How Not To Take The GRE With a Non-Standard-English Name

greOctober is almost over, which means we are now well in the midst of application season.

If you are, like me, a school-loving, knowledge-hungry chump, you too might be in the process of trying to make your way along the tiers of Higher Education. I applied to grad school three years ago and whoa, boy was it 1) enlightening and 2) exhausting and 3) expensive. It felt like a feat just to have managed to gather an application to send in time. The threshold for doctorate programs are a little higher than “can hand in application,” however, and I got rejected. It happens! So I went and pursued an MA, and received lots of support along the lines of, “This will help you decide if you want to pursue a Ph.D,” to which I moodily responded, “I know.”

So here we are: back in the process of applying again, and while I already felt exhausted by the whole ordeal, I also assumed there would be an advantage having already gone through the process once. I was so, so wrong.

I’m Canadian, so the SATs were never built into the high school experience for me. But I did take the GREs and while they weren’t exactly fun, they didn’t seem that bad. I did okay! But, as apparently often happens with English majors, I bombed the Analytical Writing section. So I thought it wouldn’t hurt to retake them. But since the date of my scheduled exam that I never ended up getting to write–well, guys, it did hurt.

If you’re an immigrant with a non-traditional legal name–but have taken to using an English name since moving to said dominantly English-speaking country, you too might have experienced what happened to me. I’m so sorry. (An aside: What do you think they do with the money? Actually, I am just trying to imagine what they do with ALL THAT MONEY.)

But let’s backtrack.

First, I’m assuming you won’t be as presumptuous as I am in thinking you could list your adopted English name on your application. But I did it the first time around and it was absolutely fine! That was my first mistake: thinking that ETS was consistent when it came to carrying out their terms and regulations. I took the tests and sent in my scores under the name “Jane S Hu” three years ago, and didn’t think to create a new account this time around. (I also have another ETS account under “Janeshanjie Hu” that caused no prior problems, so was under the impression that one’s name need not exactly match with one’s ID.) The name that appears on my passport is Shanjie Hu.

You can probably tell where this is going.

I scheduled my test, studied for it, went to bed early the night before, and drank a good amount of coffee in the morning. And it’s okay if you do these things, too!

Don’t, however, do this when you enter the examination center: bring out three different forms of government-issued ID. If two of your IDs say “AFDLKFHAE SDF” and one of them says “Brian AFDLKFHAE SDF,” just use the one with Brian. I know, I know: obvious overkill. I thought more documentation would be helpful, but differing forms of identification will only make matters more confusing. Still, my two exam officiators assured me that it was probably fine — they just needed to get official authorization from ETS and then I’d be okay to go.

My testing time nears.

It passes.

I use the washroom probably more than is wise.

ETS still has the exam officiators on hold. At one point they get so tired of being chained to the desk, that they put it on speakerphone. Atmospheric Muzak fills the office.

If this happens to you, you might be thinking at this point, “I’m already so anxious at this point that my test results will surely be suboptimal.” Mistake number two: believing that you will get to take the test.

Eventually the Muzak cuts out, and my officiator/now-partner-in-frustration picks up the phone and explains the ID discrepancies. A few minutes later she locks eyes with me across the room and gives an exasperated shake of her head.

“So she can’t test today?” she says, while still looking at me.

The officiator explains the situation once to her interlocutor. I will be explaining it over, and over, and over–in various tones of appeasement and aggression–to various ETS representatives throughout the day. Yes, Shanjie Hu, but also Jane Shanjie Hu, but Shanjie Hu first, but Jane S Hu on my ETS account, but yes, a government-issued ID with Jane Shanjie Hu. Oh you don’t know how that happened, so you’re going to take my money without letting me take the test? Wait a minute.

I developed a rising urge to start reading The Pale King.

Beyond the tangible costs of preparing for–and not getting to take–a test, you lose $190. I want to make that clear. You never get it back. It’s called “forfeiting” your test, even if you’re kicking and screaming to get the chance to take it. What’s more, is that ETS has developed not just the standard general–but also subject–tests for grad school: Literature; Math; Psychology; Biology; Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology; Physics; and Chemistry.

One of these things is not like the other. And while many English Lit programs don’t require you to take the subject test (essentially an extended game of trivia about the Western Canon), many still do. I had registered to take it in October. I’ve now forfeited that test as well. (They give you a $50 refund. The remaining $100 they keep, to compensate ETS for whatever services they provide you with that are, as yet, obscure to me. Maybe it’s the phone bills? I have been on the phone a lot with them since.)

Because here’s the thing: once you register a name with ETS, you can never change it again. ETS is more strict about naming rules than the actual government. It’s not only discriminatory against cultural-naming practices (“Shanjie” being too “difficult” for non-Chinese speakers to pronounce), but it’s also discriminatory against women. As from here:

You must have acceptable and valid ID with name, signature and photograph to be admitted to a test center. Your complete name and signature as shown on your ID must match the name you registered under, even if your name has changed (for any reason, including marriage or divorce). If your name has changed since you registered for a test, you must ensure that you have appropriate ID matching the name on your registration to show at the test center. It is recommended that you have ID in the correct name BEFORE you complete the registration process.

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