As you may have gathered, Nana and I are in the process of applying to grad school this fall. Considering that some people, especially those applying to top programs in their fields, take an entire year off to prepare for the GRE General Test (and, if necessary, one of the Subject Tests) and apply to grad school, the fact that Nana and I are trying to do the same while teaching more than full-time certainly isn't making our lives easy these days. Add in all the extra frustrations of trying to file paper applications from a foreign country (more on that later, probably), and you've got yourself one heck of a fall semester. So far, we're surviving, though, and the practice tests we've taken give us reason to hope all will be well.
Anyway: the GRE in Korea. In China, Korea, and Taiwan, the GRE General Test is not offered in its usual, computer-based format, but in a "split-administration" format. In this format, you take a computer-based version of the Analytical Writing section, then several weeks later, a paper-based version of the Verbal and Quantitative sections. (If it helps, you can think of the GRE as the SAT for grad students.)
This format has several advantages: First and foremost, you get to take a paper-based version of the test. This is an enormous advantage because it allows you to skip questions you're unsure of and come back to them later, time permitting. In the computer-based version of the test, you can't skip questions. What's worse, on the computer-based test, any skipped or wrong question in the early portion of the test has a disproportionate effect on your score, because any time you fail to get the right answer, you're bumped down and given easier questions (which are worse fewer points). This hugely increases the penalty for leaving questions blank: whereas on the paper-based test, a non-response simply gives you no credit for the question (and an incorrect response gives you no credit plus a .25-point penalty), on the computer-based test, a non-response early in the test can lower your overall score drastically. This means that, on average, savvy test-takers should score a few points higher on the paper-based test.
The second advantage to taking the GRE in Korea is that you get to take the test on two separate days. One of the most difficult things about the GRE is keeping focus through the whole enormous test. By taking the Analytical Writing portion early (this week, for us) and the rest of the test a few weeks later, you effectively halve the length of any one testing session.
However, there are also some disadvantages: When you take the split-administration version of the GRE, your scores aren't available until mid-December at the earliest, which is after the application deadline for most liberal-arts programs at most schools. Many schools are flexible about receiving GRE scores by the deadline, as long as the rest of the application is done, Some schools, however, make a huge number of their admissions decisions in the first two weeks of December, and for other schools, late receipt of GRE scores puts your application at the back of the line. In other words, for those schools, even though you're technically allowed to submit GRE after the application deadline, most of the admission letters have already been written by the time your application is considered. I personally have cut 3-4 US schools from my list for application this year simply because my late GRE scores will push my odds of acceptance from astronomically low to astronomically lower. (On the plus side, these GRE scores will still be current for next year's applications.)
A second disadvantage of taking the test in Korea is the fact that testing centers are few and far between. In any sizeable city or university town in the US, the nearest test center is rarely more than 15-20 minutes away. From our home in Nowon, the most densely populated district of one of the most densely populated cities in the world, the nearest test center is more than one hour away, in downtown Seoul. Of course, the longer the ride to the test center, the greater the potential for diaster . . . and you only get one shot at the test in Korea, or else you have to wait six months for the next test date.
All told, though, I'm glad we're taking the test here--for me, the advantage of taking the paper-based test far outweighs the disadvantages.
I'm not happy, though, about trying to send applications to the other side of the world . . . or about having to take the infamously brutal Subject Test in English Literature. 170 minutes of minutiae, no breaks, questions on just about any moderately important book ever written in English, ever. Ick.