This question is a very difficult one to answer for any one person. After all, everyone has different schedules, deadlines, and goals. However, there are a few general things you want to keep in mind when trying to determine your test date.
Allow for a Retake
Not giving yourself enough time to retake the test can be catastrophic for your grad school plans. Nowhere is this more true then in late summer and fall season, when applications are due. Because you must wait 30 full days to retake the GRE, you should take your first attempt at least more than 30 days before your app is due. And with many students scrambling to retake the test, oftentimes you will not even be able to find a testing time, without having to drive six hours to a testing center.
An Increased Question Pool
ETS has just released a new paper-based test. But that’s not all! This August ETS will be releasing the second edition of the Official Guide. Inside: two new tests (unless one of those tests is the same one as the test in the first edition).
Fresh practice questions won’t necessarily improve your score overnight. They will allow you to experience the rigors of taking a full-length test. An increased number of questions will also give you greater exposure to the range of questions ETS asks, and thus better prepare you for test day.
If you are reading this post-August 2012, this point will not be as relevant. I doubt the GRE will release any fresh questions before the year is up. Indeed we may have to wait till next summer to see any new questions.
Focused Approach vs. Long Term Approach
Many want to clear up months on their calendar for the GRE. While doing so makes sense from a learning perspective (hey, that’s more time to learn all that vocab), students oftentimes have difficulty sustaining an intense prep plan for more than six weeks.
Let’s say you are able to dedicate a few hours each day over the next six weeks to studying GRE. Sticking to such a plan, you should see incremental improvements each week leading up to your exam. Ideally, you’ll be taking your exam on an upward trajectory.
What can often happen after six week are life’s inevitable intrusions. Quite likely, you’ll be distracted and lose that upward growth. Oftentimes students spend months in unfocused prep, and their net improvement in that time does not change much. Sometimes students are unable to get back to where they were before their studying became inconsistent.
So I recommend an intense six-weeks vs. a somewhat intense, on and off, three months. This is especially true if you are working on a deadline and need to give yourself enough time to retake the test.