If you’re applying to graduate or business school, it’s likely that you need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for admission. The GRE is a standardized test that covers a broad range of quantitative and verbal topics and requires ample preparation time, so you need to be strategic about when to take it. While each test taker’s circumstance is unique, there are nevertheless some general guidelines you should consider as you map out your GRE game plan. Let’s take a closer look.
There’s no time like the present
There’s a poem by personal development author Denis Waitley called “Someday Isle” about a fantasy island you’ll never see if you continue to put off your dreams by invoking the excuse, “Someday I’ll….”
There’s never a perfect time to embark on the journey of preparing for an exam like the GRE. It takes time and effort and you no doubt have plenty of other things competing for your attention. Yet, once you’ve made the decision to go back to school and know that you’ll have to take the GRE before applying, you might as well go ahead and start preparing now.
I’m a big believer in the concept of reverse procrastination, doing now what our inclination is to put off until later. Is waiting to take the GRE really going to make it any easier? Of course not. The exam and preparation will end up being the same, the only difference will be the time you will have lost.
Remember that your GRE score is good for five years, so go ahead and get it out of the way. Even if you don’t apply to grad school for a year or two, that’s okay. At least you’ll have the GRE in your back pocket to use whenever you’re ready.
Start with the end in mind
While the general advice to take the GRE sooner rather than later is valid, you can be more strategic about exactly when to sign up for the GRE by working backwards from your application deadline(s). Toward that end, the first thing you should do is check the website of the schools you’re going to be applying to for specifics about their application processes, including deadlines. To figure out when you should schedule your GRE and start preparing, consider the following.
- It could take up to two weeks for your official GRE score report to be sent to the schools you select at the testing center. While some schools may review your application and make a decision on your candidacy pending an official GRE score, I’m of the mind that you should take the GRE enough in advance that the school has your official score before the application deadline. To be safe, subtract 15 days from your earliest deadline to determine the latest you should schedule your GRE.
- Account for the possibility that you may need to retake the GRE if your score on the first attempt isn’t where you need it. You can only take the exam once every 21 days (and no more than five times in a 365-day period), so my recommendation would be to actually schedule your GRE at least 36 days before your earliest application deadline — enough time to take the exam again if necessary and still ensure that schools will get your official score report in time.
- Most people need a couple of months to fully prepare for the GRE, assuming you’re starting from scratch. For reference, our comprehensive GRE prep course has a seven-week syllabus, and most students find that to be an ideal timeframe to learn all of the material and get the score they’re shooting for. So if you’re going to take your first crack at the GRE at least 36 days before your applications are due, that means starting to study for it at least three months before those deadlines — and perhaps even a little earlier to give yourself some wiggle room in case it takes you longer than expected to refresh all of that high school math you haven’t seen in years!
Don’t forget the rest of your application
If you won’t be applying until next year and still have a half a year or more before your deadlines, don’t forget that the non-GRE parts of your application are time-intensive as well — and equally important. As such, it would still be a good idea to spend the next couple months studying for the GRE and getting it out of the way now so that you can turn your attention to the rest of the application process.
I’ve seen it too often where a student leaves the GRE until the very last minute and feels increased pressure to get a great score just a day or two before an application deadline. Talk about putting all of your eggs in one basket. It’s hard to perform your best under that kind of stress, so leave yourself some breathing room if at all possible.
Need a GRE study plan?
Whether you’re still in the early stages of thinking about taking the GRE or are already knee-deep in preparing for it, join us on August 12th for a free webinar where you’ll learn an actionable three-part game plan for dominating the GRE. Click here to reserve your spot. See you then!
Brett Ethridge is the founder of Dominate Test Prep, a leading provider of GMAT and GRE courses online as well as topic-specific GRE and GMAT video lessons. He has taught both exams for over 12 years and loves working with students to help them achieve their highest potential. Brett is an entrepreneur, a competitive tennis player, and an avid Duke basketball fan.
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