When to take the GRE exam

Tyler York
When to take the GRE

How long to study for the GRE?

One of the most common questions related to the GRE test is when to take it. Thing is – it totally depends on your goals, schedule, and study habits. Instead, this guide will help you plan the best time for you to take the test. Let’s build your GRE study plan.

First, let’s get some context on your situation:

When does your graduate school program start?

While the Fall intake is much more common, the program of your choice may be available in the Spring intake instead. Double check when your graduate school will start.

The GRE is available all year round. However, graduate school programs have application deadlines: fall semester applications typically have deadlines in December, while spring semester applications have a wider range from July to September.

When to take GRE

Whenever your deadline is, you want at least three months ahead of that deadline to study for the GRE. Here’s a calendar guide to illustrate:

When to take the GRE exam

When to take the GRE exam

Planning your study schedule for the GRE

Give yourself enough time to prepare for the GRE test by submitting your application early and before its deadline. By counting the months backward, as shown in the calendar, you are looking at 2 to 3 months (more if needed or preferred) to review for the GRE test. In addition, most people benefit from having an extra month buffer, both to do applications and to take the test a second time if necessary. Finally, how hard you need to study is determined by the GRE percentiles you’re targeting to get into your top choice school.

If you are a current student:

Taking the GRE as a current student is recommended for people with a strong intent to apply to graduate school. Your GRE score is valid for five years, and conventional wisdom is that people still currently in school have more contextual knowledge than those who have already joined the working world. Put simply – you’re already studying and taking tests far more often than someone in the working world, so you’re probably more effective and in a better mindset for the GRE format.

Looking at the calendar, you’ll notice that GRE prep for a December deadline would occur during a fall semester if you’re a current student. For this reason, you may want to study for and pass the GRE during the summer instead, even if you’re applying for a fall program. 

If you’re applying for a spring semester intake program, then you can and should also study during the summer.

If you are a working professional:

Taking the GRE as a working professional can often be challenging, and not just because you’re out of practice taking tests. The #1 reason professionals have a hard time studying is time. Your work is time consuming, of course, but it’s your social life that will often be the biggest challenge to schedule around. If you make plans to study every Wednesday night at 6pm, and your friend invites you to dinner, you need to either keep your schedule or reschedule your study time. 

The goal here is to be realistic – how many hours per week will you actually study? Be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to adjust your schedule if you get two weeks in and find yourself falling behind. For this reason, I recommend that buffer month highly or maybe two – you want to make sure you have wiggle room in case you have a conference or crazy week at work and still need to get your 10 hours in that week.

(Side note: We built Achievable specifically for people who are busy and don’t have a ton of time or a set schedule – check out our GRE course for free.)

Plan ahead, prepare well, and you will be confident when you take the GRE exam. Good luck!

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