As of July, 2012, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) announced a shift in policy to allow GRE test-takers to report all, some, or none of their test scores to graduate programs (and now, potential employers). Until then, GRE reported all scores the test-taker had earned on the GRE in the past five years. Now, students can choose to take the test multiple times, and send scores for only their best administration of the exam, assuming they do better on one than another (not a given).
As you know, the GRE is required for entry into most doctoral, and many master’s degree programs. GRE scores are correlated only to earning a higher GPA in the first year of graduate school. They have not been proven to accurately predict completion of a graduate degree, persistence over time, or impact on your field of study. The scores are just one aspect of the total application package provided by applicants into graduate programs. Some graduate programs weight the GRE more heavily, while others do not even require it. The National Science Foundation no longer requires GRE scores from applicants to its prestigious Graduate Fellowship program. The scores are just one aspect of the total application package provided by applicants into graduate programs.
Research shows that underrepresented minority and low-income students score less well on the GRE, as is true of other standardized tests such as the SAT, and the GRE is not particularly useful as a predictor of success of students in graduate school for these students either. Anecdotally, the GRE has not proven to be predictive for UR McNair student success in graduate school. Some of our former scholars who did quite well on the exam never entered a doctoral program; others whose scores were less than optimal are faculty members and researchers now. If you can remember your score on the SAT, that’s about where you will fall on the GRE as well, unless you have spent substantial (I mean, really substantial) time reading and taking practice exams.
Research into re-testing indicates that a person who sits for a second administration of an exam can expect to earn a score that is only one quarter of a standard deviation higher than they did in the first administration. On the r-GRE, the standard deviation is 8.75 points. All things being equal, then, a GRE re-tester can expect his or her score to improve on each measure (verbal and quantitative) by just over two points. The GRE costs $175 per exam. That’s $43.75 per increased point (assuming a total four point increase); not to mention the time spent either wasted on non-preparation for the first exam, and over-preparation and worry on the second exam. Your time and money are very valuable. We want you to expend them both in the most effective ways possible. And there is no guarantee that your scores will increase at all; I can point to many examples of students who, despite good preparation, earned lower scores on the second exam than they did on the first one. If you are familiar with statistics, the phrase “regression towards the mean” will mean something to you. If not, look it up. Take it only once, and report the scores to all of your graduate programs. If you do not score as well as you would like to have, ask a recommender to address it in his/her letter of reference.
Therefore, our advice remains as it has always been: prepare for the exam beginning in the second semester of sophomore year; spend the summer between junior and senior year preparing substantially and seriously (be honest with yourself—preparing seriously doesn’t mean looking at a vocabulary list for ten minutes while watching videos on YouTube). As soon as you decide to go to graduate school, start reading outside of your discipline to improve your vocabulary and language facility. Engage in several in depth research projects; get as many A’s in your courses as possible; develop strong relationships with faculty members who can write glowing letters of recommendation.
Then, take the exam in August or September of senior year. Take it only once, and report the scores to all of your graduate programs. If you do not score as well as you would like to have, ask a recommender to address it in his/her letter of reference. Point to your high GPA and multiple research experiences and more predictive of your abilities as a graduate student.
I should mention that I currently serve on the GRE Board’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. The GRE has an important function. I simply believe—and the evidence of over fifteen years indicates--that unless you fainted, threw up on, or were otherwise taken seriously ill while taking the GRE the first time, you should never take it again!