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Earning the Right Score: What to Consider Before Retaking the GRE

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The Basics of GRE Test Taking

One of the most daunting tasks for students getting ready for graduate school is taking the GRE. The Graduate Record Examination is the most commonly accepted standardized test recognized by school admissions. Think of the GRE as the backbone of your graduate school application.

The GRE is administered by the ETS (or Educational Testing Service), a nonprofit dedicated to academic excellence. The test is designed to mirror the style of thinking students will perform throughout graduate school. Made up of three segments—verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing—GRE test scores offer a snapshot of an applicant’s qualifications and ability.

After finishing the test, unofficial scores for the quantitative and verbal reasoning are released immediately. Test proctors can print out an unofficial report for you at the testing site. Your analytical writing score is reviewed by the ETS and official scores are released to schools 10-15 days after your testing session.

Let’s explore if retaking the GRE might be the right decision for you, and which study approaches can help you get the best score possible.

Does Retaking the GRE Help You Get a Better Score?

The competitive nature of applying for grad school made the number of people taking the GRE rise 15% in 2014. This is only expected to continue, as more schools are accepting the GRE in place of other tests like the GMAT and . Because the test is so challenging, about after their first attempt. Statistically, those who take the test again receive a higher score the second time around. You can retake the test up to five times within a year as long as each test day is spaced out at least 21 days apart.

The Odds are in Your Favor

Taking the test multiple times is helpful. Once you have already taken the test you are more likely to have a less nerve-wracking experience. Additionally, seeing the areas you performed poorly in helps you focus your studying.

On the second time, you know what to expect and also know which areas you need to study more. The GRE is the only test where test-takers can skip questions and go back to change answers. Simply mastering your understanding of the test’s format and how to effectively allocate your time can help you out tremendously. This is one of many reasons why those who retake the GRE can likely increase their score.

The on students who chose to retake the GRE. On average, test-takers were able to get higher scores in all areas of the test than they did in their first testing sessions.

GRE Score Improvements For Retakes:

  • Verbal Reasoning: 59% scored higher
  • Quantitative Reasoning: 62% scored higher
  • Analytical Writing: 40% scored higher

Of course, take these statistics with a grain of salt. Simply retaking the test will only be beneficial if you have found a precise method to study. The ETS also unveiled stats showing that some re-takers performed the same as their first attempt, so changing the variables in your study strategies is pivotal to achieving a better score.

Do Schools Care if You Retake the GRE?

The good news is that schools are more than open to students taking the test multiple times, so if you decide to share this information with schools, it won’t hurt you. From an admissions perspective, retaking the test does not hurt your chances of being accepted.

Not only do admission committees not have a preference for the number of times you take the test, but taking the GRE more than once, in my opinion, shows the school faculty your determination and dedication to excellence. With that being said, if you somehow score worse on your second time around, there’s absolutely no reason you should share all your scores.


The ETS implemented a system called ScoreSelect. This system allows test-takers the freedom of sending their best score to schools. With ScoreSelect, you can choose which scores you want to be sent to admissions. Test scores are compiled by the test date. This means that if you take the test twice, and improve your score the second time, you can send scores from the second testing session without the school seeing your first test scores. You can either send all scores from each GRE attempt, or only send the one where you received the highest score. Schools won’t know you took the GRE more than once if you don’t choose to share that information with them.

Breaking Down the Test Scores – How is Each GRE Section Scored?

The quantitative and verbal reasoning scores are reported in a range between 130 and 170, with one-point increments. The test is selection-level adaptive. If you answer questions correctly in a prior section, the following section will be more difficult. Each question is regarded as the final raw score—the number of questions you answered correctly. Through a process called equating, the raw score is converted into a scale score—compensating for the level of difficulty. Scores are understood through percentiles. If you are in the 80th percentile, you scored 80% better than other test-takers who took the same section.

For the analytical writing section, a holistic reporting system is used to compile a score. A computer program called e-rater, as well as trained humans, review both essays and assign a score based on quality. If the human reviewer and computer analysis closely agree, the average of the two scores is used. If there is a disagreement, a second human reviewer’s score is used to average a final score. Essay scores are reported on a scale between 0-6, with half scores rounded to the nearest half-point interval.

Test Scores on the GRE:

  • Verbal Reasoning → Scale between 130-170, 1-point increments
  • Quantitative Reasoning → Scale between 130-170, 1-point increments
  • Analytical Writing → 0-6 point scale, in half-point increments

What is a Good GRE Score?

There are hundreds of different programs offered by different schools. Some schools have rigid minimums on the lowest possible score you can get and still be accepted into a program, while other schools are more flexible.

Looking at a few top schools in three different programs offers us a glimpse of what schools expect in GRE cutoff scores:

  1. Harvard Biological Science Program: Harvard’s estimated range for their Biological Sciences program is between a 158-162 for verbal reasoning and a range between for the quantitative 160-164 portion.
  2. MIT Civil and Environmental Engineering: MIT doesn’t have an official cutoff score. However, the school does state a preference for interested students to have scored within the 80th percentile or better in all three areas of the GRE. This equates to a total GRE .
  3. Stanford Medical School: Stanford’s estimated score range for their medical school ranges from 152-166 for the verbal reasoning and 152-170 for the quantitative.

Scores aren’t everything. Yes, getting a high test score helps your chances of acceptance, but graduate programs take other parts of your application into account. Grades, GPA, work experience, and letters of recommendation are also vital to your application.

If you hit your target school’s cutoff score, focus on strengthening other parts of your application. Otherwise, retaking the GRE is in your best interest.

Getting Ready to Retake the Test

There are tons of factors involved with GRE test-taking performance. The amount of sleep you get the night before the test, having test anxiety, or being sick can all have a negative impact on your test score.

On top of being in the right mental place, you will also need to study properly. There are dozens of different approaches to studying for the GRE. The test itself is difficult to prepare for because it’s a general knowledge test, meaning questions don’t correlate to specific material like a history exam would. Instead, the GRE analyzes your higher order thinking skills. This different style of test requires a systematic approach toward studying.

Having a system ensures you don’t waste time studying areas you’ve already mastered and that you spend adequate time on material you’re not familiar with. For example, if you’re well-versed in geometry and data analysis but don’t recognize common GRE vocabulary, you will want to focus on expanding your vocabulary. Many people spend the same amount of time studying for the Quantitative and Verbal sections of the exam, despite being much stronger in one section over the other. Don’t waste your time doing this.

Finding the Best Study Tools

There are a and it’s important you choose the right one for you. Course prep styles range from dense textbooks, online prep courses, and in-person tutoring courses. Your style of learning will determine which study course will be the best for your learning habits. I always recommend students use alongside whatever prep course they purchase, since ETS writes the test.

Depending on your application deadline, time might be of the essence, so finding a study course that helps you study in a systematic way helps save time and improves your chances. One of the best prep courses out there is Clemmonsdogpark.

Clemmonsdogpark’s course is perfect for disciplined students who want to study at their own pace. Clemmonsdogpark students score six points higher on both sections than the median score of all other GRE takers. That’s huge! I’ve seen students succeed using their course time and time again. Also, if you complete Clemmonsdogpark’s program and do not see a five-point increase over your old GRE score, you get your money back.

You can .

Conclusion: Is Retaking the GRE Your Best Choice?

If you have already taken the GRE and aren’t happy with your test scores, don’t worry! This is a pretty common thing. Taking the GRE over again gives you the opportunity to redeem yourself and prove yourself to your target graduate schools. On average, the majority of people who retake the GRE will perform better, so if you put in the effort, you’ll see results.

My advice is to know your ultimate goal. Determine which schools you want to get into and find out what their cutoff scores are, or what the average scores of their applicants are. If you don’t find those answers online, admissions offices will usually point you in the right direction. If you score higher than the cutoff scores for your target schools, then there’s really no need to retake the exam. But if the average scores for your top schools are noticeably higher than yours, take the time to retake the GRE. It’ll be well worth it.

Brett Welker has helped hundreds of prospective Graduate School students increase their GRE scores and get into the schools of their dreams. Get GRE study tips and course recommendations at .

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