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What to consider before a GRE retake, part I

If you're thinking about retaking the GRE (The Graduate Record Examinations), even if you haven't yet taken it for the first time, that's fantastic. Really: even ETS, the test-maker, admits that most test-takers will find that they get a higher score by taking the exam twice.

This is most likely in part to decreased test anxiety - after all, you've done this before - and increased prep time. So yes, generally, retaking the GRE is a good idea. But it isn't always! And when it is, there are a few important considerations you need to take into account before you go scanning through GRE test datesHere are the most important things you need to keep in mind before a GRE retake.

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How much did you prep for the first exam?

Were you pressed for time, maybe because of college exams, family commitments, or even a full-time job? If you weren't able to prep enough for your first test, ask yourself: what's changed? If your schedule is fundamentally the same as it was the first time around, you may not be able to make the huge leaps and bounds you hope for on a retake in a short amount of time.

On the other hand, now you know the time commitment involved in preparing for a high GRE score, so, if time allows (see below) you can schedule your retake far enough out that you'll be able to put in enough work at your own pace.

Do you know what brought your score down the first time?

The GRE exam is a tricky little (well, big) beast in terms of its form and content. Examine your score reports closely. Which sections brought your score down? Do you know what question types within those sections gave you the most trouble? Did you run out of time? Did you have a panic attack, or experience high levels of anxiety? Diagnose what happened during the last exam before you plan for your retake, or you'll be, to use an antiquated expression, throwing good money after bad.

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Did you use good prep resources?

There are a TON of GRE prep options out there, and they can be tricky to sort through. However, more than one (waaaay more than one) student has been felled by subpar practice. How can you identify good prep resources? Check out the PowerPrep tests offered by the test-maker, ETS, as well as the sample questions they offer.

Take careful note of the format; it's also a good idea to rate how difficult you find each problem as you go through their materials. Then, compare your findings to the commercial products out there. For GRE books, you can also check out expert recommendations to give you a leg up on the search.

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How many practice tests did you take/have you taken?

You might be surprised to learn that ideally, you'd be taking one GRE practice test a week, and more frequently if you only have a short amount of time in which to prepare. And, just as with general GRE prep resources, you want to make sure that those practice tests are really test-like—and provide you with good answers and explanations.

After all, if you don't know why you got an answer wrong (and how to get it right), you're pretty much guaranteed to get the same types of questions wrong on test day.

 

Special thanks to Rachel for providing us with this article. Rachel Kapelke-Dale blogs about graduate school admissions for Magoosh. She has a BA from Brown University, and did her own graduate work at the Université de Paris VII (Master Recherche) and University College London (PhD). She has taught and written about test preparation and admissions practices for eight years.