I have recently received my test scores for the October PGRE and they were quite terrible (510) and I doubt that my November scores, which I won't see before applying to a couple of my prospective graduate schools, will have improved by the 200 points required to get me in the 700 range.
As an applicant I am strong in other areas of my application. I have a 3.7 GPA, will be graduating with honors, and have had three years of research experience resulting in a couple publications in respectable journals: one which is published, two that will be published before the end of the year, and one which is in the works and will be submitted shortly. Also, all my letters of recommendation are coming from researchers whom I have worked with extensively and will publish with.
I think the reason I failed so badly on the PGRE was because I struggled with finding ways to effectively study all the material for it. When I entered college I skipped many of the introductory courses at my university and jumped right into upper division work (at the small liberal arts college I attend it is easy to take any class you want regardless of prerequisites), so I missed out on the type of material and problems that are covered by the PGRE. My timing on the test is pretty good, I am able to see what questions will take to long to solve (or I don't get) and move on. Generally I get through the whole test with 20 minutes to spare and have time to go back and look at problems that I skipped. I have memorized almost all the equations I could need for the test, but I still have trouble getting enough answers right to balance the ones I got wrong.
I found this site about a week ago and have learned a great deal about the test, ways to study for it, and how important it is (the professors at my college have never really emphasized its importance so I approached the test in a casual manner). Unfortunately much of this information is coming a bit late, and after having looked at the Applicant Profiles and Admissions Results pages I am deeply worried that I will not be accepted to the graduate schools that I am applying (University of Michigan, Northwestern, Duke, etc. -- my interest is specifically in complex systems and there are not many schools which have departments or emphasis on this kind of multidisciplinary research so the schools I have chosen are very specific for being strong in this area).
So my question is essentially this: Should I wait to apply to graduate school until next year, so I can spend all my time studying for the PGRE and get a much better score? Or should I apply now and see if they will accept me, and if not apply to the same schools next year? (How do schools react to repeat applicants, if at all?)
I have safety schools that I am confident in getting in too, but I really believe it would be a waste to attend them since I know I can do so much better. The main thing that concerns me is that taking a year off JUST to get better scores on this test is sort of ridiculous and will be a waste of time, since I wish to continue doing research and am unsure of what opportunities there are for me to do so (I imagine there are internships I could find somewhere).
Any advice or comments (on my situation or on how to study for the test) would be greatly welcome, thanks.