With an impressive increase in the number of GRE test takers in India, there has also been an increase in cases of cheating. Alberto Acereda, Associate Vice President of Global Higher Education, ETS, who is responsible for GRE’s growth, talks to indianexpress. com about the increase in Indian test takers, technical issues, security features and more.
According to ETS data, the number of GRE test takers in India increased from 56,782 in 2012-2013 to 114,647 test takers in 2021-22, a 63 percent increase from the previous year (70,136 in 2020-21). From talking about the rise in Indian test takers to pros and cons of ‘home’ testing, here are excerpts from his conversation with indianexpress.com…
Has there been an increase in the number of applicants from the rural parts of India since the start of ‘home tests’?
We’ve seen phenomenal growth in the number of test takers, both for our home and test center tests. We know that India is one of the world’s largest markets for outgoing students, with nearly 1.8 million Indian students estimated to apply for admission to foreign education programs by 2024 (Red Seer Report). With this, we are confident that the GRE test will be the natural beneficiary of this overseas education rush. In fact, we’ve already seen this as our GRE testing volume increased 63 percent from 2020-2021 to 2021-2022.
Looking at the data from the past six years, non-metro cities such as Pune and Ahmedabad have emerged as the top 10 cities where GRE test takers live. Over the last four years, cities like Thane, Guntur, Vijaywada and Khammam have made the list, with Guntur and Vijaywada in the top 5 in both 2021 and 2022. These trends point to increased GRE demand from mini-metro and tier 2 cities.
Over the past 10 years, we have seen significant growth among our Indian GRE testing population. In 2012-2013, 56,782 test takers from India took the GRE General test. In 2013-2014, we served 85,489; in 2014-2015 we grew to 96,178; in 2015-2016 we continued to grow to 99,376 test subjects; in 2016-2017 we served 80,123 test subjects; 68,702 in 2017-2018; in 2018-2019, just before the pandemic, we had 72,855 Indian students take the GRE test; In 2019-2020, we served 69,835 amid COVID-19 and started growing back again in 2020-2021 with 70,136 test takers. We’ve had incredible growth in 2021-2022 with 114,647 test takers, up 63 percent from the previous year as we continue to emerge from the pandemic.
Below are the top 10 cities where this growth is coming from (data for the last 6 years by test year, June-July):
With things returning to normal and Covid taking a backseat, is ETS planning to discontinue at-home GRE testing?
When Covid came along we thought as a leading organization we should give people the option to have the test available to them in a place that was safe and supervised with no obvious option to go to a testing center. For example, the home test was made by ETS for GRE and TOEFL. Then other rating companies followed suit for their testing.
So with Covid winding down, we still believe there are rural places in the world that don’t have easy access to testing centers. Therefore, the home test solution for GRE and TOEFL remains an opportunity to serve these individuals. That said, in the case of India, we are also aware of some situations where cases of cheating have been reported and ETS understands the need to stop that kind of behaviour. We have been taking steps for some time and we are now strengthening steps to stop that situation. So at the moment everything is on the table, but we are not making any decisions on that at the moment for two reasons.
First, we don’t want to leave people in need of this solution (from a home test). The second reason is we want to make sure we look at the data and understand if these are isolated cases in a specific area of the country.
Speaking of scams, how many cases have been caught in India since the launch of home testing, and what are the security measures in place against them now?
The number of cheating incidents we see represent a very small percentage of the total number of tests we conduct each year around the world. While we’ve seen these incidents increase since the pandemic, we continue every day to thoroughly investigate and reduce the incidents of those who cheat our ratings. We make every effort to certify our test takers’ scores because we have an obligation to test takers who test with integrity. It’s important to know that diligently preparing and demonstrating your skills on test day will set you up for success not only in graduate school, but also in your career and beyond. At the end of the day, cheaters and those who try to commit fraud eventually get caught. The risk is not worth the perceived reward and does not pay off.
To ensure test security, our Office of Testing Integrity (OTI), Chief Security Office, and Research and Development teams work to analyze scores and test sessions suspected of being unfairly earned or conducted (and cancel test scores when evidence this justifies) ; investigate cheating rings and services; identify new trends and patterns that require action; cooperate with local law enforcement agencies, etc. In the most extreme cases, we have and will continue to prohibit candidates from taking our assessments. In the coming months, we also plan to invest tens of millions of additional dollars to enhance our technology capabilities and double down on test security measures to ensure we stay at least one step ahead in this area.
Have there been any cases in rural India where students faced technical issues at the testing services at home or at the testing centers? How is this handled?
Sometimes test subjects don’t have good WiFi and they don’t get the chance. We see such cases every day, but our processing test centers help us in such cases. This isn’t like we’re sending a student to a testing center and whatever happens, happens. We have established protocols that if these things unfortunately happen due to a network issue, there are hundreds of individuals in call centers addressing these issues for thousands of students who take the test and need assistance. We have all that in house. So for anyone who encounters a problem, we work with the positioned test centers and at the same time we work with our call center. No candidate is denied an opportunity because of these technical issues, and we make sure to deal with them in a fair and unbiased manner.
Are there any changes or adjustments we can expect to see in the GRE test in the near future?
Yes, we are now reviewing some areas in the test. We look at how we can position GRE as a more modern test and remain relevant in the changing times. We want to make sure that any new products or changes to the (existing) products we bring to the table are things that help the students and are welcomed by the institutions. More details will become available in the coming months. We want to see the GRE test evolve over time.
Are authorities concerned that IT layoffs could lead to a decline in the number of GRE test candidates?
This is a market trend that happens every so often and what’s happening now is that post-Covid the discussion about additional ways to dispose of withdrawals gained momentum. So this isn’t just about GRE, but SAT, LSAT etc. Ultimately, these are healthy discussions about how everyone can better help students, but we’re seeing an increase in GRE test takers, and we’re also seeing some big universities like MIT that go back to using GRE scores. These things sometimes happen and sometimes they don’t, but our goal is to ensure that the relevance and quality to GRE remains intact as we have such conversations with the universities.
However, we are not worried about it, we just think it is important to continue working with this constituency. We’ve also seen tremendous growth (year-over-year) in India in terms of test takers, proving that GRE continues to be relevant in India.
This chart is by test year from June of the first year to July of the second year in the series.
Indians are in the top 3 GRE test takers around the world. Indian students are doing quite well in the GRE, and we are happy with that as it reinforces their value. That said, we are now looking at ways to make this process easier for Indian candidates, and we want to get in direct contact with these candidates.
In addition, there are also programs such as GRE Mentor for candidates. We are also exploring opportunities to help individuals here gain insight into their personal skills and qualities. These are little things we are doing to generate more interest (regarding GRE) in India.
There are services (coaching centers) that may not be verified, so students should pay attention to that. Free materials are available on our website for preparation, and students can pay a little more to get better preparation services and materials. I would advise candidates to always exercise caution and be aware of the authenticity of GRE test preparation materials available on the Indian streets.
Is ETS planning to launch new test centers in India?
We are not concentrating on the home tests right now. While we still believe it’s an important solution, our focus is on providing different solutions and one of those solutions will go to the test centers. As of now, ETS is trying to expand the capacity of the existing test centers as we want more students to have access to test centers now.
We also want to expand the number of test centers in India, but that will be determined on the basis of the analysis of the situation and need in India.