At some point you need to ask yourself “When should I take the GRE?” Well…when to take the GRE varies for everyone.
Today, I’ll help you figure out the individual factors that determine when you personally should take the test. We’ll also look at a few general things that anyone keep in mind when deciding on their test date.
Your application deadline: The most important factor in deciding when to take the GRE
Your top consideration is the admissions timeline for the schools you’re applying to. If you don’t have your GRE ready by the time your schools want to see it, then you could delay your chances of admission by at least one academic term… or even a year!
Be sure to check just how far in advance you need to apply. This really can vary a lot. Programs that are both traditional and highly competitive are much more likely to ask you for your GRE score far in advance. It’s quite common for top schools to ask for your GRE scores almost a year in advance of your possible start date. However, other grad programs– especially ones at mid-tier schools– may only require you submit your GRE scores 3 to 6 months before you might start your studies.
Consider your windows of opportunity for submitting scores when deciding when you should take the GRE
Maybe you want to meet an upcoming application deadline, but you’re worried you won’t be able to prepare for adequately for the test. Sometimes it can be good to skip an application deadline and spend some extra time studying for the GRE.
If you are thinking of delaying your test date and missing a deadline, know how many chances you have to apply in a year. For some grad programs, you can only apply once a year. Other grad programs may let you apply twice a year, for acceptance in either the Spring or Fall semesters. And still other grad programs permit you to apply 4 times a year, for a start in Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter term.
Some programs even set new admission deadlines on a bimonthly or monthly basis. These kinds of “rolling admissions” policies are especially common with degrees designed for working adult professionals. You’ll see these frequent chances to apply and submit GRE scores in a lot of MBA programs and online graduate degrees.
The more times you can apply per year, the more you can afford to miss an application deadline and spend some extra time improving your GRE skills. If you can apply to a program 4 or more times per year, you have a lot of freedom to miss application deadlines and prep freely for the GRE. But if you can only apply to a program once or twice a year, it’s worth your while to try to take the GRE in time for the program’s next application deadline.
What if you need to take the GRE a second time? Allow for a retake
Not giving yourself enough time to retake the test can be catastrophic for your grad school plans. Nowhere is this truer than in late summer and fall season, when applications are most often due.
According to ETS’s page for test centers and dates to take the GRE, “You can take the computer-delivered GRE General Test once every 21 days, up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period (365 days).”
Because you must wait 21 full days to retake the GRE, you should take your first attempt at least more than 21 days before your app is due. But giving yourself a longer lead time than just 21 days is a plus. With many students scrambling to retake the test, oftentimes you will not even be able to find a testing time, without having to drive several hours to a testing center.
Additionally, consider that you won’t see your official GRE General Test scores until 10-15 days after you sit for the exam. So you might not even know if you need a retake until about 2 weeks after the test. This means that ideally you should actually take the GRE at least 36 days (15 days to get your score + 21 days to schedule a retake) before your app is due.
Take the GRE at a time that works for your personal schedule
How much spare time do you have for GRE study? This is another important consideration. Some test-takers are able to set aside a month or two where all they do is prep for the exam. Other test-takers may have a day job, family obligations, current coursework, and other responsibilities in addition to GRE prep.
The way you fit test prep into your schedule determines the days, weeks, or months you’ll need in order to reach your target score. Here are some possible GRE study plans that can help you think about when to take the GRE. And here’s a link to our Prep App, which is available for both iPhone and Android and provides video lessons, practice questions, and other resources to help you study on the go.
“When should I take the GRE?” A focused approach vs. a 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, so be realistic about how long you can study for.