Is attending graduate school part of your plan after college? If so, there's a good chance you'll be taking the GRE as part of your application for admission into a graduate program. The GRE is generally required by science and liberal arts programs, but a growing number of business schools and law schools are expanding their admissions requirements beyond the GMAT or LSAT, respectively, to also accept the GRE.
"The GRE is a very strategic exam to take. It's super versatile, so even if you decide to switch gears there is a strong likelihood that you will be able to use the test," says Karen Marks, president and founder of North Star Admissions Consulting.
But is preparing for the GRE similar to preparing for the SAT or ACT? How many times do you really need to take the GRE to make sure your score is competitive for admission into your target graduate programs or to qualify for scholarships?
"One time can absolutely be enough, but the answer depends in part on what types of graduate programs you are targeting. MBA programs, for instance, often like to see more than one exam score – especially if the first exam is below their average," Marks explains.
Is your score at or above the average for the programs that you are applying to? If not, you probably will want to take the test again, Marks says. "Taking the GRE three or four times is reasonable, if necessary. More than that is not usually advisable, especially as your scores are statistically unlikely to improve at that point."
You should also consider how your score compares to your practice exams. For example, if you end up scoring much higher on the official test date than you did when preparing, then you might want to stick with your score and not retake.
In addition, keep your budget in mind: The cost to take the GRE is $205, so this can quickly add up with each retake.
If you decide to retake the GRE, you will have plenty of chances to do so – the GRE can be taken up to five times in a year as long the test dates are 21 days apart. But before you go on a test-taking spree, think about this: While it is uncommon for grad schools to superscore the GRE, many graduate programs will ask you to submit all of your GRE scores. Check to see if the programs you're applying to require all of your GRE scores – or only one.
Of course, there's really no point in retaking the test even once without investing time and effort into a focused test prep strategy that is based on the results of your first test. In this case, you'll need to give yourself a month or two between tests to either study with a tutor, take an intensive GRE class, or work on your own with carefully scheduled test prep sessions.
Although application deadlines vary among schools, students who hope to attend graduate school right after college will want to take the exam no later than the summer between junior and senior year. That means junior year is generally the best time to start preparing for the test, Marks adds.
If you prefer to keep retakes to a minimum, be sure to put extra effort into studying for the GRE well ahead of your test date – and take as many practice tests as possible.
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