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To re-take the GRE or not


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I applied last season and was rejected from all schools I applied to, so I'm gearing up to apply again this year, likely with a heavier emphasis on counseling programs than clinical this time around.  My original plan was to re-take the GRE to try to improve my score, but everyone I've talked to thus far has told me not to bother.  I got a 156 Q, 159 V and a 5.0 Writing.  I know these are at least adequate scores, but I don't feel like they're stellar.  So, if you were in my shoes, would you go ahead and take it again or would you focus your time and energy on other areas (namely getting 4 papers ready to submit)?

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I would probably focus on the publications. Also, did you reach out to any faculty from the schools you were rejected from? If you had contact with any of the faculty, you could send them an email asking how to improve your application for next cycle. Faculty get these kinds of emails all the time and are usually willing to give you some information regarding where you can beef up your application for next time. 

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If I were in your shoes, I’d probably forego it. I think those scores are sufficient for counseling programs! Especially with the GRE being so expensive lol


I would focus on your publications as well as going thru your application materials that you used before to look for room for improvement. Especially if your POI’s don’t respond to an email asking for areas of improvement (because I did and only one person responded ?). When I reapplied I formatted everything differently, which idk if it helped but it made me feel better. 

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Hi, @topsailpsych!

I'm coming from the English lit. forum, so my advice may very well be completely irrelevant. I'd hope psychology programs would have extra reason to be skeptical about dubious standardized tests like the GRE, but, hey, maybe they love it. I don't know. Regardless, my application experience might help you decide whether to spend more time and money on a second pass. 

I applied last cycle to 16 mostly top-ranked PhD programs, and got accepted to 3 of them. My GRE scores were fairly high: 167V/163Q/6.0A / 730 (97%) LGRE. According to ETS's chart (https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_guide_table4.pdf), among English majors, I scored higher than about 90% on the Verbal, 95% on the Quant, 93% on the AW, and 97% on the literature subject test. These percentages aren't exact since the chart provides only ranges, but you get my point. In absolute terms, to illustrate, only about 46 test-takers, out of roughly 1500, beat me on the subject test. Yet, I was still rejected by 80% of the schools on my list! In my case, at least, big GRE numbers didn't seem do me any magical favors across the board. If you're applying to top programs, high scores are simply not enough to seal the deal. In fact, we've had more than a few applicants on the English forum get accepted to fantastic programs with much lower scores than mine. One in particular scored only a few points higher than you did on the Verbal section and nonetheless got into Harvard. Granted, I've heard echoes here and there that lower-ranked programs like to admit students with higher GRE scores so they can move up in the rankings, but I haven't seen much convincing evidence to support that.

I wrote this in a recent answer, but I think it applies here too: In the end, a school is much more likely to accept somebody they want (for fit, personality, style, etc.) over somebody they don't want who happens to have "better" GRE scores. That calculus might sound self-evident, but it should really give you pause before you stress out too much about these silly tests. To use a hyperbolic example, if you scored 130/130/1.0, then, by all means, you should retake it. With your scores, however, I'd focus instead on researching particular schools that need your subspecialty and crafting a red-hot SoP and WS that leave schools no choice but to accept you. You are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much more than the sum of your test scores, both as a person and as an applicant. And remember, the university has to live with you for six years (if you're going for a PhD), which, I think, matters a lot. Thus, submitting an SoP that displays intelligence, curiosity, resolve, modesty, and kindness will go infinitely farther in gauging your sufferability than the percent of applicants you beat on a test nobody truly cares about. 

I totally understand how being shoehorned into "objective" GRE percentiles almost feels like getting branded. If you have the time, money, and resolve to score higher, retaking the test might not be a bad idea. But be aware that it's also possible to do worse the second time around. It's much less likely, on the other hand, that spending more time on the other aspects of your applications (as others have suggested) will hurt you in any way. Unless you start hacking up your materials, additional proofreading is almost always beneficial. Just don't get trapped in the idea that high GRE scores will lead you to salvation. Mine seem not to have impressed anybody at the 13 schools from which I was rejected!

At any rate, good luck! I'll be hoping to hear good news from you at the end of the cycle!

Edited by FreakyFoucault
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@FreakyFoucault Thank you so much for that. That was beautifully written and made me feel a lot better about my own GRE. @topsailpsych I second his point. I honestly think that pouring hours and hours into studying trying to increase a score by 3-4 points is not worth it. I was honestly surprised by how much weight the people on GradCafe seem to give to the GRE. I went to a psychology graduate school information session at my undergrad institution that was run by faculty, and they said the most important aspects of your application are research fit/experience and statement of purpose, followed by recommendations and interview, then GPA, and GRE scores all the way at the bottom. That ranking makes a lot more sense to me. GRE scores may be used as a sorting device in that they want to make sure you have some sort of reading/math ability (which your scores demonstrate), but what gets you into grad school is how you portray yourself as a researcher and whether the faculty can see themselves working with you.

I suppose it may be tempting to focus on the GRE because it feels like something you can easily change in a short period of time, but you have to remember that (1) it's actually difficult to improve significantly and more likely that you'll receive the same or lower scores and (2) the test prep companies are really invested in making you think that the GRE is worth more than it is.

Good luck with those papers and your next application cycle!

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