When to Take the GRE: Test Dates and Guide

If you have plans to attend graduate school, you’ll most likely need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Given the overwhelming nature of the graduate school admissions process, it can be a challenge to figure out when to take the exam. 

In this post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about the new GRE General Test at Home option, upcoming test dates and locations, as well as work through a framework to help determine when might be the best time for you to take the GRE. 

What is the GRE At-Home Test?

If you are fairly new to thinking about grad school admissions and your timeline for taking the GRE, you may not be especially familiar with the at-home test option. In short, while the location and testing environment will be vastly different for you, the online exam will be identical in format, content, and on-screen experience. See below for a few other notable features about sitting for the GRE at home:

  • Taken on a desktop or laptop computer (Windows or Mac; no mobile devices) and monitored via ProctorU
  • Available in most countries (based on the country of your account address) with the exception of Mainland China
  • Accessible on most days around the clock

Additionally, the at-home test contains the same scored sections found on the general GRE: Analytical Writing Assessment, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning. 

How to Register for the GRE Test at Home?

Please note that in order to take the GRE at home, you’ll need reliable, high-speed internet access along with a computer and webcam enabled for the remote proctor tool, ProctorU (see detailed technical requirements here). Additionally, you must be alone in a room with no one else entering while you are taking the exam. 

To register for the at-home GRE, verify that you meet the technical requirements above before logging in to your Educational Testing Service (ETS) account. Simply follow the on-screen instructions and when you arrive on the “Test Centers and Dates” page, choose the “test at home” option. There will be a two-month window available from which you will choose your preferred test date and time. You’ll most likely be able to select a date as early as 24 hours from registration (though that’s probably not the best idea outside of extenuating circumstances). 

GRE Test Dates 2021-2022

While students now have the option to sit for the GRE at home, they may also take the exam at an official test center. Similar to the test at home option, you can sit for the GRE on most days of the year depending on the test center (and local restrictions). Note, due to social distancing measures, it’s recommended that you sign up well ahead of time to secure your preferred date and time slot.

To sign up for an in-person GRE test appointment, search for available test centers and dates using the ETS test location search tool. You will have 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete all GRE exam sections (not inclusive of breaks or registration), so time slots are for 4.5-hour sittings. Test centers will typically offer one morning and one afternoon session per test date. 

Student signing up for the GRE on her laptop.

When Should You Take the GRE?

If you’re signing up for the GRE for the first time this year, know that you have more options to take the GRE than students of previous years (pandemic notwithstanding). Given that you can take the exam at home or at a test center on almost any date, how do you decide when to take the GRE? With several items to consider, we’ll walk you through how to decide so you can cross off this item from your graduate school admissions checklist.

Framework for Deciding When to Take the GRE

To help determine when is the best time for you to take the GRE, start by asking yourself the following questions: 

  1. Is a high GRE score an important factor in the admissions process at my target graduate school programs? 
  2. Do I want to allow time for a potential GRE retake?
  3. Is there a benefit to submitting my completed applications early? 
  4. Am I truly prepared to take the exam? 

If you haven’t already determined your goal GRE score based on your target graduate schools, I’d recommend doing that first. Please keep in mind that there can be a great deal of variation in how much weight graduate school programs place on your GRE score. 

For example, you may be applying to a natural sciences Ph.D. program at a large state university where the GRE is used more or less on a threshold basis and less as a distinguishing factor. On the other hand, you may be taking the GRE to gain admission to a top law school or business school MBA program, in which case it can be a critically important factor in being admitted to competitive programs. Simply put, know what score you need to target and plan accordingly. More hours and weeks of preparation will likely be required to achieve a top GRE score at or above the 90th percentile. 

With respect to the second question, allowing yourself time for a retake partially builds off of your answer to how important a high GRE score is to your target programs. If you’re aiming for a high score, you will almost certainly want to give yourself ample time to take the GRE more than once (although I’d also argue this is true for all applicants regardless of their target score). One reason for doing this is that your score on any single exam is not necessarily reflective of your “true” GRE score — one that is fully reflective of your abilities. 

While it’s perfectly plausible that you could score a bit above your potential, come exam day, there’s also a chance you could score quite a bit below it. This could result not only from having an off day or experiencing test anxiety but also from the natural variability in the GRE’s assessment of your full knowledge. Basically, you’ll want to give yourself more than one shot to obtain a GRE score that will reflect all the hard work you’ll put in toward achieving it. 

In regard to application timing, you’ll need to know the specifics of your target graduate school programs to better factor this into your consideration of when to take the GRE. For example, does your intended program of study use rolling admissions or early decision deadlines? If so, there can be a significant advantage to applying early. In that case, you’ll want to have secured your final GRE score more than several months in advance of when the applications open.

The reason for this is that you’ll be kept busy writing essays, assembling required application materials, and coordinating recommendations. Who wants to do all of that while simultaneously studying for and taking the GRE? So, if there’s a benefit to getting your application in early, realize that this should add a few months of additional upfront planning to your graduate school admissions timeline and resulting GRE schedule. 

Student writing essay for graduate school.

 

Lastly, before deciding when to take the GRE, consider if you are truly ready to take the exam. Do you have a plan and resources in place to ensure that you will be ready? Are your practice test scores in line with your goal GRE score? Have you followed a thorough study plan and put in the hours? Applying early only helps if you’re doing so from a position of strength. Don’t apply with a score you know is well below your potential. 

When to Take the GRE: TL;DR

In short, you should coordinate and solidify your GRE timeline as early as possible to prevent overextending yourself while going through the graduate school admissions process. While there’s no best time for everyone to take the GRE, in an ideal situation, most students should have their final GRE score secured more than 3 months before their application deadline.

This will allow time for a retake and to complete the other necessary application materials without letting the exam get in the way. Additionally, if your goal is to achieve an exceptionally high GRE score, allow time for multiple retakes, or apply to any rolling admissions programs, you’ll likely want to add several additional months to your exam timeline. 

How Should You Prepare for the GRE?

This will largely depend on your personal score goals and how important the GRE is in the admissions process at your target programs. One of the more efficient and effective ways to study for the exam is by taking an online, self-paced GRE prep course. These courses will provide the structure and feedback necessary to build confidence in your test-taking abilities. 

If you are applying to competitive graduate school programs, have been out of school for a while, aren’t a “natural” test-taker, or received much better grades than your relative SAT/ACT scores, you may be a good fit for a GRE review course

Frequently Asked Questions: GRE Test Dates

See below for some additional answers to frequently asked questions about registering for and taking the GRE in 2021-2022. 

How Much Does it Cost to Take the GRE?

The basic fee to register for the GRE in most countries is $205. If you live in Australia, China, Nigeria, or Turkey, expect to pay slightly more. In order to change your test center or reschedule your exam, a $50 fee must be paid. 

Which Day Should You Take the GRE?

Generally speaking, you should choose a day of the week in which you will be relaxed and focused on doing your best on the exam. For most people, a weekend date works better, so that you don’t have to worry about conflicts with school or work. Also, keep in mind that if you prefer to take the GRE at a test center, you’ll need to register early, as weekend dates tend to fill up more quickly than weekday dates. 

How Often Can You Retake the GRE? 

You can take the GRE up to 5 times within any rolling 12-month period. Note, you must allow a minimum of 21 days in between exam sittings. 

 

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