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Should I retake the GRE?

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I was always a great student (top 10% of high school class, all A's first two years of college), but when I moved to a new city and out on my own for the first time, my grades suffered. I work 40 hour weeks in retail, my dad started having a lot of health problems (heart surgery), and I was often just too tired/burnt out to even make it to class.


I now have a 2.91 GPA, and this is my last semester. I'm taking 6 classes, and will take 1 more in a 3 week 'Maymester' to graduate by June 1. I'm doing great so far (about halfway through the semester with all A's), so my GPA should be just over 3.0 by graduation. My boyfriend of 6 years is moving with me to Boston in July, both for a chance to live near my mom for the first time in my life (I live in TX), and to take a shot at better schools (he's a graphic design major and I want to go to grad school for colonial American history).


I just took my GRE. I got a 159 on the verbal, 148 on the quantitative, and 4 on the essay portion. Not completely dismal, I suppose, but I literally took the test with zero preparation thanks to a crazy work schedule in the weeks leading up to it (class from 8-4pm Monday through Friday, work from 4:30-midnight Monday through Saturday, homework Sundays, repeat).


I'm applying to UMASS Boston, Simmons, and Salem State. All have spring and fall admissions (or rolling admissions), require a 2.5 GPA, and want GRE scores reported but don't state a minimum. I don't have a lot of time to study or prep for the test again, not to mention coming up with the money to retake it. However, I'm worried that my transcript necessitates it at this point.


Any advice would be appreciated. I need as many different perspectives on this as possible, whatever they may be. Thanks for your time and help!

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I think you should strongly consider a retake if you can squeeze in time to review and practice. There are some great quick and dirty prep books like The Princeton Review's Cracking the GRE and Barron's Six Practice Tests. I think you'd be in a better place by breaking 160 on the verbal and getting your quant as close to the 50th percentile as you can; a 5.0+ on the AW might help, too.


However, some schools don't emphasize GRE scores, and I think you have compelling reasons for your low grades that can be explained in a thoughtful, well-written SOP or supplement. (If you choose to explain your poor performance, you should be brief and careful that it doesn't come across as an excuse but as an explanation. It's better to focus on your strengths, not draw more attention to your weaknesses, but you have an upward trend in grades and are a hard worker, which are both good.)


Also, you may want to contact the schools to get their take on your numbers, and it's important for you to establish relationships with some POI's as well.


Good luck!


ETA: The ETS provides an incredibly helpful breakdown of your GRE test performance that will come in handy if you decide to retake--



Edited by midnight streetlight
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I second the above thoughts on doing some explaining about the grades, but in a careful way as to not show weaknesses that might carry over into your graduate career.

You can do much better with preparation and therefore your scores aren't an accurate indicator of your possible performance to those schools. I recommend a re-take, of course contingent on you actually preparing this time around.

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You mention that you don't have much time to study for the retake. If you honestly feel this way then I would reconsider spending the $175 for a retake. If you wish to retake it then you really must commit to serious studying. That Verbal should be somewhat within range for the schools you're interested in (although bringing it up would certainly help), and although the Quant isn't as important to your field, it is quite low.


I also agree that it's important to address the matter of grades with as few words as possible.

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Retake the GRE, and prioritize that just as strongly as your school grades. Given the amount of hours and classes already accounted for, a significant push on the GPA end may not yield as great results-wise as desired. The GRE, in my opinion, will account for a proportionately greater value on the application. As mentioned by other posters, I would include the difficulties and travails experienced, but I would not portray that in a light that would make you seem unprepared for advanced education, or betray any weaknesses that would make you less qualified in comparison to other applicants. Think of this from the admissions officer or advisor's perspective; don't overestimate their empathy, especially if it's a great school with a competitive history department.


As for the GRE itself, I started preparing in my senior year of college, taking the odd online exam here and there, and averaged at about a 1350. (This was in 2009 in the old system). I then, throughout the next 2 years of working, purchased several Barron's books and the Princeton Review one. I found that simple practice achieves much greater results than anticipated, because not only are you getting accustomed to the difficulty of the questions and time management, you also increase your knowledge base and gain a greater understanding of the type of content that will be on the test. A few months of reviewing vocabulary (an absolute requirement), brushing up on sentence, grammar, and critical reading/comp, one notices a distinct improvement in qualitative results. The PowerPrep software was a great, accurate tool in helping and assessing performance, best used IMHO at the end when you're just about done with preparation. The night before I took the real thing, I took 2 practice exams and got in the 1500s range. The next afternoon, I got a 1520 (720 V 800 Q 5.5 AWA), which was consistent with the scores I got from the 2 final practice sessions. All it comes down to, in the end, is practice and exposure. A few hours every other day, 1 or 2 practice tests a week, and you'll be set. As for the writing, I found it most efficient to write them out, timed, and then have you, a friend, or significant other review what you wrote, grading on the rubric and comparing it to the sample answers provided in the books. This improved my writing from about a 4-ish level to a 5.5-6 level, and that experience continues to help me now with my writing in grad school.


I understand that everyone is different and everyone is exposed to different things and responds differently in terms of standardized testing. The best thing to do is hold yourself to a reasonable target result, aim to surpass that, and practice, practice, practice until you reach that range, and then increase it to aim for a new goal. That way, the progress you demonstrate will help to boost your confidence and make that next objective more attainable. At the end of the day, practice makes perfect. 

Edited by Belisarius
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Thanks for your input, everyone! I've done some thinking and decided to retake them. My mom's stepsister just finished taking hers last week, and has offered to ship me all of her study materials so I can prepare. I'll definitely set aside some time to study, and hopefully be able to improve my scores significantly. I'll also be sure to include a short and sweet explanation of my grades in my SOP, but focus more on how I've learned from the situation and improved. Thanks again!

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