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When to Take the GRE: The Graduate School Guide

If you’re planning to apply to graduate school, it’s likely that you’ll need to take the GRE. One frequently asked question is: When should I take the GRE?

The GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) is a computer-based test.

Test dates are available almost every day of the year, although some test centers offer the GRE only on certain days of the week.

It’s great to have so many options, but it can also be confusing.

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to choose the right GRE test date for you.

GRE Basics: What You Should Know

Before you register for the test, there’s some basic information you should know.

  • The GRE takes 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. It consists of six sections, and you get a 10-minute break halfway through.
  • The three main sections of the GRE are Analytical Writing (one “Analyze an Issue” and one “Analyze an Argument” task), Verbal Reasoning (two questions, 20 questions per section), and Quantitative Reasoning (two sections, 20 questions per section).
  • In addition, there will be either an unidentified unscored section or an identified research section. Neither of these sections count toward your score.
  • You’ll receive a Verbal Reasoning score and a Quantitative Reasoning score on a 130-170 score scale in one-point increments. Your Analytical Writing score is reported on a 0-6 score scale in half-point increments.
  • You can freely move backward and forward within each GRE section. You also have “Mark” and “Review” features and the ability to change or edit your answers in a section.
  • If you absolutely want to take the test on paper, there are paper-delivered centers. However, these are rare, and you’ll have significantly fewer test date options.
  • Your score is valid for five years after taking the test.

What types of schools take the GRE?

Of course, you’ll also want to be sure that the graduate school you’re applying to accepts the GRE.

Most graduate schools accept the GRE, and many require it. And while business schools traditionally ask for GMAT scores and law schools typically require the LSAT, these requirements are changing.

  • Many business schools and several top law schools are now also willing to accept the GRE.
  • If you’re considering business school and unsure whether to take the GMAT or the GRE, read our GMAT vs. GRE guide.

Before registering for the GRE, visit the official websites of the graduate schools you’re interested in applying to.

Read through their admission requirements and ensure that the GRE is accepted.

When do you want to attend graduate school?

Now that you know the basics, let’s determine when you should take the GRE.

The first question to ask yourself is when you want to attend graduate school.

  • Do you plan on going immediately after you finish undergraduate?
  • Or would you like to gain a few years of professional experience before returning for graduate school?

If you’d like to go to graduate school immediately after completing undergrad, it’s best to take the test during your junior year or early during your senior year.

Most students take the test sometime between spring of junior year and fall of senior year.

  • If you’re going to gain a few years of professional experience first, you may want to consider taking the GRE during your senior year.

Remember, your scores are valid for five years.

So, it makes sense to take the test while your academic knowledge is still fresh in your mind.

During what months of the year can you take the GRE?

The GRE is offered year-round. There’s no need to sign up for the test months in advance.

However, you should consider your academic and personal schedule.

  • Choose to take the GRE during a time that’s not too busy or overscheduled.

You may want to take the GRE during the summer or during a semester when your workload is lighter.

When do schools want you to submit your GRE scores?

Application deadlines are the most significant factor when deciding when to take the GRE. Most graduate programs have deadlines in December or January.

  • This means you’ll need to have all components of your applications—including test scores—ready to go by the start of December.

So, start with your application date in mind. Then, you’ll need to budget time to study for the GRE and time for your scores to arrive at the school.

Finally, it’s a good idea to allow time for a retake if necessary.

How long should you study for the GRE?

In general, 2-3 months should give you enough time to prepare for the GRE.

  • Test preparation may include studying vocabulary, brushing up on your math skills, writing practice essays, and taking practice tests. Once you take practice tests, determine your areas of weakness and focus on improving them.

It’s a good idea to start by taking a practice GRE. Time yourself to ensure that you’re taking the practice test under similar conditions to the real test. Score yourself.

Then, compare your score on the practice test to the average GRE scores of students admitted to your preferred graduate schools. How much do you need to improve?

If the improvement required is significant, you may want to budget more time for test preparation.

In addition, it can be helpful to hire a tutor or invest in high-quality test prep materials.

How many hours can you study each week?

You’ll also need to consider how many hours you can devote to studying each week.

If your schedule is packed, you should allow more time to prepare for the test.

Be realistic about the amount of time you have and how much you’re willing to study per week.

  • A general rule of thumb is that for every five points you want to raise your score (based on your initial practice test), you’ll need to study for 40 hours.

Calculate the number of hours you should study, decide how many hours you can study weekly, and use these numbers to determine how many weeks you need to budget for test preparation.

How long will it take for schools to receive my scores?

If you choose which schools will receive your GRE scores while you’re still in the test center, it takes 10-15 days for these schools to receive your scores.

  • Schools will receive your scores when you receive the email telling you that your scores are available on your My GRE account.

To be on the safe side, you should assume it will take three weeks for your scores to arrive.

That means the absolute last date you take the GRE should be 21 days before your application deadline.

What if I need to retake the exam?

21 days is also the length of time you’re required to wait between test dates.

You’re allowed to take the GRE up to five times within 12 months. However, two retakes (or even one or none) is usually enough.

  • To make sure you have enough time to study between tests, allow 4-5 weeks per retake.
  • So, if you want to play it safe, add 10 weeks to your schedule.

If it turns out you only need one retake—or better yet, none—great! You’ve gotten your GRE finished way ahead of schedule, so that’s one less thing to worry about on your path to grad school.

Final Thoughts: When to Take the GRE

To determine when you should take the GRE, follow this process:

  • Start with the school’s application deadline. You’ll work backwards from this date.
  • Take a practice test. Compare your score to the average score of students accepted to the school. How much do you need to improve? Budget 40 hours of studying per five points.
  • How many hours can you study per week? Divide the hours you need to study by the number of hours you can study per week to determine how many weeks are needed for test preparation.
  • Add ten weeks to allow for two retakes (just in case).
  • Be sure to allow three weeks for schools to get your scores. The absolute last date for the GRE (including retakes) should be 21 days before a school’s application deadline.

In general, you should take the GRE 3-4 months before your school’s application deadline. You should start studying at least 2-3 months before this date.

More studying may be required if you’ll need to improve your score significantly.

By planning wisely, you’ll allow yourself plenty of time to study, retake the test if necessary, and get your scores to schools on time.