Scores from the Graduate Record Examination, commonly referred to as the GRE, are considered by fellowship panels or admissions representatives of graduate schools as part of your grad school application, which also include undergraduate records, personal statements, and recommendation letters.
About the GRE
Because graduate and business school applicants may come from a wide range of cultural and educational backgrounds, the GRE was designed to assess candidates’ qualifications for a fair and valid comparison. Test centers in more than 160 countries around the world offer the paper- or computer-based tests several times per year, and scores are internationally accepted at thousands of graduate and business schools. The GRE was revised in August of 2011 to incorporate new question types that are more relevant to skills needed to succeed in graduate and business school programs.
There are three sections within the GRE revised General Test: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The Verbal Reasoning section contains three question types (Reading Comprehension, Test Completion, and Sentence Equivalence) and assesses your ability to understand written text and to apply your reasoning skills. Scores for the Verbal Reasoning section range from 130–170 in one-point increments. The Quantitative Reasoning section emphasizes data interpretation for real-life scenarios and is designed to measure your quantitative reasoning ability. Your score for the Quantitative Reasoning section range from 130–170 in one-point increments. Finally, in the Analytical Writing section, you will be given prompts that contain tasks instructing you to write focused responses to analyze an issue and to analyze an argument. Your responses to these two, separately-timed tasks of each prompt will demonstrate your abilities in direct response to a specific task. This section is scored from 0–6 in half-point increments. The total time it takes to complete the GRE is around 3 hours and 45 minutes, which serves secondarily as a measure of brain stamina. One group of multiple-choice questions on the test is not scored and allows test-makers to assess the validity and reliability of new questions that could possibly be incorporated into future exams.
You can find many preparation materials for the GRE online or in bookstores; however, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) offers free official GRE prep materials on its official website. The GRE is administered through ETS, and ETS’s official GRE prep resources contain general advice, question types, and sample questions for every type of question in each of the three sections. Through ETS, you can even download free GRE prep software that includes two full-length, timed practice tests. Many other books and GRE practice tests are also available for purchase from other companies. For example, you can familiarize yourself with the format, organization, focus, and timing of the GRE with material from Kaplan and Princeton Review. However, you should keep in mind that the GRE was redesigned in 2011, so if you choose to purchase materials, make sure that they are for the revised General Test and not for an earlier version.
The GRE is offered year round by many undergraduate institutions. You can register for the GRE online or by mail, but you register early to ensure your preferred testing time and location. The GRE costs between $140 and $160. If you are not content with your scores after your first attempt at taking the GRE, you can retake the test multiple times; however, you can only take the test once per month, and some universities may average your scores if you take the test multiple times. Before you take the GRE, you should research the GRE policies of your preferred schools. It is best to take the GRE a year prior to your expected entrance into graduate school; however, deadlines for submitting GRE scores will vary depending on the universities to which you apply. Score reports are generally provided 6 weeks after the testing date, or you will have the option to cancel your scores at the end of the exam.
The ability to plan efficiently is a skill that you’ll use throughout your entire graduate program, beginning with your grad school application. Starting your applications early not only provides you with more time to review and perfect your application but also can increase your odds of being admitted. Typically, applications for entry to most PhD programs during fall semester are due in December or January, and applications for entry during spring semester are due June or July.
The following timeline was designed with additional time built in to rectify any unforeseen circumstances, such as having to retake a test, and is intended to be used as a general guideline for any program, so you may make some changes depending on your unique needs.
12 Months Before Applications Are Due
Start narrowing down your choices of schools. Whether you’ve been collecting graduate program brochures for the past couple of years or you just started toying with the idea of continuing your education, now is the time to start specifically focusing on which graduate schools have programs that are right for you. Also, now is also the time to take a practice test. Depending on what your desired program requires, you could be required to take the GRE, MCAT, GMAT, LSAT, or DAT. You can use the score from the practice test to determine how much preparation you’ll need before you are ready to take the actual test.
8 Months Before Applications Are Due
Now is the time to start evaluating the schools in which you’re interested. Request information from them online, and consult with former professors, classmates, or family members who can recommend good programs or offer advice. At this stage of your preparations for graduate school, it may be helpful to start a spreadsheet of potential schools and to note grad school application requirements and deadlines on the spreadsheet. Start thinking about which faculty members you could ask for letters of recommendation. The faculty members whom you choose to ask should be those who think highly of you and who know you fairly well.
6 Months Before Applications Are Due
Buy a book or study guide to help prepare for your test, or sign up for a test preparation course. Register to take your test in a couple of months so that you will have the opportunity to retake it if necessary.
4 Months Before Applications Are Due
Take the test that your program requires, and, if necessary, sign up to retake the test. Carefully review every application you are going to complete, and write your first drafts of your graduate admissions essays. Remember to ask for feedback from faculty members or career/admissions counselors at your school, and revise your essay as needed. Additionally, start asking faculty members for letters of recommendation. To help the faculty members write your letters, you should provide the faculty members whom you ask with copies of your transcripts, sample recommendation letters, recommendation forms from each program to which you are applying, your admissions essays, and anything else the faculty members request. Finally, get a head start researching sources of financial aid.
3 Months Before Applications Are Due
Do some research on the faculty from your prospective schools, and read their publications to see whose research interests and career goals align with your own. Students interested in research activities that don’t correspond to the research interests of professors at the desired schools may be less likely to be admitted. Follow up with faculty members whom you have asked to write letters of recommendation for you. Ask family, friends, and faculty for feedback on your personal statements, and revise as needed.
2 Months Before Applications Are Due
Request that your official transcripts from your undergraduate institutions be sent to each program to which you apply. Reach out to students and professors at your desired schools to make connections, and arrange to visit the campuses if possible.
1 Month Before Applications Are Due
Check due dates for each application to ensure that you’re still on target. Apply for fellowships, grants, scholarships, or any other sources of financial aid.
Month Applications Are Due
Complete and submit grad school application forms for each program, and remember to keep copies for your own records. Most graduate schools accept online applications, but if you do have any hard copy forms of applications, then scan them into your computer, and type in the fields for a neater appearance. Finalize all essays and statements of purpose, and verify that all letters of recommendation have been sent. Most schools send emails or postcards to confirm that they’ve received your application materials. If you don’t receive some kind of confirmation notices from the schools to which you have applied, then contact admissions offices to ensure that your applications have been received before the deadlines.
1 Month After Applications Are Due
Start preparing for admissions interviews. Research common interview questions, and practice your answers. Consider what questions you want to ask them.
2 to 3 Months After Applications Are Due
4 Months After Applications Are Due
Discuss acceptances and rejections with faculty members or career/admissions counselors at your school to help you with your decision. Whether you choose to accept or decline any offers of admission, you should notify all programs to which you applied of your final decision.