Panic attacks and the GRE! Hooray!
January 10, 2011 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Panic attacks, GRE re-takes, and other assorted questions: it's an (academic?) anxiety smorgasbord here on Ask MeFi, tonight.

Early today, I took the GRE. This same morning, I received a very distressing e-mail, but decided to "press on" with my day and take the exam anyway. Halfway into the verbal section, I started to feel my heart palpitate, felt woozy, dizzy, my vision got blurry, and I felt increasingly detached from my body. I was having a panic attack. I even knew exactly what was happening as I'm applying to clinical doctoral programs next fall (laugh it up!), but couldn't stop it. And, for some reason, I decided to keep my scores, in part because by the end I felt like jelly, couldn't see straight, and sort-of felt like I didn't exist. And I did pretty OK, bizarrely, well within the acceptance range for most of my programs, but _just_ within score range (i.e. ALL scores they accepted for, from lowest to highest) for one of my prospective programs. And, afterwards, after my panic had subsided, I took a verbal and quantiative section again I scored back in my normal range again. (I lost about 150 points due to the panic attack, I guess?) So, I'm feeling pretty dumb right now. For taking the test, having the panic attack, not having the place of mind to compensate for the panic attack in the moment, AND for bitching about an otherwise good score. I feel kinda low.

So, I guess I have four somewhat disparate questions:
(1) How favorable do grad schools typically look at GRE re-takes, especially for small score differentials like the one described above? If everything else is great, will a re-take matter? (I know, for example, that the rule of thumb given to me in undergraudate admissions was that they'd generally take your highest of each, and not to take it more than three times.)

(2) How much time should I give myself before taking the exam again? I'd like to get it over with as soon as humanly possible, and before the test changes. I don't really feel like I need to prep more. The one thing I need to do is get the event relating to the distressing e-mail under control or sufficiently processed so that it doesn't trigger me again, but, apart from that... thoughts?

(3) What can I do to prevent having a panic attack before the next exam (apart from not having life crises happen the morning of), especially considering I don't otherwise have panic disorder?

(4) Any advice on how to make myself feel like less of an idiot, MeFi? :(
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (4 answers total)
Don't feel like an idiot! Everyone I know from grad school took the GRE two or three times so I think it's totally fine to do it again.

I don't know how much of a difference it will make to the schools you're considering-- some schools will take the best score, others will average, etc. You could probably ask the schools generically how they handle multiple sets of scores without telling them the specifics of your situation. But it certainly won't hurt your chances.

Take it as soon as you feel mentally and emotionally ready. I recall being so drained after the first time that I didn't WANT to take the test again anytime soon, but I also didn't do that well on mine. If you're ready to go in a month or two, do it (assuming you are allowed to do it again according to the testing overlords).

To prevent a panic attack, I would suggest treating yourself well the night before. Have a good dinner, take a long walk, go to bed early, etc. Also maybe consider turning off your phone, avoiding email, etc the night before and the morning of. Just focus on you.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:31 PM on January 10, 2011

1. I doubt that would be a problem. There is a reason you are allowed to take it more than once. Besides, the entire application counts. Equally important are your references and statement.

2. This depends entirely on you. It really doesn't matter what others tell you. Take the test when you are comfortable and feel ready.

3. I believe it is mentioned in the GRE booklet that you try your best to avoid major emotional events before the exam, such as break-ups and all. It sounds like yours was sudden and unavoidable. Just because you had an attack before this one, doesn't mean you will have another.

In the meantime, try meditation or breathing exercises seriously. A strict diet and exercise regimen may also help. Finally, if you do realise anxiety is a more routine occurrence, its okay to see a therapist/get medications as well. (There are medicines you can take before a "stressful event" too)

4. Life happens. This is all the more apparent when you will eventually join a program. You do your best given the circumstances and forgive yourself for not being perfect.

Good luck!
posted by xm at 5:09 PM on January 10, 2011

I am reading graduate applications as we speak. If you took it twice i'd typically look at the higher score.
posted by escabeche at 5:42 PM on January 10, 2011

Can you email a mod and tell us what discipline of grad school you're applying for? Different departments tend to look at GREs differently.
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:10 PM on January 11, 2011

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