What is the GRE and When to Take the GRE


The Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, is often a necessary requirement to apply for graduate school. While not all schools require it, those that do have their own set deadlines. In order to know when to take the GRE, there are certain factors to consider. To make the process easier, we will go into depth about everything you need to know about taking the GRE and how to be prepared.



What is the GRE?

The GRE is a standardized exam that helps graduate university admissions teams to assess your application. It is also considered by most MBA programs for admissions.


The test is multiple choice and taken on the computer. By now, you’re probably wondering, “What is on the GRE?”


The GRE is broken up into three categories and given scores as follows:

  • Analytical Writing – 0-6
  • Verbal Reasoning – 130-170
  • Quantitative Reasoning – 130-170


The tests works in sections and is considered multi-stage.This means that your performance on the first section will determine how difficult the next section becomes.



Things to Know about the GRE

Before taking the test, you should review the following information so you are fully prepared.



1. Test Length:


The GRE is taken at a testing center. You can expect the process, including test-taking and breaks to take 4 hours. Exam time is 3 hours and 45 minutes. It is recommended to show up at least 30 minutes before your exam time.



2. Scoring:


According to Kaplan, the average score for Verbal Reasoning is 151 and the average for Quantitative Reasoning is 153. Analytical Writing has a mean score of 4.0.



3. Test-Taking Times:


The test is administered on most days year-round via Prometric test centers. You can find test days and test times here. Seating is granted on a first-come, first-serve basis.


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Timeline: When to Take the GRE

The number one consideration to know when to take the test is to check your prospective graduate school’s application deadline. Some programs require submission up to a year before school starts. Some schools allow you to apply on a rolling basis, meaning year-round. This means that you have more opportunities to take the GRE.


On the other hand, other schools may only give you one chance per year to apply. This means that missing a deadline could delay your application by a whole year. Therefore, you must take the GRE at least a month, preferably more, before the school’s deadline! If you have to retake the GRE, you have to wait 21 days to retake it. Also, you must factor in that it takes 10-15 days to process results.


Therefore, it’s best not to assume that test dates are available when you want them. Rather, try to plan ahead and expect to take the test with enough time for a retake, should you need one. This is highly important. Leaving a GRE test date until the last minute can end up potentially costing you admission into your graduate school of choice or delaying your start date.



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Extensive Timeline

One way to determine when to schedule the GRE is to understand the following points and then backtrack from when your application deadline is.



1. Time for scores:


As mentioned, it generally takes 10-15 days to process scores and send them to your institution of choice. It’s best to give yourself time for at least one retake. Since you have to wait 21 days to take the test again, give yourself at least one month for each retake.



2. Figure out goal score:


Find out the average score range that your schools seek in applicants. Take a practice test and see where you land. To increase your goal score, here’s an estimate of how much time you’ll need by points:


  • 5 points – 40 hours of studying
  • 10 points – 80 hours of studying
  • 20 points – 160 hours of studying
  • 30 points – 240 hours of studying


Of course, these are roughly estimated ideas of the time you will need. Everyone differs and some people may be able to improve their scores more quickly with the help of a GRE tutor.



3. Get to goal score:


Ask yourself how much time you will need to study to reach your goal score. Then, allocate some time per week and figure out how many weeks that will be. Add to it the 10-15 days of score processing time, as well as time for 1-2 retakes (1-2 months). Now, you have your ideal test date.


In general, it is advisable to give yourself one to three months to study for the test and dedicate at least 100 hours to studying.



Extra Tips

Like for any kind of test, there are general rules to live by to help you do your best. These include:



1. Schedule early:


Register for the test as early as you can so you are not stressed and cannot run the risk of missing deadlines or spots filling up.



2. Understand retakes:


Most people retake the test 1-2 times. There’s no shame in taking the GRE more than once. However, you can only take the GRE up to 5 times in a one-year period and it costs $50 to retake the test. When you schedule a retake, ensure that there’s still time for the scores to be processed and sent to your schools of choice.



3. Time management:


It should be clear that everything involved in the process of figuring out when to take the GRE relies on time management. You should have a firm grasp on how much time you have to study and how much time you need to study. Importantly, the factors outside of your control like admissions deadlines can play a huge role in helping you create your timeline.



FAQ About Taking the GRE

The GRE may feel overwhelming, but it’s useful to remind yourself that it’s just a test. It doesn’t exist to scare you. Here are some important facts to know about the exam:



1. Importance of the score:


The value of the score varies by institution. Some schools weigh it heavily, whereas others may prioritize your course load and GPA instead. Contact your school of choice or perform research online to see how much it matters. However, it is important to note that, in the United States, a GRE score can impact the amount of financial aid you receive.



2. Score cancellation:


You can cancel your GRE score if you want to. But this must be done right after the test and without knowing your score. Furthermore, institutions will see that you canceled your score.



3. How to know if you’re ready:


Try a practice test and see how you feel. Your results will be sent to you upon completion of the test.



4. Cost of GRE:


The test costs $195 and retakes cost $50.



5. Subject tests:


Some graduate schools may require specific GRE subject tests. These tests are given three times a year in eight subjects, namely: biochemistry, biology; cell and molecular biology; chemistry; literature in English; mathematics; computer science; physics; and psychology. You can only take these subject tests in November, December, and April. They are not digital tests.



Next Steps

By devising a timeline backwards from application deadlines, you can easily figure out when to take the GRE.


But, before you do all this work, do make sure that your desired institutions require the test. For example, the University of the People does not require the GRE for admission into its master’s programs.


Furthermore, only you know when you’re really ready to take the GRE. The good news is that it is not frowned upon to retake the test. Plus, if you start early, you can have a lot of time to study and prepare for the GRE. With free resources, online tools, and the option for tutors, you will be able to succeed on the GRE!


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