There is one question on the minds of everyone who’s planning to take the GRE: When to take it? While there is so much information out there about how to study for the GRE or how to take the GRE, there is not much information about when is it ideal for you to take the GRE.
Don’t take this lightly; when you take the GRE is probably as important as how to take it. A significant number of students take the GRE in the wrong time, and end up paying the price. If you want to make sure you score high on the GRE and don’t want any hassles during admissions, you will have to learn when it is ideal to take the GRE. And this article is precisely about that. Let us find out when to take the GRE, and why.
Plan backward, move forward
If you would like to know when to take the GRE, you should first begin with the ending. What is your ultimate goal here? To study a graduate program at some university. You should have a clear idea of which academic year you are planning for, and which intake you are aiming at. This is the first and the most critical decision you need to make.
Sometimes this is not an easy decision to make. You may have several factors to take into consideration, like your job, your family, your financial conditions, etc., before you can finalize on a season you want to apply to. But, anyway, this will be the first of several steps that will lead to your dream university. So, it is paramount that you make the right decision.
To make it easier for you, we have compiled a list of factors that you need to consider in order to figure out when you want to take the test. Remember that each of these factors is very subjective in nature, and it really depends on you, because after all, everybody is different, and you need to understand about yourself before moving further.
When to take the GRE? – 10 Factors You Should Consider
1. Target Score
Without a definite target score that you would want to achieve, there is no point in studying for the GRE. Every test taker has a target score in mind, and he/she devises a study plan based on their target score, and their current level of understanding of the concepts that the GRE tests on.
Now, if you are really new to the game, and hence don’t have a definite target score in mind, you will have to figure that out first. It isn’t that difficult either. Make a list of the universities that you are planning to apply for, and find out which of them mean the most to you. Shortlist about 3-4 universities, and find out the average GRE scores for the program you are applying for, at those universities. A few points higher than that score must be your target score. For example, if you are planning to apply to X, Y and Z universities, and their average GRE scores for the program you are applying for are around 305-310, then you must have a target of at least 315.
2. Current Level
Now that you have a target score in mind, you will need to figure out where you stand, as on date. You need to know how well you would perform on the test, if it were today. And the best way to find that out, is to take a full length practice test. There are lots of GRE practice tests available for free on the internet, and taking one of them in a similar environment to that of the test day, will give you an accurate score.
Let’s say you have taken the test today, and scored 295. Your target is 315. Which means, you will have to improve your score by 20 points. To do this, you will need to have a solid study plan, and figure out how much time you must spend on studying for the test.
3. Prep Time
When you can take the test really depends on how much time you need to prepare for the test. Prep time is undoubtedly one of the prime factors you will have to consider if you want to figure out a date for your exam.
While on an average, most students require 2-3 months of prep time in order to get a decent score, some test takers require as many as 6 months, while very few people require less than 4 weeks of prep time.
A more accurate way to measure prep time is in number of study hours, instead of weeks or months. An average student would need about 100 hours of concentrated prep time, if he/she wants a very good score on the GRE.
Some might need more, some might need less. But chances are you are somewhere in between. So, ask yourself how much time you will need to devote to preparing for the test, before you try and decide when you want to take it.
4. Daily Schedule
Now if you figured out that you need about 120 hours of prep time to get the score you want, you will have to prepare a proper study plan based on two things. One, the number of topics that you need to prepare, and two, how much free time you have every day. The latter is more important in this context because, it is arbitrary in nature. No one knows how much time you can devote to the GRE per day, but you. College, study hours, semester exams, assignments, extra-curricular activities, family obligations, and other commitments that you may have, will take away most of your time every day.
For example, if you have only 2 hours of free time every day, it means you will need at least 60 days or 2 months of prep time. If you are working, however, you may not even have time to study on weekdays, which is why most working professionals choose to study only on weekends. In that case, you will have to fully devote your weekends to studying for the GRE. Try to devote at least 6 hours per day on weekends, and you will finish your prep in about 10 weeks.
But remember to not over stress yourself with GRE prep time. Make a proper study plan based only on how free you are every day, but do not try to squeeze this in between somewhere. This will only lead to more stress, and also will not help you concentrate much on GRE. If you have trouble making a suitable study plan, sit with one of your friends, family members, or college seniors, and take their advises.
Practice is another key aspect of your GRE prep. Only when you take practice tests regularly, analyze the results, and make changes accordingly, you are going to get anywhere close to your target.
Now, it is recommended that you take at least 5-6 practice tests before you encounter the real deal, because only when you take a few practice tests, you will understand the pattern of mistakes that you commit on a regular basis, hence making it easier to devise a strategic study plan.
We recommend you to take practice tests once in a week or two, which means, in order to complete 5 practice tests, it would take you about 10 weeks of time. So, plan your practice tests ahead of time, and then decide the test date.
6. Confidence Levels
One very essential question you should be asking yourself before you book a slot for the GRE is “Am I ready to take the test today?” This is extremely crucial, because most students, even though they are not confident enough of taking the test in the near future, book the next slot available, thinking it is possible to learn everything in the next few days or weeks. However, it is the confidence level that is more important than how much you can learn in a particular frame of time.
What happens most of the time is, you will start to feel anxious during the last few weeks, and your confidence levels plummet within a very short span of time. The very idea of taking the GRE repels you suddenly, because you are not confident enough of getting the score you aim for. That is why, you should check your confidence levels and make a thorough decision, only when are you really sure that you can tackle the exam in the near future.
7. Peer Pressure
Contrary to popular opinion, peer pressure really helps you study well for a test. If you don’t believe it, remember the fact that you normally won’t find the zeal to study at home when you are alone, even when the test is fast approaching. But the minute you are in a classroom full of people studying hard for a test tomorrow, you will start to realize the importance of the exam, and you will join them in studying. This is called The Bandwagon Effect, and it is quite recurrent in our everyday life.
So, our advice to you is to study for the GRE along with your friends or classmates. If they are studying from October to December, then you could follow suit, because it helps you feel safe, and gives you lots of confidence, while allowing you to study with others, and learn things you didn’t know.
But at the same time, you should be wary of the fact that the GRE test slots get filled up pretty quickly, and you should book your date as soon as you can.
8. Admissions Deadlines
Another very key factor that you need to consider is, university admission deadlines, merely for the fact that you don’t have any control over it. You cannot alter the deadlines; all you can do is submit your scores as soon as you can.
So, figure out your target universities, and find out their admission deadlines, so you can book your test dates accordingly.
9. Score Processing
Now that we talk about deadlines and dates, it is also vital to understand how long it takes to get your scores. Even though you receive an unofficial score report immediately after the test, you will have to wait for 10-14 days until you get your official score reports. And it takes a few days for your scores to be processed as well, so they can be sent directly to the universities, if you have chosen so during the test.
So, make sure you have sufficient buffer time before the admissions deadline. We recommend you to take your GRE at least six weeks before the University deadlines.
10. Other Tests
If you are also taking other tests that are required by the universities, such as an English language proficiency test, you will have to allot sufficient time for that as well. Remember that you should be sending your GRE scores along with your English language proficiency test scores, before the admissions deadline.
Most students take around 2-3 weeks to study for language proficiency tests, and the entire process of preparing, writing, score processing, and reporting takes around 4-5 weeks. So, be very aware of the time you need to allot to other tests as well.
What is the maximum time limit?
As you might know already, the GRE scores are valid for as many as 5 years from the date of the test. So, in an ideal world, you can take the test 5 years before the year you want to matriculate at your dream university. But in the real world, admissions officers would not be very amused of the fact that your GRE score is as old as 5 years. Or even 3 years, for that matter, especially if you are a recent graduate. Unless you are a working professional, your GRE score should ideally not be older than 3 years.
This is because, the GRE score represents your skill levels in math and verbal. But if you took the test 3 or 4 years ago, there is no guarantee that you still are good at math or verbal reasoning, and there is no guarantee that your skills are as sharp as they were when you took the test. So, admissions committees usually prefer that your GRE score be as recent as possible, so they can have an accurate understanding of your abilities.
That is why, there is no point in taking the GRE in your first year of undergrad. Our recommendation is, make sure your GRE score is not older than two years, by the time you apply to universities. Two years. That should be the maximum limit.
What is the minimum time limit?
Now, just because we said your scores should be as recent as possible, you should not take the test a couple of days before you apply. Like we said earlier, your score takes some time to be processed by ETS, and it takes a couple of weeks before you get an official score report, which again you should be sending to your target universities.
Plus, the GRE isn’t the only thing that’s required by the admissions committee. They need several other supporting documents, which you will be sending through courier service. Since all this takes quite a lot of time, we recommend that you take the GRE at least 6 weeks prior to the official deadline. But try to take it as early as you can; do not wait until the last six weeks.
What time of the year?
Another question that isn’t very frequently discussed among the student community, is exactly what time of the year should one be taking the test at. The GRE can be written at any time of the year, and the slots are available throughout the year. Now, to answer this question, it really depends on what you are doing right now.
If you are in the sophomore or junior year of college, you are really lucky. You have lots of time ahead of you, and you can devise an absolutely perfect plan to take the GRE. With already loaded schedule during the semester which includes assignments, part-time work and exams, you may not find ample time to study for the GRE. Hence we advise you to fully utilize your summer vacation, and study for the test as much as you can, so you can take the test during the fall semester (August/September). We advise doing this because, sometimes you may need to retake the test if you don’t score as high as you want, and you can happily retake the test, since you will have lots of time ahead. You can study again from September and retake the GRE sometime in December. Ideally, junior year of college is the right time to take the GRE.
What if I’m in the final year?
But if you are currently in your final year of college, you don’t have much time on hand. Plus, with project works and semester exams, you’ll already have a lot on your plate. So, you should try and take the test as soon as you can, preferably in the fall semester itself (August), so you may have a chance to retake if you want to. But if you are reading this, and you haven’t started your prep yet, it is high time that you start studying from today, and take the test in December, at the very least.
While the difficulty of the test doesn’t change at all irrespective of the time of the year, it is ideal to take the particularly easier to find slots during the months of January till April, while it is extremely difficult to find slots from August to December, since a majority of students take the GRE during this time of the year.
What if I am a working professional?
If you are a recent graduate or if you are a working professional, chances are your schedule is really tight, and you may not have much time before you start your applications. So, our advice is to start studying immediately, and give as much time as humanely possible and prepare for the test. Most likely you must have just graduated, and hence your math skills will still be fresh, and you won’t take a lot of time trying to grasp the advanced concepts.
Also, try to take the test during the time of the year when you aren’t busy. If you are a working professional, for example, you should try to avoid taking the test when you have a big project deadline at work. If you are a parent, you should try to avoid taking the test during summer vacations, since your children will be at home during this period.
Having said that, you should balance your academic or work schedule, and your GRE preparation, because studying for the GRE is a massive commitment, and it requires a great deal of time, energy, and patience. So, make sure you are not studying for the GRE at the expense of something else.
Now It’s Your Turn
So, to boil things down, when you should take the GRE usually depends on various factors, some of which you have the control of, and some you don’t. That is why, the timing of the test is a very important factor, if you want to get a good score. So, plan ahead, and start working for it from now on. Ultimately, how well prepared you are to take the test, is what matters most, when it comes to getting a score that you are aiming for.
What do you think? Do you agree with us? Or do you have any experiences or tips that you would like to share? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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