Prevention. Detection. Communication.
ETS employs a three-pronged approach of prevention, detection and communication to ensure the validity of test scores. This approach has been developed over ETS's 65-year history as the world's largest educational measurement and research organization. Many of the test security practices pioneered by ETS have become the industry standard and have been adopted by other companies and organizations around the globe.
In addition, the ETS Office of Testing Integrity constantly monitors testing, investigates security issues, conducts unannounced audits and works to ensure score validity worldwide. Annually ETS spends over $25 million on security for test center operations, test-taker identification and monitoring, Internet security, proctor and supervisor training, final score reporting, and post-testing analytics.
Prevention — Five Ways ETS Works to Prevent Fraud
ETS has various procedures in place to prevent testing and scoring fraud. These can be seen from the test design right through to the score reporting process. Here are some of the many ways the GRE® General Test is protected from fraudulent activity from beginning to end.
1. Using the Highest Standards to Create and Deliver Test Content
Security was an intrinsic element that was carefully incorporated into the development of the GRE General Test. Beyond the already extensive security measures in place, test security has been greatly enhanced through the combination of the content, types of questions, design and delivery. The GRE General Test contains several new question types and new task directions, and ETS creates a significant number of new test questions each year, all of which are to ensure that test questions are fresh and to reduce the risk of memorization and cheating. And, in order to minimize the risk of using previously administered test content to which students may have access online, the GRE General Test utilizes a sophisticated proprietary content rotation and delivery design to reduce the possibility of any predictability that could influence a score. In addition, ETS employs staff to search the Internet for GRE® test content. Watch our video, How ETS Develops Test Questions (Flash).
2. Establishing Secure Test Centers
Test administrations occur at Prometric® Test Administration Sites and Certified Test Administration Sites. Each test center undergoes a rigorous screening process consistent with ETS standards to ensure testing security.
- Test center applicants receive an initial pre-qualification interview to determine if the facilities meet security and technical requirements and to secure verifiable references.
- ETS uses the same Internet security protocols as those used by major financial institutions for their secure transmissions. The communication channel uses state-of-the-art encryption, and our software is able to detect whether a transmission was altered or disrupted.
- Internet delivery ensures that test content can only be accessed during the actual test administration.
At the beginning of each test administration, the test software automatically closes all non-GRE windows or applications, including instant messaging (IM). It closes any applications that try to open during the test and then automatically logs the incident. The software also locks the desktop, suppressing key combinations so the test taker cannot switch to any other task.
3. Ensuring the Training of Test Center Administrators
Test center staff are thoroughly trained by ETS personnel to prepare for managing test administrations. As such, test center staff are required to pass a certification exam to demonstrate their knowledge of test delivery policy, practices and procedures before they can serve as a Test Center Administrator. Training includes the following security-related topics:
- Identification requirements
- Check-in procedures on the day of the test
- Security of test data and computers used for testing
- Test center layout
ETS provides a Policies, Practices and Procedures Manual to test center supervisors, featuring proprietary information from ETS. All policies and procedures in the manual must be followed.
ETS conducts announced and unannounced visits to test sites to observe and ensure that the highest standards are being applied and maintained in testing environments around the world.
4. Instituting and Enforcing Test-taker Rules and Requirements
ETS utilizes some of the most extensive and proven measures to ensure security at the test center on test day:
- Using trained test administrators and electronic surveillance for test monitoring
- Adding new technologies such as wanding, mobile phone scrambling and other techniques (select locations)
- Collecting handwriting samples, signature samples and photographs at test centers
- Adhering to strict ID requirements, appropriate for each country
After checking into the test center, test takers:
- Are prohibited from bringing items into the test center that could be used as a testing aid or to collect, share or collaborate on test content.
- Have no access to personal items such as books, electronic devices, handbags and backpacks, all of which are stored separately from the test takers to maintain security.
- Must display his/her photograph on the table in the assigned computer station once the test has started and again upon return from break. This allows the Test Center Supervisor to compare it to the test taker's picture that is presented on the computer screen, as necessary.
5. Maintaining the Quality of Scoring and Score Reporting
GRE Raters receive GRE Analytical Writing responses from test takers worldwide via an online scoring network. They are typically college and university faculty who have undergone training and certification in order to become GRE Raters.
Many different strategies are used to ensure that all GRE Raters use the same scoring standard:
- At the beginning of each scoring session, GRE Raters must pass a calibration test demonstrating accurate scoring before being permitted to score operational essays.
- During operational scoring, previously scored essays (validity essays) are interspersed among unscored operational essays to monitor each GRE Rater's scoring accuracy; they cannot distinguish between the two kinds of essays.
- Scoring leaders also monitor GRE Raters' performance throughout the scoring session by reviewing their scores on operational essays, validity essays and calibration test results, and by monitoring score distributions. Scoring leaders also provide readers with ongoing support and guidance. GRE Raters who deviate from the acceptable level of accuracy are retrained or dismissed.
See our scoring page to read more about how ETS scores the GRE General Test.
Another way ETS ensures the integrity of scores is through the security measures implemented for the paper score reports. Official score reports are printed on purple paper and sent directly from ETS to the institutions or organizations designated by the test taker.
ETS uses a secure paper for official GRE score reports that includes the following features:
- A chain-link watermark on the back of the paper, which is visible when held at a 45-degree angle. This is the easiest, most obvious method of verifying the authenticity of an official score report.
- A Full Chemical Sensitive VOID on the face of the paper. The word "VOID" is continuously repeated on an angle throughout the entire face of the document. "VOID" is produced in multiple languages when activated by a bleach, hypochloride or ink eradicator.
- In addition, GRE score reports include the words "ETS® Security Guard" in the upper right-hand corner, printed with a special heat-sensitive ink for security. To activate this security feature, recipients can apply heat to the text, either by rubbing it or blowing on it, and the ETS Security Guard text will disappear. This feature will not work if the score report has been photocopied.
- A Laser Lock on the face of the paper. This makes it difficult to remove toner from laser- or ion-printed documents.
- Laid lines on the back of the paper. Evenly spaced lines in a specially formulated grey ink, these laid lines make alteration by cutting and pasting difficult.
Detection — ETS is Vigilant in Identifying and Taking Action Against Fraudulent Activity
Even with the most stringent security prevention measures in place, fraudulent activity can occur. To ensure the integrity of GRE test scores, all reported incidents of fraud are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly by the ETS Office of Testing Integrity.
When ETS has reason to suspect that scores are not valid, a security review is conducted that can include photograph review, handwriting analysis and score analysis.
ETS closely monitors all test centers and tracks all security incidents. If it is determined that a test center does not meet ETS standards and it fails to correct the issue, it is closed. ETS also conducts random inspection of test centers as well as site visits to centers where concerns have been raised through supervisor reports, tips or test-taker complaints. ETS works with national law enforcement agencies to prosecute professional impersonation rings.
Monitoring Score Statistics
Statistical analysis methods are used to help assure valid scores. The ETS Statistical Analysis team monitors score trends by test center, country and region, and reports any suspicious anomalies to the Office of Testing Integrity for review.
- Large-score differences software is used to detect significant changes in scores for repeat test takers.
- System-generated irregularity reports are reviewed after each administration.
- Site historical performance data is maintained to identify any deficiencies that need to be addressed.
- Sites are continually audited.
Essay responses on the Analytical Writing section are reviewed by ETS essay-similarity-detection software to detect essay responses that may have been borrowed in whole or in part from elsewhere or prepared by another person.
Communications — Keeping Institutions Informed Is Our Priority
As the world's largest educational measurement and research organization, we believe the majority of test takers are honest and test fairly. ETS also recognizes that the academic community is confronted with an increase in dishonesty and, therefore, we are committed to working closely with institutions around the world to communicate information and investigate concerns.
ETS will continue to inform institutions that are designated score recipients when scores have been cancelled. In addition, any concern regarding test results can be reported to ETS and will be investigated.
ETS continues to develop best practices and create new technologies to prevent and detect fraud. We will continue to keep institutions informed whenever improper behavior is discovered. ETS test security policies are rooted in the most stringent U.S. legal statutes that have been in place for more than 30 years. These laws help guide the practices that ensure both the fairness and validity of our test scores.
For additional security questions or concerns, please contact us at TSReturns@ets.org or call the Security Hotline at 1-800-750-6991 (United States) or +1-609-406-5430 (all other locations).
* The information presented describes the approach to security for the computer-delivered GRE General Test. Comparable security measures are in place for the paper-delivered GRE General Test.
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