What You Need to Know About Retaking the GRE
Did you end up with a lower GRE score than you were hoping for?
Do you think you can actually do much better than you did on your last GRE attempt?
Well, you should know you’re not alone. Practically everyone who takes a competitive exam has that feeling at least a couple of times after getting their results. Unless they’ve scored a 325+ in their first attempt, that is; but those are the odd ones out. You’re safely within the majority zone, don’t worry.
Now, just because you have a ‘feeling’ that your score isn’t good enough doesn’t mean it actually is that way. It could easily be that you can still get what you’re after even with the score you have at present. But you might also be right – your present score may not be enough to help you get what you want.
So how do you decide what to do?
We’ve compiled this entire piece just to help you answer that question. Here’s what you’ll find in this article:
We will start off by talking about the reasons that might have caused you to get a low score, followed by analyzing your latest score, and then we’ll advise you on whether you should retake the test. If you think about it, retaking the GRE will only help if you adequately address both, your flaws and your expectations.
Possible Reasons for a Low Score
It’s important to understand what went wrong so that you can address the issue at the root. Without this step, retaking the GRE would be an exercise in futility.
So, let’s take a look at five possible reasons that may be responsible for your low score.
- Faulty Basics
- Trouble Applying Concepts
- Sectional Competence
- You Weren’t in the Right Frame of Mind
Unlike the GMAT, the GRE is typically taken soon after your undergraduate degree. Thanks to this, you may be tempted to skip studying basic concepts and jump directly to the tricky parts of your GRE prep.
You may have had some overconfidence in your grasp over a given subject, be it math or grammar. It probably gave you a feeling that you’re better prepared for the test than you really were. So when you actually took the test, your lack of proper understanding of the basics could have completely tripped you up and ruined your score.
The GRE is an adaptive test, so if you have a bad start, doing much better later doesn’t have much of an effect on your score. Luckily for you, though, the GRE is only section-adaptive and doesn’t change difficulty levels with every passing question like the GMAT does. So you do have some latitude for mistakes in the beginning but it is limited.
If you believe that your low GRE score can be blamed on an inadequate understanding of some of the basics, then it might make sense for you to retake the GRE.
Once you’ve identified the issue, you know what you need to work on, so your GRE retaking strategy is half-done anyway. Beyond this, it’s only a matter of grit and practice.
There are times when you feel like you’ve completely understood a given concept, but the moment you face a question that makes you apply that concept, you freak out.
If this has happened to you, don’t beat yourself up over it.
We often have students who go through this. It could take as little as a single session for them to really understand what a concept means. They can even explain the concept to someone else pretty well. But they struggle to apply it while solving questions.
Now, this could happen because you don’t realize which concept the question needs you to apply, or because you’re just not sure how to apply it in the given situation.
Clearly, this problem only arises out of a lack of practice. Once you solve enough questions that need you to apply this concept, you will know every way in which that can be done. In fact, if you solve enough GRE practice questions, you’ll likely have half the solution in your head as soon as you read the question itself.
That’s actually what you need to aim for.
If you believe that your low GRE score can be attributed to this problem, you should get a whole lot of practice done before you decide to retake the GRE. The important thing to remember is that this is a solvable issue, so it makes sense to retake the test after resolving it.
The simplest explanation for a low GRE score could be that you just freaked out during your attempt.
Especially with computer-adaptive exams like the GRE, the stress of performing well from the word ‘go’ is quite high. You could be so worried about doing well that you become far too nervous at the time of the exam.
It doesn’t help that you have to face multiple choice questions while you’re in that frame of mind. If anything, they only confuse you further! You could click the wrong option because of silly reasons: you may be jumpy about how long it is taking you to solve a question, you could click by mistake – whatever it is, you should know it happens to a lot of people.
Cut yourself some slack. Do not get worked up over what happened.
Instead, calmly think about it and try to gauge why that happened to you. Addressing your nervousness will help you understand whether or not you have it in you to overcome it.
It’s okay to accept if you cannot beat the intense nervousness exams bring up in you, but if you think you can get over that, then retaking the GRE could serve you quite well.
Some of our students end up focusing too much on Quant and end up ignoring Verbal or vice versa. That’s how they end up with a lower score on something they could have done much better on.
If you’re very good at math, you might decide to focus your GRE prep strategy on improving your Verbal skills. This makes sense, but not if you end up ignoring GRE Quant entirely.
This brings us what we were saying on the first point in this section. You may have gotten overconfident about your skills in one section or under confident about your knowledge of the other. In either case, your prep must have become imbalanced, giving you a great score on one section but a very poor one on the other.
You should seriously consider retaking the GRE if this is what you’re going through.
Take a look at the GRE Syllabus, understand where you stand with which section. Work on your weaknesses and shore up your skills in both sections before you retake the test, and you should end up with a significantly better score.
Picture this: you set out for your test center fully prepared for the GRE but met with a small accident on the way. The accident threw you off your game and you ended up being completely unfocused while taking the test.
The result? A GRE score far lower than your expectations and abilities.
If this sounds familiar, you need to retake the GRE.
Whether it was an accident or something else, it’s not uncommon for people to suddenly lose focus and become quite distracted on the day of the exam. This leads to lower scores than you’re capable of getting. So if this is what happened with you, for whatever reason, it makes perfect sense to reorient yourself and take another shot at it.
But this is only one of two perspectives you need to think about before deciding whether to retake the GRE or not. The second thing you need to consider before you make up your mind is the statistical chances of you improving your score through a retest. In the next section, that’s what we will discuss.
Should You Actually Retake the GRE?
The most important factor in whether or not you should retake the GRE is your score from your first attempt.
If you have an adequate score, you should be able to get into a fairly good university without much of a hassle. But sometimes, the universities you want to go to have higher expectations, so we understand if you want to retake the test for your own personal reasons.
However, there are a few score-related considerations that we think you should consider before making up your mind. We’ll divide our suggestion based on four score ranges:
- 325+ (Q165, V160 or higher)
- 315 to 325 (Q160-165, V155-160)
- 305 to 315 (Q155-160Q, V150-155)
- Less than 305
- Other Score Combinations
The GRE is a test in which your score split makes a difference, which is quite unlike other competitive tests such as the GMAT. Whether you should retake the GRE or not depends on what your split score looks like. That’s why our advice is based on your existing scores.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
- 325+ (Q165+, V160+)
- 315 to 325 (Q160-165, V155-160)
- 305 to 315 (Q155-160, V150-155)
- Less than 305
- Other Score Combinations
Honestly, with a 325 or anything higher than that, retaking the GRE doesn’t make much sense.
Let’s start by taking a look at the percentile charts for GRE Quant and Verbal scores, respectively.
Verbal Reasoning Percentile Rank
Quantitative Reasoning Percentile Rank
When it comes to Verbal, scoring higher than 160 won’t make much of a difference to your percentile rank. The same applies to Quant scores above 165. If you’re familiar with the concept of marginal utility, let us just say that the marginal utility of every additional point after Q165 and V160 is diminished.
For those of you who don’t get what that means, let’s just say that the effort you’ll need to put in to raise your score beyond the mentioned limits is not worth the reward you stand to gain from doing so.
Our advice? Just start applying. Work on your SOP and build a strong application, your score is good enough.
If you’re in this score range, we think you should definitely give it another go.
For every additional point on both Quant as well as Verbal, the percentile ranks rise quite significantly in this range. Further, if you’re already within this range of scores on either of the sections, getting your score to rise is not a particularly tough proposition.
However, there are multiple factors involved here.
To understand what went wrong, you will need a detailed diagnosis of your score. Sign up for the free GRE Diagnostic Service as soon as you can. In about 10 to 14 days, it will give you an analysis of your score – where you went wrong, how much time you took for each question, etc. Based on this, you can identify your weaknesses and create a 3- to 4-week plan to specifically target them.
Getting a score improvement of 3-5 points on a Quant 160 and a Verbal 155 is not very tough. All you need is a Diagnostic Service Report and an expert study plan to target your weak areas.
CrackVerbal’s GRE Personal Tutoring service is actually designed for exactly this kind of a scenario. Our mentors sit with you one-on-one to help you understand the nuances of your mistakes using your Diagnostic Service report, which we will refer to as the DSR in this article. They then guide you through the process of improving your hold over whatever areas you need to focus on, which will drastically improve your chances of scoring better on your next GRE attempt.
Let’s now talk about the next lowest score bracket.
If your score is in this range on either of the sections of the GRE, you need a Diagnostic Service report (DSR), stat.
Let’s be frank, these scores don’t look good. Yet, all hope is not lost!
What these scores indicate is a deep-seated problem with the way you approached your prep in the first place. To get such scores, you must have answered some low-value questions wrong, which means that some of your basic concepts are not in place. However, other problems like nervousness may have been responsible for this, as mentioned earlier in this article.
So, the best way to deal with this situation is to analyze where things went wrong. Nothing can help you more than the free GRE Diagnostic Service to do this.
We recommend that you take a call on whether or not you should retake the GRE based on what you find in your DSR. Chances are that the DSR will show problems that you were already aware of, or it will show problems that you didn’t know existed but you can work on them anyway. In this case, our suggestion is simple: assess how long it will take for you to resolve these issues and then retake the GRE.
You will need to be realistic in this assessment, though. It’s too easy to underestimate how long it will take for you to achieve this feat. Give yourself sufficient time to revisit some basic concepts before studying the advanced ones because this score indicates that your basics are most likely to be faulty.
In short, don’t rush into retaking the GRE.
Consider taking a shot again next year if you’re already too close to the application season. If you do decide to give it another shot, make sure you pour everything you’ve got into your prep.
Alternatively, you may find the issues in the DSR to be more extensive than what you’re willing to take on. In that case, you could probably start by doing your research on alternatives to the GRE.
When you get a composite score below 305, things become highly ambiguous.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t even think about anything related to your score without getting your DSR first.
We can’t really give you a blanket suggestion as to what you should do because any advice in such a case will have to be highly subjective. If you’ve given the test your very best shot and still ended up with this score, seriously consider getting a professional opinion on whether you should retake the GRE.
Chances are that you didn’t target the right concepts during your prep. A complete professional analysis of your DSR will help you figure out the nuances of the issues that may have caused this.
However, if you are already aware that you didn’t really put your best foot forward, then retaking the test might make sense irrespective of what the DSR says. That doesn’t go to say that you can do without the DSR, of course.
Your DSR will play the role of a boat’s rudder; it will give you the direction necessary for a retake to make any difference. Without it, you could retake the test and still end up with a mere 7-8 point increase, while using the report could help you boost your score by a lot more.
We do realize that you could have a greater difference in your Quant and Verbal scores than the combinations we’ve written about so far. So, in the next section, we’re going to talk about any score combinations that don’t fit into the above brackets.
As a general rule of thumb, if your scores are consistent with what you got on your practice tests, it may not make much sense to retake the GRE. But if your score on either or both of the sections deviates by more than 2 points up or down, retaking could serve you well.
For Quant, irrespective of your verbal score, if you score between 155 and 165, a significant amount of focused study should be enough to significantly improve your composite score.
However, improving on a verbal score in the 150-160 range won’t be as easy as doing the same for a Quant score in the 155-165 range. The reason is that Verbal is more nuanced and less formulaic, making it tougher to identify exactly how you can improve your score.
In the very specific case where you have a Quant score nearing 170 and a Verbal score in the 155-160 range, we would recommend that you consider your options carefully. Retaking the GRE might not even be necessary with these scores, depending on the type of program you want to apply to.
When your GRE Quant score is outstanding, some universities might be willing to ignore a Verbal score in the late 150s and offer you an admit anyway. This is especially true for STEM programs such as those involving Data Science and Data Analytics, which are fields that require you to have a very strong hold over numbers and how they interact.
As long as your Verbal score is passable (not below V155) and you can communicate your ideas effectively, you should be good to start applying to data-heavy, STEM-type programs around the world.
We hope that this article has helped you figure out whether you should retake the GRE or not.