The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test issued by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The GRE is mandatory in order to gain entry into most North American graduate schools.
In essence, the GRE is to grad school as the SAT or ACT is to a 4-year college. The graduate school admission process can be confusing under the best of circumstances, and the variety of GRE test dates can be difficult to navigate. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the right GRE test date.
Additional GRE Prep Materials
If you are preparing for the GRE exam, check out these resources
What GRE Test Dates Are Available?
The exact test dates available are going to depend on what type of GRE exam you’re going to take. There are two different ways of taking the GRE:
- Online via testing centers
- Online with an at home option
Most people opt to take the online test vai testing centers. This is the preferred method of ETS. There are more test dates available, and you can actually take the test multiple times. In fact, you can take it up to five times in any rolling 12-month period, as long as the test dates are spread out by at least 21 days.
In addition, online test results are reported after approximately 10-15 days.
Online tests are available on most days. That said, this doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be able to sign up on any day you want. Test availability is limited by the number of seats available on a given day. The earlier you sign up, the more choices you’ll have.
You can sign up for an online GRE test on the official website.
The online test via an at home option is only offered to students that do not have access to a physical testing center.
When Should You Register For the GRE?
When it comes to registration, the rule of thumb is that you can’t register for the GRE too early. The earlier you register, the more likely you are to find test availability on the day you want. You can register up to a year in advance, so if you’ve got your heart set on a particular graduate program, register right away.
On the other hand, maybe you’re not sure about your career or academic direction. Perhaps you’re waiting to see if a particular job offer shakes out, and graduate school is your backup option. In that case, you’ll still have options. You can generally find a test within about a month.
Of course, popular times like weekends will probably booked up. You may also need to travel. Still, if you’re trying to sign up for the GRE on short notice, there’s no need to worry. You still have options.
How Do You Register For the GRE?
If you’ve already decided to take the GRE, the next step is to register. So how do you do that? It depends on what version of the test you’re registering for. Let’s take a quick look at each of those.
Registering For the Computer-Based GRE
The good news about registering for the GRE, whether the computer-based or paper-based version, is that there are no eligibility requirements. Even if you have yet to complete your undergraduate degree, you can still lock up your spot.
To register for the online test, you’ll need to create an account on the ETS website. In the top right corner, you’ll see a small link that says “ETS Account”. If you’ve already taken an ETS test, such as the PRAXIS or PRAXIS II, you’ll already have login information. Otherwise, you’ll need to click the button that says “Create an Account”.
The signup process is relatively simple. You’ll be asked to enter a few pieces of information, and choose a password. Once that’s done, you’ll be ready to go. Sign in, and you’ll see a section that says “My Tests”. There will be a link in that section to register.
You’ll want to select the GRE General Test, then enter your city in the search box. You’ll be asked to select a two-month window for testing dates, and you’ll see a list of all the available dates. On this screen, you may see suggestions for relatively distant test centers.
But unless you’re scheduling at the last minute, you should be able to find an ETS test center that’s reasonably close to your location.
Once you’ve chosen a date and location, you’ll be asked to accept the terms and conditions. You’ll also have to pay the registration fee, which costs $205 for American and Canadian students. International students will sometimes have to pay more.
Payments can be made via credit card, direct wire transfer, paper check money order, or even PayPal. That said, not all payment methods are accepted from all countries. Make sure to check the guidelines, since they do change from time to time.
International students will want to have their passport handy during registration. For US students, a driver’s license or other government-issued ID is generally sufficient.
In addition to registering online, you can also register over the phone. Just call 1-800-473-2255, follow the prompts, and you’ll be able to find available test times at your local test center. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll still need to create an online account before you can register over the phone.
GRE Test Cost
The cost for the standard administration of the GRE general test is $205 for most areas. Australia, China, Nigeria, and Turkey have higher fees ranging from $226 to $255. The standard cost for the GRE Subject Tests are $150 worldwide.
Additional fees are required for items such as: late registration, standby testing, rescheduling, changing your test center or changing your Subject Test. These additional fees are typically between $25 and $50. Full details on GRE Test fees are available on the ETS website.
What GRE Test Dates Are the Best?
When you should take the GRE is entirely up to you. The test results are good for up to five years, so it’s tough to take it too early. But under most circumstances, you’re probably taking it in the last year of your undergraduate education.
The operative question, then, is when your grad school application is due. This can be different depending on the school, and sometimes even on the program. Do your research, and make sure your exam results will get to the school before the application deadline. Remember that even with the online test, it takes up to 15 days for the school to receive your results.
If you’re trying to enter grad school in the fall of 2020, you’ll need to take the test as soon as possible. But keep in mind that you’ll still need time to study. In addition, if you do badly, you may want to re-take the test, which requires a wait of 21 days. This can put you in a bind. Look at your school’s application deadline, and plan accordingly.
If you’re planning to enter grad school in the spring of 2021, you have a bit more flexibility. One option is to give yourself until the end of the year, so you’ll have as much time as possible to prepare. That said, you might want to take the GRE in fall instead of winter. This way, you’ll have plenty of time to retake the test if you’re not happy with your score.
How Should You Prepare For the GRE?
If you think back to your last year of high school, you probably remember preparing for the SAT or ACT. These tests are not easy, and studying for them can be one of the most stressful parts of your high school career. Similarly, preparing for the GRE can be a stressful time, particularly as you’re still shouldering your normal course load. So how do you prepare?
Have a Plan – and Stick to it
Many times, it can be tempting to hold off until the end, and cram for a test in your last week. This is a good way to set yourself up for disappointment. Instead, keep in mind that you’re already dealing with your normal studies. How much time do you really have to study?
So before you put off studying till the last week, look at your weekly schedule. See how much time you can realistically spend studying each week. And make sure not to over-budget your time! You know you need time for recreation to keep yourself sane. Schedule a realistic block of time for study each week, and make sure you stick to that commitment.
A good way to do this is to look at the time you normally spend studying or working. Then look at how much time you spend studying. Make sure to factor in commute times, personal hygiene, and sleep. Now, subtract that time from your schedule. What you have left is the time you can spend studying. An online calendar app can be a great help in this process.
Utilize a GRE Prep Course
Serious students should consider preparing for the GRE exam by using a GRE prep course. GRE prep courses can be online/self-paced, online/instructor-led, in-person or a combination. You should consider purchasing a GRE prep course if one or more of these factors apply to you:
- You are applying to a highly competitive grad school program
- You scored lower than the the 70th percentile on your ACT or SAT exam
- You have been out of school for more than a year
- You don't feel confident in your test-taking abilities
- You need structure and feedback in your exam prep
If you feel a GRE prep course may be a good option for you, please check out our review of the best GRE prep courses.
Take a GRE practice test
Before you start studying for the GRE, you might want to know where you stand. A free GRE practice test will give you a baseline score. You’ll also know what areas of study you need to beef up on. If you’ve got enough time to prepare, you might even want to periodically take a new practice test.
This will keep you aware of your progress, and hopefully soothe any butterflies you’re experiencing.
Last Updated: 1/21/2021