How Long Should I Study for the GRE?

One of the first questions our students often ask when starting to plan for Test Day is, “How long should I study for the GRE?” We usually see the anticipation in their eyes, as they’re perhaps hoping for an answer like, “Well, are you busy right now? The next fifteen minutes or so ought to do it.”

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Scheduling time to study for the GRE

We get where the question’s coming from, and on the surface it seems entirely sensible to wonder how much of a time commitment studying for the GRE will be. However, there is no one-size-fits-all prep plan that works for everyone. On closer inspection, the question stops making sense once you take into account the many variables you’ll need to consider to build up your Test Day performance.
Would three months be enough? Well, not if you study for the GRE in short 20-minute sessions each week and spend the rest of your time binge-watching Netflix. On the other hand, if you study a solid six hours each and every day, even one month might be overkill.

Everybody’s prep needs are different

The problem lies in the implied assumption that GRE preparation can be measured in calendar days. It can’t—it’s measured in hours. The practical answer to this commonplace question that we usually give is that hitting your target score will take somewhere between 50 and 200 hours, depending on how efficient your GRE preparation is and how many points you need for your Quant and Verbal scores to go up.
An English major who doesn’t care about the Quant section and only needs about five more points on the Verbal section needs fewer hours than someone who got 140 on both sections of a practice test and seeks a 160. Regardless of many hours it’ll take you to reach your target scores, whether you spread those hours over one month or several is up to you.
Although you should be pragmatic about scheduling time to study for the GRE, hitting your best possible score on a test that could determine your future means finding as much prep time as you possibly can. The more hours you allot and the more you make prep a part of your routine, the easier it’ll eventually be to coast into the testing center with confidence.

5 Tips for More Productive GRE Studying

  • Study to ambient music.

    Like movie scores or video game soundtracks. They’re designed to set the mood but not distract from the task at hand. Listening to your favorite tunes, on the other hand, releases dopamine, which can distract you.

  • Take frequent short breaks and intermittent longer breaks.

    You should know by now that you can’t cram for the GRE and that the, “I will study for 12 hours a day, seven days a week” strategy is not what we consider a “good” GRE hack for a great GRE score. Avoid fatigue, frustration, and that dreaded moment when you realize you’ve read the same passage six times … and not retained a thing.

  • Take a nap.

    It’s true: there is real science behind this GRE hack. Giving your brain a break can enhance retention and productivity. Relax, breathe, and give in to the sandman. Then, back to work.

  • Know your productivity black holes and how to avoid them.

    Are you harboring the best of intentions, but simply can’t boot yourself off Facebook? There are apps and browser extensions that will allow you block access to certain websites or the Internet completely if you’re having trouble staying focused. Disable push notifications on your phone or set it on airplane mode.

  • Find a way to make test content relate to something you enjoy

    Such as working on probabilities while playing blackjack or learning your GRE vocabulary from Sherlock Holmes or Game of Thrones. You’ll be more inclined to remember these concepts if you can relate them to vivid experiences, and learning them won’t seem like such a chore.