How Long Are GRE Scores Valid? Overview of GRE Score Validity

by Emmanuel Carita
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How Long Are GRE Scores Valid - Overview of GRE Score Validity

How long are GRE scores valid? Taking the GRE is a mentally involved and often daunting experience, and one that many candidates will not wish to repeat. For this reason, it’s important to know for how many years GRE scores are valid, so that you do not prematurely sit the test only to have to retake it later on.

Is it actually even necessary to retake the GRE? Does the GRE score expire? And if so, how long are your GRE scores valid? We plan to examine this question at length over the course of this article.

How Many Years Are GRE Scores Valid?

The short and sweet answer is that they’re valid for five years. However, things can be a little more complicated than that, depending on when, exactly, you took your test.

Scores Prior to July 2012

All scores prior to July of 2012 are no longer stored by ETS, and as such, are forever gone. There is no backup copy anywhere and they are not in the cloud. Of course, because July 2012 was almost eleven years ago, you might have expected this.

Post-July 2012

Previously, GRE tests taken after July 2012 were valid for five years – but from the end of the year you took the test. This means that if you took your test in January 2013, it would have actually been valid until the end of 2018 (rather than January 2018, which would have been a five-year period). This meant it was possible to have a test valid for closer to six years, provided you took your test in January.

However, things have changed again since then…

July 1st 2016-Present Day (January 2023)  

From July 1st, 2016, the GRE validity period was again tweaked. It was again a 5-year period, but the five-year period was henceforth calculated from the date of your test, rather than from the end of the year. If you took your test on January 19th 2017, it would be valid until January 19th 2022 – not until the end of 2022.

This ‘valid for five years from the date of your test’ system is the one still in place today.

Does the GRE Score Expire?

As detailed above, the GRE score certainly does expire. To return to that previous example: if you logged into your ETS account on January 20th, 2022 – five years and one day after you took your test – your score would no longer be valid.

What Happens If My GRE Score Expires?

Simply put: it’s deleted. ETS removes it from their database, it will no longer be present when you log into your ETS account, and you’ll no longer be able to send it to schools.

Armed with this knowledge, you might be tempted to send your scores to a school weeks or even days before they expire. This is technically fine, and then that particular school would have a copy of your scores that wouldn’t expire or be deleted. However, sending it mere days before the expiration date can be an issue – as we’ll examine later.

In addition, many schools have their own requirements for GRE score expiration dates, and may expect your scores to be from within the last 2-3 years. It’s worth checking with individual schools to see if they have any such stipulations.

What Can I Do With Valid GRE Scores?

GRE scores can be used to apply for several graduate programs. This can include certain JD and MBA programs – though, of course, it’s always worth checking with individual institutions to see what tests they accept. As mentioned in the last section, they may also have their own parameters for GRE score validity periods, so be sure to check those too.

There are also two other things to bear in mind when it comes to how long GRE scores are valid for, and what you can do with them:

Reportable Scores Vs. Valid Scores

There is a minor but important distinction between ‘reportable’ and ‘valid’ scores when applying to grad schools. Most of the time, the two are functionally the same thing. However, if you’re applying to a school towards the end of your validity period (let’s say you have three days left), it may be the case that your scores will no longer be reportable. This is because it takes ETS up to five days to report your scores to third parties. While your scores may well be valid, then, they may not be reportable by the time ETS clears your request for them to be reported.

This means that it’s very important that any requests to report your GRE scores are made before that 5-day period.

Official And Unofficial Scores

Once you’ve completed the GRE, you have a decision to make – whether to report or to cancel your scores. If you report them, they are submitted to ETS for grading. If you cancel, the test is deleted and nobody – including you – will ever know what score you got. Check out our guide on what a good GRE score is – meaning, when you should accept and report your scores.

Candidates’ cancelling their scores is extremely rare. For one, taking the GRE takes time, money and effort, and is an extremely involved test. It’s unusual for a candidate to put themselves through all that, complete the test, and then opt not to see how they did. At that point, it costs nothing to report the test and wait for your scores to come through, so why would you choose not to?

Should you choose to report your scores (and again, why wouldn’t you?) then you’ll immediately get to see your ‘unofficial’ Verbal and Quant scores. The nature of the AWA means that it needs to be marked both by machine and a human assessor, so no score at all is given for this immediately after the test is completed.

After your scores have been verified by ETS, you’ll receive your ‘official’ score 10-15 days later by email. At that time, your scores will be available to view on your ETS account, and you can request that they’re reported to grad or business schools.

Generally speaking, official and unofficial scores are the same. There may be a discrepancy of a point or two, but this is not common. So what’s the difference between the two? The difference is that when it comes to applying for grad programs or business schools, only your official scores will be accepted.

Why Does The GRE Score Expire?

There are several reasons why ETS doesn’t hold GRE scores on record forever. Let’s take a look at them.

You Change A Lot In Five Years

Take a look back at yourself five years ago. Were your living conditions the same? Your job? Your academic aptitude? Your outlook on life?

The fact of the matter is that the average person changes a lot in a five-year period – in more ways than one. One of those ways – and the one that matters to ETS – is how good your GRE skills are. You may have passed with flying colors 5 years ago, maybe even without much studying, but that doesn’t mean you could replicate that success tomorrow. Similarly, you could have done terribly on Quant 5 years ago, but in the interim you’ve studied math intensively and are now a whizz-kid in the field. Perhaps your capacity to do well on Verbal Reasoning has leaped up massively because you’ve done a college course that involved a lot of critical analysis.

Bottom line: your scores from 5 years are extremely unlikely to be representative of the person you’ve become – and the skills you’ve acquired – since then.

It Keeps GRE Scores Simple And Standardized

Like any standardized test, the GRE is subject to frequent edits, amendments, updates and re-releases. This means that if you took the GRE in, say, 2010, you effectively didn’t take the same test as someone who took it in 2013. 

To account for this discrepancy, ETS was forced to refer to scores from the different versions of the GRE differently. Post-2011 tests were called “revised GRE general tests” to distinguish them from pre-2011 tests. This was unwieldy and impractical.

By imposing expiration periods on GRE scores, ETS have obviated the need for this sort of bookkeeping and made things a lot easier for everyone.

It Increases Demand For Sitting The GRE

One of the more cynical reasons for imposing a time period on GRE score validity is that, simply put, it means more demand for tests. If you took the GRE 5 years ago for business school, and you are now applying for a new job that wants to see your GRE scores, you’re going to have to take the test again. This is good for ETS, because rather than getting a single set of fees out of you for the GRE, they’re going to get two. Potentially three if you re-sit the GRE again in another five years!

Is this the primary reason for the GRE expiration period? Probably not. Is it a nefarious scheme by ETS to squeeze you for every red cent? Also probably not. It’s merely a happy by-product (for them) of GRE scores having a shelf life.

It Ensures The Competency Of Successful Candidates

Let’s say GRE scores never expired, and you applied to a grad school with your results from 10 years ago. Does that information really tell the admissions officer anything useful? So you aced Quant in 2013 – does that mean your math skills are worth anything now?

By limiting GRE scores to a five-year period, admissions officers and potential employers can be sure that you have the skills required for their course or position. They need to be able to put their faith in the fact that GRE scores are reflective of your current skillset – not a previous, potentially atrophied one.   

Why Does The GRE Score Last For Five Years?

It’s possible your mind has gone the other way on ETS’ five-year period – isn’t five years an awfully long time for GRE scores to be valid? We pointed out above that a person (and their skills) can change a lot in 5 years. Isn’t the same true in a 3-year period, or maybe even 2?

It Allows Students To Weigh Up Their Options

The most basic reason for the five-year-period is that a lot of GRE candidates take the test so that they can apply for overseas universities. This is a lengthy and involved process, and it’s one that requires a lot of forethought. It may be several years, in fact, before a candidate who’s taken the GRE makes up their mind about where they are going and what course they want to do.

Because of this, ETS allows candidates up to five years before having to retake the test. Handy if you’re a recently graduated student who needs a little time to mull over their options.

It Prevents Too Many Re-Sits In A Shorter Period

The flip side of the coin that we mentioned earlier – ETS getting a little extra cash out of re-sits every five years – is that they recognize that forcing candidates to sit too often is to nobody’s benefit. It’s tedious for the candidate, it’s a lot of extra logistical work for ETS, and it can cause burnout due to the stress and worry of having to sit a difficult test too often. This is certainly not the only reason ETS only mandates a re-sit every five years, but it is certainly a factor.

Do Grad Schools Prefer More Recent GRE Scores?

There may be a concrete answer for how long GRE scores are valid when it comes to ETS, but what about grad and business schools themselves? As we’ve previously pointed out, they may have their own – shorter – periods of time for which they’ll consider GRE scores valid. Doesn’t this logically mean, then, that they prefer newer scores?

Beyond the fact that some schools do have their own GRE validity periods, this is not necessarily the case. For instance, Stanford allows a GRE score of up to four years old —  but that doesn’t meant that they would prefer a 1-year score to a 4-year one.  Both are equally valid. Harvard – obviously a very prestigious school – has no special restrictions at all, and recognizes the ETS’ own validity period of 5 years.

It is always a good idea, nevertheless, to check the requirements of the individual school to which you’re applying. As we’ve seen above, they can vary drastically from school to school. In addition, it’s always worth asking the school themselves if they prefer more recent scores over older ones. Their answers may very well vary. However, generally speaking, you can rest assured that if you have GRE scores that they consider valid, then you’re good. You won’t be rewarded for more recent scores, and you won’t be penalized for older ones.

Planning Around The GRE Validity Period

Now that you are thoroughly acquainted with how long GRE scores are valid, it’s time to start planning around them. How far in advance should you be thinking about taking the GRE? Is it possible you’ll have to retake it in the future to account for your expiration date?

The fact of the matter is that most people take the GRE in the same year that they’re going to need the scores, whether for business school or a grad course. The most likely scenario in which you’d need to plan for multiple GRE scores across a period longer than five years is if you were planning on doing back to back courses for some reason (for instance, if you were doing a masters followed by a doctorate). This situation is vanishingly rare, however; if you already had a masters, there are few doctorate courses that would care if you had a GRE or not.

Another potential scenario would be that you are an undergraduate student who intends to go to grad school, but hasn’t made a final decision on when that will be. The temptation might be to take the GRE as quickly as possible, while the relevant academic knowledge is still fresh in your mind. However, if it then transpired that you didn’t go to grad school in the next five years (for whatever reason), then you’ll have to retake the GRE – making the first time you took it a waste of time and money.

In this instance, it also matters which month you take the GRE in. If you take it prior to fall of any given year, it won’t be valid for the application period of schools five years later. However, if you were to take it in October or November, you’d effectively get an extra application cycle out of your GRE scores.

Conclusion

Does the GRE score expire? While there is a simple and straightforward answer to that, we hope that this article has exhaustively expounded upon that answer in such a way that’s useful to you. Do try to bear in mind the extra complicating factors that may apply (such as account for future admissions cycles and the individual requirements of any grad schools you’ll be applying to) and you’ll be set to take the GRE at the best possible time for you and your needs.

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