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When should you take the GRE?

With the GRE, unlike other standardized tests, you can schedule a test for whenever you want. Since it’s computer-administered, you can choose a test date that fits your schedule. So how should you choose? Here are some tips.

Your first step in choosing a test date is to find out what the admissions deadlines are for the schools you’re applying to. If you don’t know, you should stop reading this post and find out immediately. These vary quite a bit, though they tend to cluster around December-February. (i.e., if you plan to matriculate in September 2012 you should plan on having applications ready around December 2011-February 2012.)

Whatever your admissions deadline turns out to be, you should shoot for a test date six months prior to the deadline. So if you’re planning to apply in December of a given year, you’ll want to take the GRE in the Spring or Summer of that year. Why so early?

1. It will help you choose schools. Knowing your GRE score will help you decide which programs you have a shot at getting admitted to. You don’t want to waste time applying if you don’t have a chance, and you don’t want to apply to several “safety schools” if you’re sure you can do better. There are many unknowns in the admissions process, but taking the GRE early will eliminate at least one of them.

2. You’ll have time to retake. If for any reason you don’t do as well as you expected to on the GRE, you’ll want to allow yourself time to retake it. You should never plan on retaking the GRE– if you prepare well once will be enough. But if for whatever reason you leave the test feeling as though you could have done better, it will be nice to know that you have plenty of time to retake it.

3. You won’t have to worry about deadlines. We have had any number of students who took the last possible test before their admissions deadline and had to lie awake at night worrying about whether their scores would come in on time. Don’t let this be you! Allow plenty of time for your exam to be scored and returned.

Another important consideration: You should plan to take the GRE at a time when you’ll have plenty of time and energy to prepare effectively. For full-time students, this generally means the summer: it’s very hard to prepare for the GRE with a full course load. Plan accordingly!

Next Step Test Preparation offers complete packages of one-on-one GRE tutoring for less than the price of a packed prep course.  For more information, see our GRE tutoring page, contact or call 888-530-NEXT.

Photo credit Leo Reynolds under a Creative Commons license.

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