4 Hours of Incarceration at the GRE Testing Center: My GRE Test Taking Experience

When I signed up to take the GRE at a testing center, they provided me with a list of dos and don’ts, but I don’t think they adequately portrayed the list of testing regulations that could easily overwhelm  the unexpected test taker.  Of course, I knew that I wouldn’t have access to my cell phone and that I would put my belongings in a locker, but I didn’t realize that I would be suspected of cheating the second I walked through the door.

On my GRE test day, I walked into the center only to be ordered to put everything in a locker. (Right before that, the receptionist may have grunted out a short “Hi.”) Because I wanted to be prepared for extreme thirst, annoyingly dry lips, and arctic temperatures, I brought along a water bottle (in clear plastic), chapstick,  and a sweatshirt only to find out I couldn’t have my water or chapstick and had to decide on the sweatshirt before I even went into the testing room. GRRR!

Next, I headed to the holding area as I waited for the proctor to book me and fingerprint me (Ok, well, it wasn’t quite that bad.) But when it was my turn to register, they took my picture, checked every inch of my body with a security wand, made me turn all my pockets inside out.

They also explained several rules that I wasn’t prepared for:

  • If my hair was up in a ponytail, I could not take it down; if my hair was down, I could not put it up.
  • I could not put on or remove any articles of clothing (like a jacket) once in the testing center.
  • I could not take off any article of jewelry (like a ring that becomes annoying after writing for a while).

After signing an agreement and signing in to the testing room (you have to sign in and out every time you enter or exit the door), I was finally accompanied into the room with about 20 computer stations separated by partitions. The photo of me taken several minutes before stared back at me on the computer screen, and, once again, the proctor compared my id, the picture on the screen, and me to make sure I was who I claimed to be. (As if the first 50 checks weren’t enough!) On top of that, 20 security cameras glared down from their ceiling perches, as each computer station was monitored by its own camera.

I completely understand that each of these preventative measures are designed to deter cheating of every form, but that doesn’t compensate for making me feel like a criminal. If I had even a mild case of testing anxiety, I think my nerves would have skyrocketed and truly impacted my performance.

These nerve-wracking conditions should not prevent anyone from taking the GRE; however, just anticipate uncomfortable moments and mentally prepare for the 4 hours at the center.