Curses! Deciding Whether to Retake the GRE

By Ron Woldoff, Joseph Kraynak

So the cards didn’t fall in your favor, and you didn’t do as great as you could have. It happens. Should you retake the GRE? Before making that call, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it matter?Your GRE score may be good enough for you to get into your target school, in which case you’re done! Talk to the admissions reps. They may tell you that your scores are fine, or they may tell you that you need a few extra points, giving you a specific target. Students who retake the GRE almost always score far better on the second try.

  • Can a better score win you a scholarship?Even if you’ve been accepted to your target school, ask the admissions office whether a scholarship is available at your score level or higher. One student was accepted to his school but retook the exam twice to get the scholarship. And get it he did: $40,000, which was a 50 percent ride.

  • What types of mistakes did I make?If you made mistakes because of a lack of familiarity with either the test format (such as the Quantitative Comparison questions) or substance (such as the vocabulary words or the geometry problems), now you know what the GRE has in store and can focus on your studying. If you know what you did wrong, you can fix it and improve your score.

    Instead of making your mistakes on the actual GRE, take a practice test under simulated testing conditions and review the test afterward.

  • Were my nerves getting the better of me?Maybe your nerves were acting up, you were feeling ill, or you were anxious and didn’t get enough sleep the night before. This is normal for the first time you take the GRE. The second time will be much better.

  • Did I not finish the exam?If you left a lot of questions unanswered, take the test again. (As of this writing, you may take the exam every 21 days.) This time, learn the software and strategize the ways that you work around a challenging question.

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.

The ScoreSelect option that ETS offers allows you to choose which scores you send to your target schools. However, you have to send the entire score from that exam; you can’t send the Quantitative score from one exam and the Verbal score from another. ETS stores your test results for five years, so you can pick from these exams.