"When should I take the GRE?" is one of the most common questions among people hoping to enroll in a graduate-level degree program. Since ETS offers both the online and in-person versions of the tests year-round, it can be difficult for aspiring grad school students to determine the best exam date.
You want to schedule your exam for a date that gives you plenty of time to prepare. However, the answer to when to take the GRE varies for each person, depending on the following factors:
- Application deadlines for your chosen grad school program
- The amount of test prep time and retake attempts you'll need
- Your personal lifestyle and availability
Submitting GRE Test Scores on Time
Current undergraduate students should select their GRE test date based on application deadlines for their chosen grad school program. That way, they can develop a study schedule that gives them plenty of time to prepare and increases their chances of getting a GRE score that meets their chosen institution's academic standards.
To ensure that the admissions department receives the test scores on time, students should try to take the GRE two to three months before the application deadline for their chosen grad school. Schools usually accept admissions applications in December and January, so most students should plan to take their tests in September or October.
You can take the GRE in November if a September or October test date is unavailable. However, preparing for the GRE in one month requires a streamlined study process that allows you to effectively absorb the necessary information without cramming. Schools typically receive GRE scores 10 to 15 days after your exam, so schedule your test date early in the month to be on the safe side.
GRE Testing Time Table
Since application deadlines differ for every school, students can follow these general guidelines to determine the best time to take the GRE:
- Fall Deadline
- Study through the winter
- Test in the spring or summer
- Spring Deadline
- Study through the fall
- Test in the winter
- Submit grad school applications in the spring
GRE Prep Time
Accounting for Study Time and Retakes
Depending on your academic strengths, some GRE sections may be more challenging for you than others. If you're concerned about the GRE difficulty, you may need to push your exam date back a bit to ensure ample study time. For example, rather than choosing a test date two or three months before your application deadline, pick an exam day closer to three or four months out.
Use the extra month to maximize your GRE test prep time by:
- Reviewing GRE vocabulary terms
- Studying sample prompts for the Analytical Writing section
- Answering GRE practice questions
- Taking the right number of GRE practice tests
Planning for GRE Retake Attempts
Test takers should also leave plenty of time to retake the exam, just in case they're dissatisfied with their first GRE score. Experts recommend a 21-day review and study period between exam attempts, during which students determine which questions they missed, refine their test-taking strategies, and hopefully receive a higher score on the retake exam.
Consider adding another month to your GRE test prep schedule to ensure you have time to retake the exam if you need to. That way, you'll be able to shoot for a higher target score and still meet your grad school application deadlines. Students get a maximum of five GRE attempts within a year. Be sure to maximize your study time so you'll need as few retakes as possible.
Fitting the GRE into Your Schedule
Your personal schedule plays a vital role in deciding when to take the GRE. Trying to fit exam prep into an already tight schedule can increase stress and anxiety. As a result, you may be unable to devote enough time to studying, making it difficult to hit your target GRE score.
Ideally, you should take the GRE when you have the most downtime. Students might consider testing during their spring, summer, or winter break, for example.. You should also avoid exam dates that conflict with other work, school, or family obligations.
Choosing a GRE Test Date
While taking the GRE two to three months before your grad school application deadline is a safe bet, it's important to factor in other details, like your personal schedule and how many retake attempts you think you'll need. Once you determine these details, you can register for the GRE and follow an efficient study and testing schedule to ensure you submit your scores on time.