Should I Retake the GRE?

Yes. And no. It depends. Sure, that’s not the sort of wishy-washy answer you want to hear, but the truth is the answer depends on your own specific case. We cover a lot of that in our Retaking the GRE flowchart. If you’re totally lost in the woods, follow that link for a bit of guidance! Granted, it can’t account for every possible case, but it includes some of the questions that matter the most, many of which I’ll talk about below. And how you answer those questions will determine whether you should retake the GRE.

How hard did you prep?

A little bit of math and some reading passages. No big deal, right? Well, oftentimes students of mine have dabbled in the GRE, picking up a book here and there, and figuring the reading comprehension will take care of itself, and…then they end up coming to me the second time around, well-aware that dabbling is not going to cut it. So if you only gave it a 50% or even 70% effort, then you may want to retake the test, especially if you are willing to prep hard.

How much time do you have?

Even if the prior question resonated with you, committing the time and dedication to studying might not have been possible. Unless, you feel you are ready to attack GRE prep with a newfound vigor and intensity, you may want to reconsider taking the test.

Improve your GRE score with Magoosh.

Another way of interpreting this question is from the standpoint of deadlines—you need to apply to a program by a certain date. Unlike the old GRE, the new GRE requires you to wait 21 days before you can retake the test. If applications are due, retaking the test may not be feasible and you may not have a choice but to stick with your current score.

How did you prep?

Preparing for the new GRE is no easy feat. To make things worse the web is veritable blitzkrieg of quick fixes and “ultimate” vocabulary lists. Off-line things aren’t much better – most books give you the false impression that by simply reading them, your score will automatically go up.

The truth is a lot more complicated – to reach your potential you should prep with a variety of resources, both online and paper-based. Even then, some sources are helpful whereas others are harmful. So if you used a Kaplan GRE book (or Princeton Review or even Barron’s for that matter) and were shocked test day – both by the content of the test and your final score – you are not alone. There are better ways to prep. So if you do not use a combination of the best prep resources, you should definitely consider retaking the GRE.

Then of course, there are the classes. About half of all of the students I’ve tutored are casualties of the one-size-fits-all, read-from-a-script test prep classes. While you may be in this group, and feel really scammed after all the money you spent (or at least filled with this dread that you are no good at standardized tests), taking a class isn’t necessarily going to help your reach your maximum potential. There are great tutors, great on-line forums, and great study materials (like Magoosh!) to make retaking the GRE well worth your while.

How was test day?

First time walking into a testing room? The staff made you feel as though you were about to serve a ten-year jail sentence? Overcome with test jitters? (It’s natural). Hungover? (shame on you!) There are many reasons for a less than optimal score. So ask yourself, is there something unexpected that happened test day that I could somehow anticipate this time around? Even if it is simply a good night’s sleep versus four hours of fitful sleep, retake the test.

What was your score?

If you scored above the 90th percentile and you’re a perfectionist shooting for the “ultimate score” when you’ve already qualified for the program you’re most interested in, your time may be better spent working on the rest of your application (essays, letters of recommendation, etc.), especially if you’re strapped for time as deadlines approach! If you scored significantly lower than you had been performing on your practice tests and you know that there’s a lot of room for improvement if you were given a second chance, then I’d say you should buckle down and go for it. Focus on getting a solid grasp on the material, but also work on pacing and other strategies to make sure you can score to your full potential on the day of the exam.

To retake or not to retake?

Depending on how you answered these questions, you may seriously want to reconsider taking the test. The worst thing to do is to know you could have done much better—but never gave yourself the opportunity to prove this so.


Update, October 7th, 2014: Hi everyone! We’ve decided to turn the comments off on this post for now. We encourage everyone to check out this handy flowchart to help you decide whether or not you should retake the exam. And, if you have a Premium Magoosh account and would like a more personalized response, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard to contact us. 🙂 Thanks!

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  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!