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Horrible Testing Conditions - Mention in SOP?


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I sat for the GRE today, expecting to perform much better than I did. The test center had issues with connecting to ETS and I wasn't seated until three hours after my scheduled test time. I arrived an hour early too, so I waited four hours before taking my test. Obviously I was tired, hungry and emotionally drained from the waiting and possibility that I wouldn't have the opportunity to take the test in time to submit applications.

Should I mention these conditions in my statement of purpose? I'm applying for a STEM field and got a 154 on the analytical, which is basically unacceptable, but am strong on all other parts of my application.

I'm so upset right now, I feel like life was turned upside down by this one horrible testing experience.

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154 analytical, do you mean quant or verbal?

Is there any way to complain to ETS for what happened? It surely doesn't seem fair and I'm sorry you went through that. The GRE is already a ridiculous endurance test and the fact you had to endure it any longer seems ridiculous. I would think ETS should give you some sort of leeway on rescheduling it or allowing for a retake for free or something. But I'm not sure on their policies, you should check up on that. I'm usually not one for bringing up excuses on the SoP because I feel like that just sets a bad tone for the rest of you accomplishments. Maybe you could ask one of your letter writers to mention this?

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What you describe sounds horrific, and I definitely feel for you. In high school, I felt one of my SATs was compromised by external noise and an angry, bitter proctor who yelled at us and kept inaccurate time. I did my best to go the complaint route with ETS, which involved writing a formal letter and sending it by either Certified or Express Mail (forget which, but ETS stated it "required" this special -- and expensive -- handling). Months later, I got a form-letter apology and some generic statement that "they investigate every complaint situation." My college apps were long since submitted, I couldn't retake due to time/money constraints, and there was never a mention of, say, refunding my test fee, or what the consequences of said "investigation" might entail.

Predictably, ETS makes the complaint process as cumbersome, inefficient and passive as possible, with the onus on you for their shortcomings. I did a brief search for their complaint process, and here it looks like little has changed (except that you can now complain by email) -- note the "must complete within 7 days of test date" and "expect a response in 4-6 weeks."

Seeing as you won't get far with ETS, I would contact the testing center directly, and persistently, to reschedule you ASAP and at reduced or no cost.

I wouldn't mention it in your SoP. Try to keep that as a stand-alone document about your academic training, interests and philosophy. See if your applications have a "Use this space to share with us anything you feel is not addressed in your other application components" field, and mention it there. If there is no such opportunity, perhaps contact the program's Dir of Grad Students or Student Affairs Officer (whoever your go-to is for application submission and questions) and ask to include a cover letter with your file that briefly describes the situation. And, if you also mention in this letter that you plan to retake the test ASAP -- and, as galling as it is for me to even recommend this, you do it, even if it costs you another fee -- it removes the "is s/he making excuses?" question on the part of the adcomm, and they will know to expect your scores later.

Good luck and keep us updated.

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I had a similar experience: First, they couldn't assign me a computer station and I had to wait for an hour. Once I was at my computer station they couldn't start the program and I had to wait another 30 minutes. Additionally, during the test (between two sections) my computer crashed and I had to wait another hour until I could continue.

Right after the test I filed a complaint with ETS and Prometric (testing center). Prometric apologized immediately but told me that they cannot make any decision with respect to my scores. It took ETS three weeks to investigate my case. In the end, they offered me a voucher for a free retake. However, they also told me that since I reported my scores on test day (which I had to do because of the Fulbright application deadline) they cannot cancel them.

If you've already sent your score to the schools you're applying to, let the testing center give you a confirmation letter that you had to test under unfavorable conditions. In the end, this is a standardized test, which aims at comparing students with each other and thus everyone should have (more or less) equal testing conditions.

A personal advice: call ETS! Emails get easily lost.

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I wouldn't mention in SOP, I think it might backfire & come across as whining. For others reading this forum, this is yet another reason to take the test early (well before your deadlines) so that you can retake if necessary...

Edited by iowaguy
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