To Retake or not to Retake – ETS Has the Answer

ETS, after amassing copious data, has made an interesting discovery, which they released in the form of a recent infographic: the majority of those who retake the test tend to do better (this doesn’t apply as much as AWA, which, given its small score increment, is more difficult to improve at). Therefore, ETS is urging students to consider retaking the test.

The cynic in me just wants to quip that ETS is finding more ways to make money and is sugarcoating this in avuncular bromides: “It’s about making students feel good”.

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While this very well may be true, what is more important—at least for you, the test taker—is whether a retake (indeed many retakes) is in your best interest. After all, if you can afford to do so, taking the test several times a year might be in your best interest. Though ETS didn’t release any data on third-time takers (perhaps these results don’t gibe well with ETS’s peppy “you-can-do-it”-isms).

Now that I’m allowed my inner curmudgeon to speak, I’d say that, on balance, these are pretty encouraging results. First off, the test does not have to be as stress inducing and as do-or-die as many students often make it. You can take the test again—and even again—and you’ll likely do better. Colleges won’t have to know about it, as long as you slip ETS a little money (shh, curmudgeon!). Secondly, you have the knowledge that you’re likely to improve the second time. You won’t see a retake as a failure but as a savvy opportunity—one that many others embrace.

Now I’m not encouraging you to become a GRE junkie, but you can think of your “GRE journey” as one that includes several sittings for the actual exam. In fact, I’ve known a few of my previous students who have done a “trial run test”, just to get a feel for what it’s like and their current score. This is an excellent way to find out how effective your prep has so far been and to adjust your prep strategy as need be.

Perhaps, another thing we’ve learned from this press release—and even my inner curmudgeon agrees—is that ETS is good at making an infographic, or an easy pictorial representation of all the information it gleaned from the data. So if you’re still on the fence about whether to retake the test, you might want to check out the ETS infographic yourself.


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28 Responses to To Retake or not to Retake – ETS Has the Answer

  1. Kiry September 25, 2018 at 6:18 am #

    Hi… previously I had given GRE on August 2017(V:152, Q:160)and yesterday I gave it again ..and unfortunately same score(Q:162, V:150)…I was expecting to get more…but I don’t know why I ended up getting such worst score…I have average GPA 8/10 …Should I retake it again as I really don’t wanna end up in bad or average Universities as I’m aiming for M.S./MIS (CS)…I will have job experience of 1 the time I get admit! I’m so ambiguous regarding whether I should retake?

  2. Vivian March 9, 2017 at 4:00 pm #

    Hi, I took the GRE recently and got around my estimated Magoosh range (predicted V: 153-158// Q: 158-163)(actual V: 159// Q:162) but I got a 4 in the AWA section. I was sick the day of the test and I think that plus being nervous did have some effect on my score. I didn’t really prepare for the AWA section beyond reading a few sample essays but I’ve always been a decent writer and was pretty shocked by the score.

    I can’t decide if I should retake the exam or not because honestly I don’t have a good grasp on what is considered a “good” score. I’m planning on applying to either PA or DPT programs and unfortunately my grades are pretty low (my postbacc scores are competitive but mixed with my undergrad GPA my cumulative is only 3.0).

    Financially I can take the exam again though I do have a slight time crunch because I want to be done with the GRE before my next quarter so it doesn’t interfere with school. I’m also scared I got lucky with my first exam and I’ll do worse the second time around. Thoughts?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 10, 2017 at 2:20 am #

      Hi Vivian,

      You’ve touched on some common anxieties that students feel about their GRE score and the possibility of retaking the GRE. This is a good conversation to have, one that I think can help a lot of students. So thank you for posting this!

      In response to your first concern: it can indeed be hard to determine what makes a GRE score “good.” Realistically, this depends a lot on the schools you’re applying to. GRE requirements can really vary a lot from campus-to-campus. The Magoosh GRE Blog has written some guides on this to help you consider how good your GRE score is, based on the schools you hope to get into. Chris has a post that focuses on good GRE scores at a list of particularly popular “top” schools. And Bhavin has put together a guide on general rules for good GRE scores, to help students figure out if they have a good GRE score at any school they are applying to.

      With all that in mind, I’d say it probably couldn’t hurt to do a retake. Most schools are ONLY interested in your highest GRE score. So if you get a lower score on the retake, your school will probably only consider your higher previous score. And of course, if you get a higher score on the retake, that can only help you. Now, a handful of highly competitive schools may take both GRE scores into account. Double check with your school to see if they want to see all GRE scores, before you decide if you’ll retake.

  3. Alex Welna January 31, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

    Hi, I have a (perhaps difficult to answer) question regarding my score.

    I took the GRE a week ago, and scored 168 V and 155 Q. I still haven’t gotten an AWA, but it felt like a good one. In practice, I was scoring 155-157 in Q and 160-163 in V. I was surprised by both scores, because I did not expect to do so well in V and doubt I could again. My Q score was disappointing as I have studied upwards of 80 hours for it by my calculations, felt confident going in, and did worse than my last practice.

    I want to apply to PhD psychology programs that have ~160 V and ~160 Q averages. I know I can better my chances with a good Q score, and I feel I could get one with another shot, but I’m dubious I could do as well on V again. My question is: Would more moderate (say 160-165) V and a higher (~160) Q be a better asset to my application, or should I stick with a stellar V score and an okay Q score (not to mention, a retake is a hassle)?

    In short, are two good scores better than one average and one great score? If so, does that warrant a retake?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 1, 2017 at 3:01 am #

      Hi Alex,

      That’s a really challenging position to be in! Ultimately, you will have to make the call. If your program expects around 160 in both scores, your quant outcome is not going to help you, and I doubt your verbal score will outweigh it. I would reach out to admissions ASAP to inquire about this, but I would also schedule and prepare for a retake, intending to raise that quant score. Don’t be so quick to discount your verbal skills, either! You can definitely maintain a high one. 🙂 Good luck!

  4. Daniel December 30, 2016 at 12:58 am #

    Is there payment for re-taking the GRE?

  5. surbhi December 16, 2016 at 2:08 am #

    i have scored in
    1st attempt a score of 146 in verbal and quant as well
    2nd attempt a score of 154 in verbal and 149 on quantitative
    and iam aiming for getting admission into top 20 university
    so my question is shall it be judicious to retake the exams to score 165 + in both sections or shall i settle to some lower ranking university with this score

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 16, 2016 at 7:45 am #

      People tend to improve with each retake. Given that you also improved the last time yo re-tried the GRE, I’d say that taking the exam a third time couldn’t hurt. You may or may not be able to get all the way up to a 165+ on your very next try, but any increase in scores gives you a better chance of breaking into the top 20. And certainly a retake doesn’t decrease your chances of getting into a mid-ranked university.

  6. London December 13, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I have taken the test in May 2016 and I scored 157,170 and 4.0 for Verbal, Quantitative, and AW respectively. I am an international student and applying for PhD in Pure Mathematics in top schools. Given that I have other factors (LoRs, publications, REUs, etc.), am I too ambitious when trying my luck with those universities? Do I need to retake the GRE?

    Thank you for your advice!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 15, 2016 at 3:55 am #

      Given the scores as you have shown and your field of study, I think you might be in good shape. Look very carefully at the requirements for verbal skills, but I would be surprised to see you having any trouble, assuming you have strong LoRs, publications, etc. You seem like an ideal candidate for a pure mathematics program! 🙂

  7. Joe Van November 15, 2016 at 6:03 am #

    Hi there – I took the test today and the result is, disappointingly, 159 on verbal and 156 on quant. Would you suggest to re-take the test or do you think I’ll be fine? I am an international student am planning to apply to a regional studies program at 3 Ivy League schools. Thanks a lot.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 15, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

      Hi Joe,

      As you may have seen in other posts, we unfortunately don’t have nearly as much expertise and experience in graduate school admissions as we do with test prep, so I’m afraid we can’t be of much help. I would recommend that you contact your target programs to determine whether your scores are within the range of accepted students. If not, then you should try to retake the exam. If you want to be more competitive, you can also decide to retake the exam. However, if your time will be best used on a different part of your application, then you should focus on that. Remember you are as strong as your weakest part of your application.

  8. Caleb M November 1, 2016 at 11:18 am #

    Hi ,

    I scored a 167 on quantitative, 154 on verbal and a 3.0 on the writing. I am planning on applying to top ranking Ph.D programs in Materials Engineering. I have a strong undergraduate GPA and a significant research experience. Should I be worried about my below average writing score? This is the second time I am taking the test.

    Thank you for your time,

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 1, 2016 at 11:23 am #

      You probably don’t need to worry very much about your writing score. Engineering programs usually don’t put much importance on AWA. In fact, some engineering grad programs don’t care about your AWA score at all. This isn’t to say you should have no worries, of course. Double check with any of your prospective schools to see if a 3 on the AWA is a problem. In most cases it won’t be, but there are a few rare Engineering schools where AWA matters.

  9. Brianna Coulter October 19, 2016 at 10:51 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Yesterday I took the GRE and I got a 146 Quant and a 159 Verbal and I want to apply to graduate programs for School Psychology. I e-mailed the director of a program I want to apply to because on their website, the cut off score was a 147 for quant. but she said that was just a suggestion and that my scores were fine. Do you think that I should retake the GRE?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 20, 2016 at 8:52 pm #

      Hi Brianna,

      This is a difficult question to answer, but the fact that you got confirmation from the director of your target program that your scores are fine is a good indication that you may not need to retake unless you feel like the other parts of your application (GPA, experience, etc) might disadvantage you. But consider if retaking the test is worth the money, stress and time when you know that your scores are find for your school! This flowchart might help you with this decision:

  10. Kristy November 10, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

    So, I went and polarized my test scores, and now I don’t know what to do. I got a 170 verbal (Yay!!) and a 149 quantitative (how?!?!?). I can’t begin to explain the exasperation of achieving a perfect score while simultaneously removing myself from consideration from the most competitive clinical psychology graduate programs based on my quantitative score.

    Let me just say I scored consistently 153-155 on practice tests. I just got lost on ONE problem in my first quant section and didn’t finish SIX problems.

    All of that said, do I retest? I mean, of course it will help my quantitative score, but clearly it won’t help my verbal score. I truly don’t know what to do. Any advice would be fantastic. Also, I might be interested in your math-heavy programs if I do decide to retest.

    Thanks for your time.

  11. Vasant September 2, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

    Hi Chris

    I scored consistently 164-165 on MGRE mocks and ETS mocks
    But failed to turn it around on the real deal..
    Got a 159q score.. I was flustered with the 1st quant section.. Where the first problem was crazy std. Deviation.. And I got cluster of difficult problems.. And in my mind.. I kept deducting my marks for 40 quant questions where I needed 35/40 minimum and from there it was just down hill..
    I want to practice harder questions of the GRE so that I am well prepared.. Only Magoosh comes to that level I feel.. Not even NOVA.. Can u help me with resources of advanced quant.. Where in I can enhance my confidence.

  12. abhishek August 21, 2015 at 7:03 am #

    I took my GRE today and got a 160q/155v. At the time I had also sent the scores to 4 universities.I am planning to do an MS CS in the likes of USC,ASU,UCSD.Looks like the quant score would turn out to be 50-50, if not definitely low. Also, I think that a retake would most certainly increase both my verbal and quant score by atleast 3-5.Is it worth the retake now?Please advise.

    Best Regards,

  13. Gurupriya Ramanathan August 18, 2015 at 7:07 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I recently took my GRE exam and got a 160 in Verbal and 150 in Quant. I am planning on applying for Pysychology PhD programs (specifically in the Developmental psychology area). Would you recommend I retake the GRE? I feel I could improve my score and would like 165+ in both.
    I have been perusing the website and would like to sign up for the 1 week study schedule. I just need intense practice for a couple weeks more.
    Let me know what you think. Appreciate your guidance 🙂


  14. Omer August 17, 2015 at 6:12 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I have a couple of questions.

    I took the GRE today and my unofficial scores are: V = 163 and Q = 165. Will there be any significant dip such as +/- 2 points when ETS releases the official version a few weeks later?

    Also, I did as well I could in Verbal but the Quant section was unusually tough. Since, I was getting around 166-167 in the ETS released powerprep should I take the test again?

    In addition, I feel that I may only be able to get somewhere around 3.5 to 4.5 in AWA. However, even though I am a non-native speaker, I feel that my AWA score do not reflect my writing skills. I am an excellent writer when I don’t have a 30 minute time limit and many of my college essays can testify to that.

    Considering that I have a CGPA of 3.94, am among the top 3 students at my university, and am likely to get good recommendation letters should I aim for the top US schools in Chemistry or should I take the GRE again?

  15. Shruthi August 7, 2015 at 12:28 pm #

    Am looking to buy the premium package from magoosh however I’d like to know if along with Magoosh should I look at teaming up with other study material such as the Manhattan GRE 4th edition set of 8 books, 5lb and ETS official, Verbal and Quants
    I’d like to know different is the Manhattan’s GRE 2nd edition to the 4th edition in terms of content which is better (I have the 2nd edition however if 4th edition is good then I’d have to buy it, so please advise)
    Also will 2.5months of coaching of about 7 – 9 hrs a day be sufficient for a starter to get a score of 325+
    Looking forward for your speedy response.

    Thanks, shruthi

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 10, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

      Hi Shruti,

      Great questions!

      So, we recommend students also use the MGRE guides, buying those guides for the areas that they struggle most in. (I’d also recommend not getting the SE/TC guide–though the rest of the guides are fine).

      Of course, Magoosh can definitely be used as a stand alone resources. Many of our students have indeed done very well using just the Magoosh product (many mention how valuable the blog is as well!).

      As for the 4th edition, it doesn’t actually differ that much from the 2nd edition. Besides a few questions that are different (and not necessarily better), the two editions are essentially the same.

      7-9 hours a day is plenty, esp. over a 2.5 month timeframe.

      Good luck, and let me know if I can answer anything else 🙂

  16. Jacob July 8, 2015 at 10:32 pm #

    “In fact, I’ve known have done a trial run test,” Chris, I think you forgot a few words here.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 9, 2015 at 11:59 am #

      Thanks for catching that! A pretty egregious hole in the prose 🙂

  17. shree July 8, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I have taken my GRE in 2013 without any preparation and received a 139 verbal and 158 quants but now I retook the GRE in June 29th and prepared myself within a span of 20 days and my score went up to 142 verbal and 159 quants. I wish to increase my score this time to 165 around in quants and 150 plus in verbal and hence have enrolled myself in Magoosh premium plan. I have also sent all my scores to the college and that being a business program they convert the gre scores to gmat. Hence they require me to up my scores to a 620 gmat or around 600 gmat equivalent GRE scores, and hence have asked me to get a better score in GRE to help increase my chances of admission. Kindly advice if a third attempt can make me lucky!

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