The Graduate Records Examination (GRE) test is a standardized test necessary for applying to graduate schools. Many universities, especially those in the United States and other English speaking countries require GRE scores in order for students to be eligible to apply for graduate study programs.
The GRE was developed by the Educational Testing Center (ETS) and it is widely used because universities evaluate a student’s capability and potential for success in graduate school based on the test scores. So the higher the GRE test scores, the more likely the student is to succeed in school. This is because the skills that are evaluated are said to be key predictors of whether students will do well in their studies or not.
GRE tests a few skills which all graduate students will need such as:
- Verbal understanding
- Basic quantitative skills
- Writing skills
- Analytical skills
Students take the GRE test and then send their test scores to universities where they are applying. But can you only take the GRE test once and then never again? More specifically, how long are GRE scores good for? The general consensus is 5 years, but we will go through some of the details of this time frame and other information regarding GRE score expiration.
GRE test overview
All students will have to use the skills tested by the GRE at some point during graduate school and that is why recruiters place heavy emphasis on the scores. Students who meet all the school criteria for admission, but have poor GRE scores are less likely to get an admissions offer from the graduate program of their choice in comparison to someone who has good scores.
But what are good GRE scores? Good GRE scores are considered those that fall above the 60th percentile, and the best ones are scores in the 90th percentile. This means that you will have to get a score of 326 points to be in the 90th percentile.
The GRE is given in two formats, the paper and computer based. Paper based GRE tests are not used as much and there are specific dates when you are allowed to take them. You would have to check with ETS on the availability of paper based GRE test dates in your area. On the other hand, most GRE tests are taken on a computer. This is because it makes the formatting of the test easier, as well as getting the scores and sending them to universities. Also, there is a higher availability of testing centers for computer based GRE.
You might also be wondering whether all students have to take the same GRE test? This depends on your area of interest and what scores the universities are asking for. The GRE is given in a general format that basically tests general skills in the above mentioned areas, but it is also available as a subject specific test.
Subject specific GRE tests are designed to measure your skills in a particular field of study. This type of test is available in 6 subjects:
- Literature in English
To understand whether you have to take the GRE General or Subject Specific test, you should contact your university and ask which ones they require. Keep in mind that the testing dates for the subject specific tests are only in April, September, and October, so there is less availability compared to the General Test.
Whichever format or type of test you choose, the scores you obtain are valid only for a limited time frame.
How long do GRE scores last?
GRE test scores are valid for 5 years. The GRE testing year begins on July 1st and ends on June 30th, so how long your scores are valid is also dependent on that. This means that if you take the test in June 2017, your scores will expire before the 2022 fall application cycle, and you can only apply during the 2021 application cycle. If you take the test in October 2017 though, your test scores will be valid for the 2022 application time.
Most people choose to take the GRE in the year that they will be applying for graduate school, but if you take it once, you can send in your scores to any university as long as they are valid.
However, some universities have requirements about how old GRE test scores should be to gain admission, so you also need to follow their guidelines. If the program of your choice is asking for GRE scores that are no more than 3 years old and you have taken the GRE 4 years ago, you will have to retake the test to be eligible for admissions.
When you register for the GRE, you create your own personal account with ETS. Your account contains your personal information and your test score report after you take the test. You can send the test scores to any university you want to for a fee within 5 years of having taken the test. But if your scores expire, you will not be able to access them anymore. What happens is that the ETS actually deletes your scores and they do not appear anywhere, even in your personal account. Thus, you won’t be able to send them to any university anymore.
When to take the GRE test?
The answer to this question depends on what your situation is. The best time to take the GRE test is most likely within two years before you apply for graduate school. That is because graduate schools want students whose skills have not faded and if your test scores are new, you will be more likely to qualify.
If you have taken the test more than 2 years ago, though, don’t worry. The scores are still valid and graduate schools must accept them if they don’t have their own threshold for how old GRE scores should be. Your scores could be on the brink of expiration and you might have only one more month for them to be valid, but if the university receives them before, you should not have a problem.
In addition, if you think your test scores are too old and they won’t have much weight in the university’s decision to admit you, you can always demonstrate your potential and knowledge through your supporting documents, letters of recommendation, and your essays.
Cancelling your scores
When you complete your GRE test, you will have the opportunity to see your unofficial Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning scores. After that, your official scores will be available in around 2 weeks. In addition, once the test ends, you will be asked to provide names of universities where you want to send in your scores. After that, you will have to pay a fee to send scores to universities.
For the paper based GRE test, the same process applies, except that you will be asked where you want to send your scores at the beginning of the test, and your official scores are available about 5 weeks after your test.
However, sometimes you see your unofficial scores and you are not satisfied with them. You realize that you could have done better or that your scores are not in the range of what is required by the programs of your choice. In this case you have the choice of cancelling your scores.
Cancelling your scores means that they will not show up on your account and universities will not be able to see them even if you send in later scores. It will be as if you never took the test and your record will only show accepted test scores. To get valid scores, you will have to retake the test again.
It is not recommended though to cancel test scores unless you have done very poorly. Students might think that if they take the test again, they might do better, so they cancel them. But most of them get similar scores when they retake it if they have not put in enough effort and have not revised their test taking methods. In addition, the GRE test is expensive and if you cancel your scores, you will not be reimbursed. So retaking it means that you will have to pay for the test again.
If you have cancelled your scores by mistake or you regret it afterwards, ETS gives you the chance to reinstate them within 60 days after your test date. This means that you will send a reinstatement request form to ETS, pay a fee of around $50 and your scores will be available again after 2 weeks.
Why do GRE scores expire?
As discussed, GRE scores expire after 5 years. This time frame is used for many other standardized tests such as the GMAT too. This happens for several reasons, but the most important ones are:
- Your skills change within 5 years – The ETS knows that after you have taken the GRE once, your test taking skills for it will start to fade. You might have spent a few months practicing the GRE, but immediately after you are done with the test, your skills will not be the same if you retake it. In addition, in 5 years you might also gain other skills, so you might do better in the test than before. The scores expire because you won’t have the same skills and knowledge.
- The test is revised – Since the skill set that is required by graduate schools continuously changes, the ETS takes advantage of score expiration time frames to revise the test. They add or remove sections, or they adjust the questions to evaluate new skills.
- To increase demand for the test – ETS also profits from people who take the GRE test, so they need to keep a steady demand for it. The GRE has around 650,000 annual test takers, and some of them are taking the test after their scores have expired. If the GRE is valid forever, the demand from ETS for the test decreases, so the company needs to continuously have people who want to retake it.
GRE Test Guide
Now that you know how long are GRE scores valid, you can start your journey to preparing for and having success in the test. We have compiled a list of articles which can guide you through the GRE test:
• How to study for the GRE? – A guide on how to prepare for your GRE test for better scores.
• Best GRE Prep Books – A list of the best study materials for GRE.
• How difficult is the GRE? – A guide on GRE difficulty and the factors that contribute to this.
• GMAT vs GRE – Differences and similarities between GMAT and GRE.