Should I Retake the GRE?

Should you retake the GRE?
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So you’re unhappy with your scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). What can you do? Should you retake it? Is retaking the GRE ever a good idea? Retaking the GRE won’t hurt your odds of being admitted to graduate school, but the time and effort might be better spent elsewhere. How can you tell if taking the GRE two, three, or more times is a good move? Consider the likelihood that your score will increase.

Do any of the following apply?

  • Did something interfere with your concentration (such as testing conditions)?
  • Did an outside stressor interfere with your performance (such as difficulty getting to the test center or personal problems)?
  • Were your scores lower than those on your practice tests?
  • Are your scores much lower than required for admission to your desired graduate programs?
  • Did you study long and hard enough?

If one or more of the above are true, your GRE score might increase on your next try.  Let's take a closer look at these common influences on poor GRE scores. .

Testing Conditions

The GRE is intended to be administered in standardized conditions.  Every test center is intended to provide identical conditions, including adequate space to work, good lighting, and, above all else quiet. In reality conditions vary. Street noise cannot be controlled. Neither can a nearby test taker’s coughing, sneezing, or sniffling.

Ideally test takers should be able to tune out distractions, but sometimes it is very difficult. Can you do a better job of concentrating next time?

Your Own Functioning

Maybe it’s your own coughing, sniffling, and sneezing that interfered with your test taking experience. Were you suffering from a cold?

Headache? Allergies? Stomach troubles? Be honest with yourself: Did your own physical functioning contribute to your performance? Stress is accompanied by many somatic symptoms, such as headaches and stomach pains. Will your body react in the same way next time? Is it worth retaking the GRE? Might relaxation exercise and stress management improve your performance?

Unexpected Catastrophes

Illnesses, family emergencies, and unexpected challenges, such as car trouble on the way to the exam, can influence your ability to concentrate and may heighten anxiety.   Many of these freak incidents are unlikely to happen again, or in the case of car trouble, might be avoided next time. If you think freak occurrences impacted your score consider retaking the GRE.

Poor Preparation

If you truly were unprepared you may be able to improve your score.  How do you know if you were unprepared? Did you take enough practice exams to have an idea of your average score? If not, you probably were unprepared.  Consider retaking the GRE only if you can realistically expect to do a better job preparing.  Use the free GRE Diagnostic Service to determine what sections are toughest for you. Take many practice tests conditions similar to the real thing – timed, in the library, without breaks.

Consider enrolling in a GRE prep course.  If  you are serious about your score, put your time and money into preparation.

If you're still considering whether to retake the GRE, ask yourself:

  • How high is your score? If your score is above the minimum required in the program of your choice – especially if it is higher than any published mean or average score, consider devoting your time to writing excellent essays and obtaining relevant applied and research experiences. If you scored at the 85th percentile or higher, you may not need to retake the GRE to get into grad school.
  • Do you have time? You can take the GRE General Test only once every 21 days. How close are the admissions deadlines?

Retaking the GRE Won’t Harm Your Chances

Finally, rest assured that retaking the GRE won’t harm your chances of admission.

The GRE ScoreSelect option means that you choose which scores are reported to each school. For example, if you take test four times, you can choose which of those four to send.  However, the full set of GRE scores for a given test date are submitted – Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing. You cannot pick and choose among Verbal scales, for example. That means that if you choose to retake the GRE it’s important to work on raising your lowest subscale score while not losing ground on your best subscales. Ideally all should increase.

If you’re thinking about retaking the GRE take the time to determine if it is really worth it. Only take it if you can substantially increase it. Retaking the GRE requires time, stress, and money that sometimes could be better spent elsewhere. Think carefully.