Web Exclusive

Studying

Dan Lurie is feeling pressured. A junior at City University of New York, Lurie is applying to graduate programs in cognitive neuroscience, and that means he needs to do well in his courses and expand his research experience. With plenty on his to-do list, he would prefer to wait until August to take the GRE. Instead, he's scrambling to take the test in June so he'll have time to retake the test in July if he isn't satisfied with his score.

Why the rush? If Lurie waits until August, he'll have to take the new version of the GRE -- and he won't get his score until November, right before most schools' applications are due. Educational Testing Services (ETS), which creates and administers the GRE, needs to aggregate the scores from at least three testing sessions before it can accurately score the new test. It's a necessary process, but it gives students who opt to take the new test no time to retake it before this year's application deadlines.

That's one of the reasons that admissions officers and testing experts are encouraging students to take the old GRE by July 23, the last time it's offered. Another reason: The current test has had the same basic format for 9 years, so students can tap a wealth of proven strategies and study material to prepare for it, says Lee Weiss, director of graduate programs at Kaplan Test Prep.

"There is so much practice material for the current GRE, making it a very well-known quantity and predictable for test takers," says Weiss.

Even students who are not applying to grad school this year might want to take the old test, he adds, since your scores are good for five years.

But the new test may be a good choice for students who don't have deadline issues, says Weiss. For one, students who take the test in August or September will save 50 percent on the $160 test fee. In addition, ETS believes the new test is more user-friendly: test-takers can move back and forth between questions and can use an online calculator to avoid missing math problems because of arithmetic mistakes. In addition, students with weak vocabulary skills but strong critical reading skills may do better on the new test, which eliminates analogy and antonym problems and tests vocabulary in the context of sentences and paragraphs, says Weiss.

Just don't take the test too many times, Weiss advises. Programs see every GRE score available and while most programs evaluate students based on their highest score, some may compare scores.

No matter which version of the GRE you take, you should always go into the exam having prepared thoroughly with the expectation that you will get the score you need the first time, he says.

Beth Azar is a writer in Portland, Ore.