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Should I wait to take the new GRE?

This is the most common question I get thse days from my students. There is no easy answer, and depending on whom you are—your background, strengths, weaknesses—the answer differs.

So in order to give you a sense of my answers let me come up with three hypothetical students.

Dana B. has been studying GRE vocab on and off for the last six months; her bag bulges with stacks of dog-eared flashcards. Yet, she really hasn’t gotten around to any diagnostic tests, though she feels the verbal section has become a lot easier when she does practice problems. Anyways, her program doesn’t require a high quantitative score and she knows her basics pretty well. But she wonders, What if I give myself a little more time and maybe even do a little more math prep?

For somebody like Dana, waiting to take the new GRE probably wouldn’t be helpful. First off there is the psychological stress of knowing that your test day will be looming for at least the next seven months. Secondly, the current GRE is more vocab-intensive than the GRE slated for release at the end of August. Not that the new GRE won’t require knowledge of vocabulary words. Rather it will test context recognition more than explicit vocabulary, the way the current GRE does (think antonyms.)

For Dana, the best would be to set up a study schedule over the next six weeks during which she takes a few practice tests from ETS* to ensure that she is within the target range. If so, she should take the test. Even if she doesn’t do as well as planned, she can still retake it within a month. Most importantly, she can spend her summer having fun (well, at least not cramming for the new GRE.)

*Avoid at all costs random tests found on-line. They are very different from the real GRE and the score you get correlates very poorly with the one you’ll get on the actual test.

Brandon P.

Brandon is planning on going to grad school very soon. There is no set date, as he has a job he likes and is not sure exactly which programs he wants to apply to. Still, he wants to get the GRE out of the way because he knows scoring well will allow him to narrow his search on specific schools. He admits that his vocabulary his weak, but he reads often enough and , back in college, he usually had no problem understanding the main point of articles, even those from recondite journals he read as an undergraduate in geology.

Brandon would be better off waiting to take the new test. The main reason is he doesn’t have to  return to school within the next year. Just as importantly, the new test will probably be more geared towards Brandon’s type of thinking—he get’s the big picture.

Mary Q. hates math. And there is nothing more she hates than not having answer choices. Staring at a blank and a question filled with numbers, she thinks, is the phenomenological equivalent of existential angst (she was a philosophy/lit major.) Also, she would like to get into a Ph. D program soon as she is not weighed down by too many burdens.

Ideally Mary should take the test before August. Not quite so ideal, perhaps, is she must formulate an aggressive study plan to help her on math. Taking advantage of a respected, well-referenced GRE math tutor in the area would definitely help. The reason she shouldn’t defer taking the GRE is the new GRE will have some fill-in the blank questions on math. And Mary has had enough dread in her life (she did her dissertation on Sartre.)

These of course are made-up people, but essentially they are a composite/mash-up of different students I have had throughout the years.

Perhaps your story is very different, and you are still torn on when to take the test.  Drop a line. Let’s see if I can’t help!

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  1. Quora - March 14, 2011

    Why is the GRE changing? Who will do better and who will do worse?…

    The GRE is changing to become a “better” test and to compete with the GMAT The GRE is most likely changing to compete with the GMAT. ETS, the makers of the GRE, are pushing to get MBA programs to accept students’ GRE scores. Most of these programs h…

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