Taking the GRE in China

Wow. It’s been so long. I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever! I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch – work has been busy. No, I haven’t been avoiding you. OK, so maybe it wasn’t just work. But I really have been busy. Let me explain.

At the beginning of the summer I started studying for the GRE and man it really took over my life. For three months, every Monday morning before work I’d wake up at 5:30 am and log on to a virtual classroom based in the States for three hours. The other mornings and evenings were devoted to homework for that once-a-week class. Needless to say, Chinese classes were put on hold, work hours blended into study time, and, unfortunately, my dedication to you wavered. But recently I have emerged from my dark study corner and am here to tell you all about it.

Signing up for the GRE in China is about as serpentine a process as one would expect. First, like all other GRE test takers, you have to make an online account with ETS (the people who make the test). But, apparently ETS outsources its services abroad to local companies. The one for China is NEEA, and you have to make an account at their official website as well. To secure a seat, you first have to deposit RMB1,155 into your NEEA account, but to do this, you have to have an online banking account with one of only three Chinese banks: ICBC, Bank of China, and China Merchants Bank.

This is a whole different ballgame. Most foreigners don’t even end up getting online banking here because it’s such a hassle and in the end, you can’t even conduct most transactions online without an official ID from the government. Getting an online banking account requires going to a local bank with a passport, picking up a funky USB Key, setting up the USB Key on your computer (with a Chinese friend if your language skills aren’t up to par), and using the device whenever you want to purchase an item online. Luckily, I had already done this.

Finally done! The ride back home after taking the GREAfter searching among the 20-odd centers in Beijing, most of which are located in the far-off university district of Haidian, securing a date, and paying for it, I decided to head out a week before the test for a dry run. I had settled on a relatively close test center on one of Beijing Normal University’s many campuses, only 45 minutes away by bike. After finding the university grounds, I biked up and down the street four times, trying to find any indication of the test center. Finally, I parked and asked a security guard “GRE zai na’er?” (“Where’s GRE?”) He told me to turn around, walk down a side hutong alley for a bit and then I’d see a sign. So much for it being on campus.

I hopped off my bike and headed down the alley. A few minutes later at the opening of a large courtyard, I saw a piece of paper with “GRE” typed on it, the ink stained from previous rains. With no other indication of where to go, I meandered past the courtyard’s basketball courts and men’s dormitory, reaching the last building: a two-story cement building with a tin roof that leaked and no sign of electricity. I had finally found the test center.

Returning the next weekend, I tried to be prepared for anything. I had heard stories from friends in China of being given an older version of the GRE on test day and having to take it again a few weeks later, having to wait three hours to take the test because the center had belatedly realized they had downloaded the wrong version, and being given paper tests.

In the end, despite the outward ramshackle appearance of the center and scary stories, everything on test day went smoothly. The building was heated, security was tight, and we took the test in little cubicles nationalistically equipped with Lenovo computers. I was reminded of where I was, however, when I entered the bathrooms. Only in China do you need to bring toilet paper to take the GRE.

One Response to “Taking the GRE in China”
  1. SB says:

    Ugh. I need to sign up to do that this fall. As with everything in China, it takes you DAYS to do things that you could do in under an hour back in the US (or any other country really). Can you help me out with a few questions?

    1) How many times is the GRE offered on the mainland?

    2) Does the money for the test have to come from my personal account or could I just have a Chinese friend wire the money instead?

    Thank you so much!

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