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6 Reasons to Retake the GRE

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Guest post: Chris Lele

It might have been just a week, or it might have been three months, but you likely studied for the GRE, perhaps even burning the midnight oil. But test day came and, for what can usually be chalked up to myriad factors, you didn’t hit your target score. Whether you’re resigned to this fact or visibly upset, an inevitable question presents itself: should you retake the GRE?

For some people, the answer is obvious. You need a certain score to be eligible for a program, leaving you little choice but to retake the exam. But for many, the answer is not nearly as straightforward. What I intend to do in this post is give you several possible scenarios, at least one of which will likely pertain to you. I’ll give you the pros and cons of retaking the GRE for each scenario so you can make an informed decision.

Scenario #1: You didn’t have time to study

This is an obvious reason for retaking the GRE. But before you sign up for the test again, you need to ask yourself whether the second time around will be different. Merely retaking the test is unlikely to result in a score much different from your first take.

So if a crushing schedule is to blame for your lack of prep, and things aren’t likely to change, you might want to see if there is any way to prioritize the GRE. If not, you might want to consider delaying your grad school application. Of course, this is a tough call. If the rest of your application is strong, then your less-than-stellar GRE score might not hurt as much. 

Scenario #2: You used unofficial GRE prep materials

The GRE prep universe is a vast one. Unknown publishers whip together a bunch of questions, throw a glossy cover on it and sell it on Amazon. Even some of the better- known publishers will write questions that are much easier and more straightforward than those found on the actual exam. Prepping with these materials can make test day an even more stressful experience.

A good rule is to stick to materials from ETS (the organization that creates the GRE) as much as possible. In fact, many of the practice questions provided by ETS are retired GRE official questions.

So if you didn’t use official questions, or did so only sparingly, that could account for your score. In other words, you prepped with an inferior version of the test, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that you weren’t ready. For your GRE retake, studying with official GRE prep materials can make a sizeable difference.

Scenario #3: You didn’t take many (or any) practice tests

This is somewhat related to the previous scenario. It may very well be that you did take a few practice tests, but you didn’t take official practice tests. Given that some of the non-official practice tests are much easier, it is in some ways like not taking a practice test at all. Of course, you might not have taken any practice tests.

In either case, having to sit for four grueling hours through the actual GRE can come as quite a shock to the system. For one, there is pure fatigue. Then there is the fact that you have to stare at a screen that is anything but easy on the eyes. By taking an official practice test, known as the Powerprep test, you’ll get the full experience of taking the GRE: official questions, pixelated screen and all.

Taking a few practice tests at home will also allow you to work on other issues, such as pacing. So the bottom line: if you didn’t take official practice tests for your first GRE exam, sign up for a retake and make sure to take at least two official practice exams.

Scenario #4: You panicked during the test

The GRE is scary. You have to walk into a small room filled with total strangers who are also very likely stressed out. Questions that you might have gotten right in the comfort of your home were ones you flubbed test day. Again, taking practice tests at home, and learning to deal with the panic and negative thoughts there, will fortify you during a retake.

Scenario #5: You hit your target score, but…

Everybody wants to put their best foot forward on their grad school application. So perhaps you hit your target score, but you’re wondering whether you could have done even better. If that’s you, read over the first four scenarios. Do any of those apply to you? If so, you have the potential to do even better. Of course, make sure that you don’t let other aspects of your application slip, if you decide to give the test another go.

Scenario #6: You weren’t feeling well

A raging migraine, a nasty cold or even the flu – any of these can significantly affect your performance. If that describes you, then don’t think you are bad at tests or can’t improve. Very likely, with your health restored, you’ll do much better. If your condition was affected by over-studying or by taking on too many things alongside GRE prep, make sure to take it a little easier this time. Plenty of rest and a healthy constitution can do wonders to your score.  

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has helped students across the globe dramatically improve on these difficult tests. Some have even gone on to get near-perfect scores.

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