I took the GRE for the 2nd time recently and unfortunately, after 4 months of studying (again for the 2nd summer in a row), received the exact same score overall as my score last summer.

Last summer, I got a 157 on math, 154 on verbal, and 5 on the essay. Recently, I got a 157 on math, 153 on verbal, and a 6 on the essay.

Is it worth sending both GRE scores to the graduate schools I'm applying to (I know they all, for the ones that accept the GRE, accept multiple scores). Even if they don't superscore, I feel like it may show that I tried to increase my score and went out of my way to take it a second time...also a higher essay score may be worthy to show for. What do you think? It's a very small matter, but I feel that it may be slightly beneficial at best in terms of my overall application, so why not?

By the way, I'm applying to biomedical neuroscience PhD programs that focus on disease therapeutics.

Thanks for your input!

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    There's an assumption here that the programs you are applying to look at the scores at all beyond a threshold value: "Reject applications below X, consider further those above X without regard to the actual value of X."
    – chepner
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 13:36

4 Answers 4


I actually think that sending both tests would be detrimental for your application:

  • it decreases the ratio of signal to noise in your application
  • [opinion based] it shows the lack of improvement in your math and verbal scores over the year (which would be my interpretation if both results are sent) as opposed to your intent to show the will to improve
  • generally adds confusion

Since your most recent result is in all aspects better/equal (I don't count 153/154 to be different, while 6 on the essay is much better than 5) than the previous one, I strongly suggest sending only the newest GRE score.

  • thank you! are you sure a 6 overpowers a 153-154 on verbal? It did change my verbal percentile from 66 percentile to 60. also, I did actually study a ton throughout the summer, but i see what you mean with no improvement. i'd like to blame that on the luck-of-draw with GRE, but idk. I thought i would improve more, but I didn't, sadly. Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 22:23
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    @JacksonMace I hate those tests personally, so I am just trying to step into the admission committee role. GRE is only a small criterion that is used to assess the application and, from what I know, is sometimes used as a simple "cut-off" barrier. Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 22:27
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    And improving 153->154 on verbal is much smaller compared to 5->6 in an essay. Some programs look only on math (then, verbal & essay are irrelevant to some degree), some only on verbal. However, when verbal is important, so does the essay. Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 22:29
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    awesome thank you so much man. and I agree wholeheartedly, the GRE was a horrible, horrible exam. never in my life (even on the SAT/ACT) have I not been able to perform "reasonably well" with all of the time/effort I dedicate to studying...and even after taking it a second time. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 2:21
  • I might also consider that since you're going into a scientific field, the verbal may be less important than the math anyhow. Some of the most brilliant scientists out there would score terribly on the verbal section simply because they are not native English-speakers. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 17:16

Differences in GRE scores verbal or quantitative scores which are smaller than three have no meaning. For analytical writing, differences of 0.5 are meaningful. Therefore your second score is better. However, for your field of research, the writing score is probably not given much weight.

I do not find Anton's arguments convincing, so I conclude that sending both scores or only sending the last score are equally good options. The prices are also the same.

Reference: https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_guide_reliability_sem.pdf


Anyhow, on the day of the test, you would have given the names of 4 Universities to which you want ETS to send your scores. You would have done the same thing during your second attempt, and most probably you would have targeted the same Universities. So nothing to worry. The Universities will have both your scores. Moreover, since there is no difference in your scores, please send both. Essay scores will not matter much. The Universities will specifically look for research experience in the same field of study that you want to do your Phd


I doubt anyone will see multiple attempts as some kind of evidence of initiative. Unlike grades, standardized tests aren't supposed to be based on your preparation and effort, they are more meant to be a kind of IQ score that predicts how much potential you have to succeed in advanced studies. So multiple similar scores suggest the estimate is a more precise one. On the other hand, a big jump in scores may seem a bit suspicious. We can't be sure why that happened and which is more meaningful.

And personally I find the GRE quantitative test to be a great predictor of students' performance in STEM areas. The verbal test and analytical tests used to be even better (as long as the quantitative was good, which meant a perfect score for STEM), but international students generally bomb these other tests so we hardly look at them anymore.

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    I've seen quite a few brilliant PhD students that received 150s in the quant, which is basically 50 percentile. So I don't agree at all that the quant section perfectly predicts the potential of a student in regard to how well they can/will perform in their PhD career. The quant test timing is pretty stressful, some "smart" students cannot recall the 100 little facts about triangles/combinatorics and test day...and the list goes on. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 18:27
  • @JacksonMace I didn't say "perfect", I said "great". Nor did I say "Phd career", I said "STEM areas". Finally, note that I also said "I personally find". So I can double-check for you, but doubt my data will change in light of hearing about your experiences. Perhaps a more fruitful direction would be to specify what you mean by brilliant and performance versus what I might mean. Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 3:53
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    "standardized tests aren't supposed to be based on your preparation and effort, they are more meant to be a kind of IQ score" False, and terrible advice to test takers. Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 6:23
  • @AnonymousPhysicist you'll have to (also) explain more what you mean. I worded my statement rather carefully to avoid getting ensnared in the politics (and downright neo-luddism) surrounding testing. In addition to the qualifiers I pointed out in a previous comment, I also used phraseology like "meant to be" and "supposed to be". This is a direct interpretation of the stated goal of the general test and the definition of an IQ test. Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 9:57
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    The GRE purports to measure "skills that have been developed over a long period of time." That is the opposite of "aren't supposed to be based on your preparation and effort." Any decent test prep book will show that the "long time" part is only partly true. ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_info_bulletin_19_20.pdf The GRE is quite different from an IQ test. Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 10:31

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