Curses: Repeating the GRE Test

Should you repeat the test? Before you make that decision, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I repeating the test to get a certain minimum qualifying score or just to satisfy my ego? If you have your heart set on a particular graduate school that requires a minimum GRE score, you may want to take the test again and again and again until you get that score. If you're taking the test only because your ego was demolished when you didn't score as well as your friends, you should probably think twice before putting yourself through all that trauma again.
  • Am I willing to study twice as hard, or am I already burned out? If you put your heart and soul into studying for the exam the first time, you may be too pooped to pop (enervated, as didactic dames like to say) for the second exam. Scores don't magically go up on their own; you have to put in a lot of effort.
  • What types of mistakes did I make on the first test? If you made mistakes because of a lack of familiarity with either the test format (you didn't understand what to do when faced with a Quantitative Comparison question) or substance (you didn't know the vocabulary words or were baffled by the geometry problems), you're a good candidate for repeating the test. If you know what you did wrong, you can fix it and improve your score.
    However, if your mistakes were due to carelessness or a lack of concentration, you are very likely to make those same types of mistakes again. If you truly, honestly, sincerely, and without dissembling (lying) feel that you can sit in the test room and stay focused this time and not make the same stupid mistakes, go for it. But chances are, if you're the type of test-taker who either always makes a lot of careless mistakes or rarely makes them, you're not going to change your whole test-taking style overnight.
  • Were there extenuating circumstances beyond my control? Maybe your nerves were acting up on the first exam, you were feeling ill, or you didn't get enough sleep the night before. In that case, by all means, repeat the exam. You're bound to feel better the next time.
  • Did I not finish? If you did not reach a lot of questions, take the test again. (You may take the test only once during each calendar month, but a smart test-taker can schedule her testing so that she takes the exam on, say, October 31 and then again on November 1.) This time, fill in something for every question. Remember that you lose more points for not reaching a question than you do for answering the question incorrectly.

Can repeating the exam hurt you? Not really. Most schools look only at your highest score. Find out from the individual schools you're interested in whether this is their policy; it isn't the case for every school. If you are on the borderline, or if several students are vying for one spot, sometimes having taken the exam repeatedly can hurt you (especially if your most recent score took a nosedive). On the other hand, an admissions counselor who sees several exams with ascending scores may be impressed that you stuck to it and kept trying, even if your score went up only a little bit. In general, if you're willing to take the time to study and take the repeat seriously, go for it.

GRE score reporting is cumulative; that is, all the scores you obtain for five years are sent to the schools you designate. You cannot send scores from only one exam date. For example, if you do great in October, take the exam again in April, and blow it big time, you cannot tell ETS to ignore the April debacle (a sudden collapse, a rout) and send just the October scores. All scores are part of your permanent record.

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