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How to Decide When to Take the GRE

How to Decide When to Take the GRE main image

Apply to graduate school? Then one decision you’ll need to make is exactly when to take the GRE. You’ll need to meet the application deadlines for your chosen programs, while also optimizing your GRE scores.

Remember that it takes at least three weeks for official GRE scores to arrive at university mailrooms, and another week to reach the relevant departmental officials. The following points will help you plan your GRE preparation, avoid common logistical problems with your grad school application, and select the best time to take the GRE:

1. Know your application deadline

In a perfect world, you should give yourself four months to prepare for the GRE, but many people allow a window of only two or three months of study. In either case, your preparation period should be deadline-driven. For example, if your application is due in the beginning of December, you must take the GRE in November at the absolute latest.

Waiting until the last minute, however, is not a good idea – akin to the feeling of running into class the minute before it starts, which is stressful and overwhelming. It’s much better to give yourself a cushion of a few months. Ideally, if your application deadline is in December, you should take the GRE in October or even September.

In addition to alleviating stress, this will allow you to re-take the test if you’re unhappy with your score (see point #6). Depending on just a single test date right before you have to send out your application is too risky.

2. Make sure you have enough time, energy and resources

Successful performance on the GRE requires a great deal of preparation time. You will need the determination to stick to a rigorous study schedule consistently for at least a few months, so make sure you genuinely have the time, energy and resources needed to achieve a high score.

There may be reasons why taking the GRE at a certain time is not ideal, such as work or family obligations. No one knows your situation better than you, and if you don't have ample time available for GRE prep, it may be best to hold off until you do.

If you’re at a crossroads in your life and on the fence about taking the GRE, examine your circumstances and reflect on whether or not you can make time for an extended period of study. It may be possible to fit adequate GRE prep into your schedule by reducing other obligations.

3. Be sure you’re ready for grad school

This is a tricky one. Not everyone who decides to enroll in grad school is a recent college graduate. Many people become interested in grad school after spending some time gaining professional and life experience. You need to know what you really want, and how your chosen graduate program will help you get it.

College seniors commonly enroll in GRE prep courses, but it makes little sense to sign up for GRE prep as an underclassman, when there is no guarantee that you will even want to go to grad school. It’s better to give yourself some wiggle room and decide on grad school when you’re a senior.

Perhaps you haven’t had a chance to explore other areas of interest, or you want to go backpacking in another country before figuring out what to do. When the time is right, you will know. Decide to take the GRE when you are certain you’ve chosen your path and will stick to the plan.

4. Don’t assume testing availability on your preferred date

The computerized GRE General Test can theoretically be taken on almost any day of the year, but each test center has its own order of operations and scheduling. Verify testing dates, and don’t assume either availability or flexibility. Time slots can fill up quickly, especially on weekends.

Scheduling a GRE administration a day or two in advance is possible, but extremely unlikely. It is in your best interest to book a time and date that gives you several months to prepare. Check www.gre.org for a list of test center locations near you and to register online. Don’t approach GRE scheduling carelessly.

5. Know your window of opportunity

Some graduate programs only have one strict application deadline, but others may permit you to apply for admission in either the spring or fall semesters. Grad schools can also have application deadlines four times per year (for the spring, summer, fall, or winter terms) or admission deadlines on a bimonthly or monthly basis (known as “rolling admissions”, these programs are common for working adult professionals who want to transition back into school).

If you have several opportunities to apply, it might be wise to skip one deadline and spend more time studying for the GRE. The more times you can apply per year, the more freedom you have to improve your GRE scores. If your window of opportunity is limited to a specific time during the year, however, it is definitely worth your while to prepare several months in advance for a test date that accommodates that deadline.

6. Ensure you have time to re-take the GRE

Many people take the GRE more than once. If you can benefit from re-taking the exam, you should do so. Not giving yourself enough time to prepare for a GRE retake, however, can lead to similar results or even a lower score.

ETS, the administrator of the GRE, allows you to take the GRE once every 21 days and up to five times within any continuous 12-month period (365 consecutive days). Bear in mind that you won’t see your official GRE score until about 10-15 days later. Allow yourself some breathing room and time to get ready to tackle the GRE again, to avoid reproducing disappointing scores.

At some point, you’ll need to decide for yourself when to take the GRE. Obviously, the application deadline is the most important factor, but there are many other considerations that can influence your decision. You may want to clear your calendar for several months to prepare, or do something more intensive to sustain an interest in your study methods. Either way, the decision to take the GRE depends on your interests, goals and current life circumstances.

Manhattan Review GRE Prep is brought to you by Manhattan Review, an international test prep firm. Founded in 1999 by Dr. Joern Meissner, an internationally renowned business school professor, our company helps students gain entrance to their desired degree programs by working to improve their admission test scores. Headquartered in New York City, Manhattan Review operates in many cities in the United States and in selected major cities around the world, including Dubai.

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Dr Joern Meissner
Written by Manhattan Review
Manhattan Review, providers of Manhattan Review GMAT Prep, was founded by Dr Joern Meissner (pictured), an internationally renowned business school professor, in 1999. Headquartered in New York City, Manhattan Review operates in many cities in the United States and in selected major cities around the world. It helps students gain entrance to their desired degree programs by working to improve their admission test scores.

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