What It Is
If you're hoping to go to graduate school, you've probably heard someone mention the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. The GRE is a multiple-choice, standardized exam that is often required for admission to master's and Ph.D. level graduate programs.
The GRE measures three intellectual skill areas, and each area has its own rules: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. In the verbal reasoning section, you will be given incomplete data and asked to draw conclusions from it. For the quantitative reasoning section, you'll be doing math. Just simple (or not so simple) math. And finally, for the analytical writing section, you will need to formulate an argument to defend an idea.
Who Needs to Take It
Students hoping to attend graduate programs in business are most likely to need to take GRE, as law students tend to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and prospective medical students are most likely to take the Medical MCA. However, some law schools and medical schools also require or accept the GRE.
As grueling as taking the GRE can be, it does have a few features that make it preferable to the other graduate school admissions exams. First, it's accepted by a wide variety of programs. While business schools are most likely to require it, you may also find that it can be used to gain entry into a variety of master's degree programs. Second, after you take the GRE, you're able to highlight the scores you're especially proud of for the university to see. Finally, if you don't think you did so well and think you can do better, you can retake the entire test.
How the GRE Can Go Wrong
Few people come this far in their educational career with plans to commit misconduct while taking the GRE, but – intentional or not – problems can arise that can trigger misconduct allegations. Over the years, the Educational Testing Services (ETS), the company that administers the test, has developed procedures to review the validity of the test scores they receive. The vast majority of test scores are found to have no inconsistencies and are reported to the institutions the test takes indicates without incident. However, sometimes ETS has concerns about the validity of the test scores, and in those situations, the test taker is offered several options for resolving the matter. If and when this happens, ETS will flag your scores and contact you.
At that point, you will have an opportunity to provide information that explains the inconsistencies. If you are not able to provide evidence, ETS will allow you to voluntarily cancel your scores and retake the test, often for free. You can also choose then to send your case to arbitration. At this point, you have the right to initiate legal action.
Reasons for Canceled Scores
When you register for the GRE, you explicitly agree to comply with the terms by which your scores can be canceled. While Educational Testing Services (ETS), the company that administers the test, will allow you to cancel your own scores, it also reserves the right to cancel your scores if certain problems arise, including testing or identification irregularities, exam misconduct, or invalid scores. You can choose to cancel your own scores immediately after you finish taking the GRE. If you do, you will not receive a refund, but your scores will not be sent to any institutions and will not appear on your future score reports.
ETS may elect to cancel your scores against your wishes if any irregularities or unusual occurrences take place at the testing site or during the test administration. These irregularities can include defective exam equipment and natural disasters. If this happens, ETS will reschedule your exam at no charge to you.
If ETS finds inconsistencies or conflicting information in your identification, your GRE scores can also be canceled. This could include not having a photo ID, the full name on your form of identification not matching the name printed on your exam admission ticket, or your signature not matching the signature on your ID. If ID problems occur, you will most likely not be allowed to take the exam that day. However, if the inconsistencies are discovered after the exam, your scores could be canceled. If your scores have already been reported to your designated institutions, ETS will notify the institutions or other third parties that the scores have been canceled.
More seriously, your scores could be canceled if you are discovered to have cheated or copied from another test taker during the exam or participated in some other activity that violates testing center regulations. These violations can include bringing electronic equipment, such as a cell phone, into the testing area, bringing food or beverages into the testing area, or leaving the testing center without the administrator's permission.
Your scores could also be deemed invalid and canceled if ETS notices irregularities in your exam responses. These could be as simple as indecipherable handwriting for paper tests or unusual answer patterns, or performance between different test sections. ETS may also decide to look closer at your responses after receiving communications from test center administrators or for other test takers calling your behavior into question, or if ETS receives some other form of information that casts suspicion on your responses.
If, while reviewing questionable scores, ETS determines that misconduct has occurred, ETS may decide to pursue the matter under its Misconduct procedures. If that happens, the options previously offered to the test taker may no longer be available, even if they were previously offered.
Types of Information ETS considers
When considering whether you could be guilty of plagiarism or misconduct, ETS will consider the following:
- If your scores are inconsistent with your scores in another section or with your demonstrated abilities
- If it appears that content or answers were available to you prior to taking the test
- If an external source has provided information to ETS
- If it appears that you did not work independently
While assessing these matters, ETS will consider the following:
- Biometric data
- Your test answers as compared to the answers of other test takers
- Your previous scores or scores on other sections of the test
- The identification documents you presented on the test day as compared with other records
- Whether any of your answers appear to have been changed to match another test taker
- The handwriting on your test as compared to other handwriting samples
- Your essays or portfolio as compared to those of other test takers and/or other published or unpublished sources
What Happens Next
If ETS has concerns about the validity of your test, it will not report your test scores to you until those concerns have been resolved. If ETS's concerns are with scores that have already been reported, it will not notify you unless and until it has reviewed the matter, the resolution process has been completed, or you have failed to comply with deadlines, and it has decided to cancel your scores.
The Review Process
There are two stages to ETS's review process: the initial review and the second stage of review. During the initial review, ETS's Office of Testing Integrity (OTI) will consider if there appears to be evidence of invalidity. OTI will prepare a file, called a Score Review Summary, which will contain information and documentation related to the matter.
If OTI decides that there is not sufficient evidence of invalidity, it will terminate the review and send any scores not already reported to you and to the institutions you designated. You will also be made aware that ETS investigated and found no score validity issues that necessitated canceling your score.
If OTI finds substantial evidence that your scores may be invalid, they will notify you and offer you an opportunity to submit additional information that answers ETS's concerns. You will also be offered an opportunity to cancel your scores and take the test again, without charge, or to receive a refund for what you have already paid. After you send that information, or if the deadline passes without you sending it, OTI staff will refer the Score Review Summary and any additional information you submitted to the ETS Board of Review.
Submitting Additional Information
You will only be provided with one opportunity to submit additional information, which might include original documents written prior to the test date that addresses concerns about handwriting differences, a doctor's note that notes a physical impairment or disability, or other relevant information that addresses an ETS concern.
You may also elect to submit character reference letters or other forms of documentation that do not specifically address ETS's concerns. Though you are allowed to submit these, ETS says they do not give them much weight.
The Second Stage of Review
The Board of Review at ETS meets in rotating panels to review cases, and they do not review scores from testing programs for which they have managerial or administrative responsibility. If even one panel member decides that there is not enough evidence of invalidity, the review is terminated, and the scores are reported.
The Board of Review will look over the contents of the Score Review Summary and will also consider any additional information you have submitted. If the matter at hand involves handwriting discrepancies, the Board will also receive a report from an external document examiner retained by ETS analyzing the handwriting.
If the Board of Review finds that there is enough evidence of invalidity, you will be notified. ETS will then offer you several options for resolution before your scores are canceled.
Options for Resolution
At this point, you will be offered three options for resolution: 1) You can cancel your scores and take the test again at no charge; 2) You can cancel your scores and receive a full refund; 3) You can ask to have a third-party arbitrator, appointed by the American Arbitration Association, consider the matter and decide whether ETS has enough evidence to support canceling your scores.
Arbitration is meant to be a process during which an independent review of ETS's decision that there is substantial evidence of invalidity is conducted. The review will be based only on the documents, and the arbitrator will only review the information that was submitted to the ETS Board of Review that led to it deciding to cancel your scores. You will not be allowed to submit any new information.
If you choose to pursue arbitration, you will have to sign a standard ETS Arbitration Agreement that dictates the procedures that will apply during the process. Though ETS will typically pay for the cost of arbitration, the arbitrator is authorized to charge the test takes up to $325 if the arbitrator determines that the test taker's position is frivolous.
Let Us Help You
You didn't get all the way to the GRE to give up on your dreams of attending graduate school. You have spent a lot of time preparing for the GRE and for graduate school, and you have sacrificed countless hours of precious time studying – not to mention the time it took to take the test!
It may seem hopeless and overwhelming right now, but it doesn't have to be. You don't have to say goodbye to all your hard work. You don't have to just quit. No matter what inconsistency ETS believes it has found in your test, we can help.
Let Attorney Joseph D. Lento help you find a way forward and keep your academic and career goals on track. Attorney Lento has helped students all over the country and has aggressively and successfully defended them against problems like the one you're facing now.
The process for challenging ETS's findings can be confusing and hard to navigate, but Attorney Lento knows these processes well. He can help you meet deadlines, gather the additional information you need, and find your way through the arbitration process. Let him help you get past this testing setback and get on with your life. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 today.