GRE and TOEFL in the time of COVID: Trends, discounts, remote tests and everything else you need to know from ETS

  • Jun 04, 2022

With the overall COVID-19 cases declining, the aspirations of students to pursue higher education abroad are rising all over again. And one of the first steps, as usual, remains GRE and TOEFL iBT tests.

Princeton-based Educational Testing Service (ETS) is the body that conducts these tests and six months back, established a subsidiary known as ETS India with Lejo Sam Oommen as the Managing Director.

Since the pandemic, at-home testing has emerged as a viable option for students, but does that mean in-person testing is on the decline? What about discounts for undertaking these tests? And if remote testing is really here to stay, how does ETS ensure that this is as fair as an in-person test.

Lejo Sam Oommen answers all these questions and more in great detail as he walks us through what's new at ETS India. Excerpts from the conversation:

What are the most preferred graduate admissions tests for studying abroad available in India and why?

Each year thousands of Indian students travel abroad to pursue graduate education and rely on the scores of English-language tests (ELT) and graduate-level assessments, depending on the requirements of the desired institute, to provide critical skills needed for success.

An ELT, like the TOEFL iBT® test, evaluates students' ability to demonstrate the four English-language skills — reading, listening, speaking and writing — in an academic context. TOEFL iBT is the premier English-language test, and the world’s most globally recognised and respected. TOEFL iBT is accepted worldwide by more than 11,500 institutions in over 160 countries. In fact, 100% of UK universities, including the prestigious Russell Group® schools, accept TOEFL iBT scores for admissions. In addition, 100% of universities in Australia and New Zealand accept it, in addition to 100% acceptance for all migration visas. To match up to the dynamic requirements of Indian students, we offer a unique TOEFL iBT portfolio of testing options which includes a test centre option via computer, an at-home computer-based option known as TOEFL iBT® Home Edition and our newest option, TOEFL iBT® Paper Edition, in which test-takers take the reading, listening and writing sections on paper in a test centre, followed by the speaking section from the comfort of home.

When it comes to preferred graduate-level assessments, the GRE® test measures test takers’ verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills and its scores are trusted by more than 1,300 business schools around the globe. GRE test scores are accepted for a variety of programmes ranging from Law and Business to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), as well as Humanities. It is offered in both test centres and at-home versions, with the same valid, reliable scores and secure test-taking experience students and institutions expect.

All in all, the TOEFL iBT and GRE tests provide test takers with an optimal combination as they prepare for their graduate education journey. As always, we advise prospective test takers to research the exam policies of the schools they are applying to and prepare for each exam to determine their areas of strength and weakness prior to test day. Test takers can access a variety of free TOEFL iBT test prep resources here and GRE General Test resources here.

What are some of the trends you’ve observed among Indian students, especially now with COVID on the decline?

We’ve seen a near 50/50 split for in-person vs at home testing, and thus are pleased to offer a range of options to test takers to ensure they can select which offering suits their individualised needs. The tests, regardless of testing location, are identical in content and format and maintain rigorous security protocols to ensure scores are valid and reliable.

With the rollout of vaccines across the globe, COVID-19 is on a decline and countries are now reopening borders to increase the ability for students to move more freely. With this change, Indian students are also now traveling abroad more frequently to their dream colleges and universities. As per information received from the Bureau of Immigration (BoI), the number of Indian students, who departed India for higher education in 2022, stands at 1,33,135.

With changing regulations, we have also observed a clear shift in Indian students’ destination preferences.  An increasing number of student visas were issued to Indian students recently — 217,410 issued by Canada, 62,000 by the United States, and 90,669 by the United Kingdom. Others like New Zealand and Australia saw a decline in demand due to the border closure for a longer period, however as these two nations have recently opened their borders, they are expecting to see an increased number of Indians applying in the year ahead.

We also saw a shift in intended graduate majors. As per the ETS GRE Snapshot Report, Indian test takers have shown an increased affinity toward physical sciences, and the percentage of test takers pursuing graduate majors in engineering and STEM has declined over the past few years.

Apart from international institutions, there are now close to 100 institutions in India accepting the GRE General test scores, including the Indian School of Business, NALSAR University of Law, and SP Jain & Jio Institute — and the list continues to grow.

ETS continuously monitors these trends, and a host of others, to help inform our decisions and enable us to effectively serve our stakeholders in India and around the globe.

Are there any special or exclusive discounts that Indian test takers can avail of on the ETS assessments?   

Yes. In India, we know that cost is often a factor that is top of mind as students consider applying for graduate studies. Continuing our efforts of providing affordable testing options and study material to our test takers, very recently ETS announced an exclusive discount of 25% off the TOEFL iBT test registration fee when test takers register for the GRE General Test.

As of May 1, test takers with this discount save more than 3,480* INR (48 USD) on the TOEFL iBT test, bringing the test total to 10,300 INR*. Thereby making this offer on the combination of TOEFL iBT and GRE significantly more economical than other tests — for example, more than 30% cheaper than taking a combination of GMAT® and IELTS®, a total savings of approximately 36,500 INR (122 USD).

We’re confident that this will provide test takers in India with greater ease and additional options as they work through their applications and portfolios and showcase their skills with the most preferred graduate admissions tests around the globe. And, when they register for these tests, they also have the convenience of using their Aadhaar cards, the most widely accepted form of identification in India, to register — an enhancement ETS began offering nearly one year ago.

Additionally, for study-abroad agents and advisors, the ETS India team provides discounts on the TOEFL® test when they register to be a part of the TOEFL Market ambassador network and a range of other exclusive benefits.

*Assumed exchange rate of INR72.5 to USD

As remote testing becomes a new normal, how is ETS ensuring secure and fair assessments?  

ETS is committed to advancing quality, equity and access in education by providing both test takers and institutions with fair, valid and reliable assessments across the globe.

To ensure this in all our offerings, be it at the test centre or via our remote testing options, we continue to invest tens of millions of dollars in security infrastructure and the latest technologies to keep pace with the new and sophisticated ways that cheating can occur.

Our dedicated Office of Testing Integrity team comprised of investigators, experts and analysts has been dedicatedly safeguarding the validity and integrity of ETS exams for over six decades. This team, along with highly trained proctors and supportive AI technology, also investigates and analyses scores and testing sessions minutely for the slightest error or breach. If evidence exists, for any testing session which is suspected of having been earned or conducted unfairly, we do not hesitate to cancel test scores, even after they have been reported to test takers and institutions. In the most extreme cases, we will ban test takers who violate our testing policies.

We take security very seriously and work tirelessly to ensure that we’re not only providing valid and accurate scores for the institutions around the world that rely on them, but also to protect the vast majority of the millions of students who test honestly and work hard to achieve their educational goals.

Since its inception six months ago, how has ETS India been helping Indian students with their aspirations of studying abroad? What are the plans going forward for India?  

The higher education landscape in India has dynamically transformed over the past two years due to challenges stemming from the global pandemic and the introduction of new education policies. To understand and address the fast-changing needs of Indian test takers and to further strengthen and foster our presence in India, we established our first dedicated Indian subsidiary — ETS India, last year.

The well-equipped ETS India team is supporting our operations in-country to continue our work of advancing educational opportunities for Indian learners and helping us understand the challenges that Indian test takers are facing. In fact, the new exclusive discount offer is an outcome of our team’s constant efforts and in-depth research.

India is a dominant force in the global marketplace, and as part of our commitment to the Indian market, we will continue to expand our portfolio of education resources and tools and keep working to further innovate our existing assessments to ensure fairness, validity and reliability to produce meaningful results and help students and professionals achieve their lifetime goals.