so get cracking.
Anyway, that was fun. Now, how about a walkthrough for taking the Physics GRE subject test at home?

Can't. The at-home test option is not available for the PGRE, or ANY of the GRE subject tests.
The subject tests are only offered on certain dates. The one most prospective grad applicants are probably looking at is September 12th. Right now it looks like that'll be an in-person pencil-and-paper exam at a busy testing center 😬

Also, subject test registration costs $150.
So, simply TAKING the General GRE is, even with the at-home option, a pretty annoying process right now.

Taking the subject GRE tests also currently seems pretty gnarly due to COVID-19 and accommodation plans are unclear.
Finally, even if NONE of these barriers were in place...

...even if a ready-to-take cheat-proof universally-accessible exam magically flew itself to your desk on the wings of a benevolent ETS Testing Dove...

...taking the GRE would still be awful right now because LOOK AROUND.
Students are sick, vulnerable, angry, overwhelmed, & financially-strained. They will not effectively demonstrate their potential & abilities through the GRE.

I know sometimes life is tough but these are GLOBAL tough times, & coping with them is easier if you're privileged.
Asking for and getting help during times like these can be much harder for folks who are marginalized, who don't know the unspoken rules of "what's allowed", who don't want to call attention to themselves or offer up any reason for someone to tell them that they don't belong.
Including GRE exams in your admissions process this year will make going to grad school harder for everyone and dramatically magnify existing inequities in your applicant pool.

Schools everywhere are removing ETS exams from admissions AT ALL LEVELS right now. There's a reason.
(plus, these exams are terrible gauges of how someone will do in grad school. ahem:

ETS themselves have demonstrated that their own tests' scores strongly correlate with gender, race, and socioeconomic status)
In short, make decisions that REMOVE barriers for your future applicants right now.

Support their ability to put their best foot forward.

Support their right to wear tie clips.

Overstuffed chairs did nothing wrong.

Support an equitable admissions process.

Update: and check out this thread for a first-hand account detailing more of the financial, accessibility, and privacy/legal barriers involved with taking the GRE *even in the Before Times*:
Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh.

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