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How Long Does it Take to Study for the GRE?

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: June 5, 2021

The GRE is one of the most important tests you’ll ever take. But how many weeks or hours do you need to study for the GRE? And how to work out a study schedule that will get you the perfect score? We’ll answer that in this step-by-step guide to great GRE prep.

How Long Should You Study For The GRE?

It will take anywhere from 1 month to 6 months to adequately prepare for GRE. This time frame is relative to several things, such as how many hours you'll spend studying in a day, and how much time you actually have before your test.

On average, most people spend at least 2 hours every day to prepare for the exam, and this dedicated time is divided into various kinds of exam preparation. You can spend an hour on taking practice tests and another hour on reviewing a GRE prep booklet.

If you want to make the most out of your preparation, we came up with a list of factors that could significantly improve your dedicated GRE study time.

6 Key Factors to Improving GRE Prep Time

Open book

At first glance, preparing for the GRE may seem easy. You just have to study, right?

Wrong. Many students start their GRE prep not knowing what does GRE stand for, what it looks like, and how important the GRE is. They end up wasting weeks focusing on the wrong things, and, eventually, they sabotage their own score.

Before you dive in, consider the 6 key factors that will help you determine how to prepare and study for the GRE.

1. Find Your Baseline

The first step is to figure out your baseline score. Your baseline is the score you'd get if you took the GRE today, without any previous test prep.

Your current score will help you determine your score goal and estimate the amount of time you'll need for studying. Find your baseline by taking a practice test. We recommend some free tests below.  You could also ask your teachers to provide examples.

Jot down the points you scored for each section. This will come in handy when you start creating your GRE study strategy and determining your strong and weak points. And don't worry—the baseline is just that. With smart test prep, you'll get to your target GRE scores.

2. Set Up a Target GRE Score

Two ladies showing off their test scores

A lot of high school students have the same question: “What’s a good GRE score?”

There’s no “good” GRE score, but you may want to consider the average GRE scores.

According to the ETS, most students score 150 points on the verbal section, 153 points on the math section of the test, and 4 points for analytical writing. [1]

But none of it really matters. What matters is the score you need to get into the school you want.

Different schools have different requirements. Before you start studying, know the scores your dream grad school requires and set them up as your target. You may also want to check out other schools, just if you change your mind later or get a lower final score.

The GRE exam is divided into three sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Each section is rated individually, so set up three target scores for each section.

You can get 130-170 points in 1-point increments on the first two sections based on your answers. The questions usually have only one correct answer, and they're easy to rate.

Your score for analytical writing is a bit trickier to assess, as it's based on your essay. That's why it's rated two times, by a human rater and a computerized program e-rater.

3. Identify Strengths and Weaknesses

You have a limited amount of time to study. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses early will help you see what requires more of your time. You already know your baseline for each section of the GRE. Where did you score the lowest? That’s where you need to invest most of your time.

Your weak points will become clearer once you start revising and practicing, so you may want to reassess your time later. Consider other positives and negatives. Are you good at managing your time during exams? What questions take you longer to answer? Is the environment you’ll take your GRE in distracting?

And, most importantly—can you do something about it?

4. Determine How Much Time You Have to Dedicate to GRE Study

A man using laptop inside of a library to study

Studying for the GRE may take a few days or a few months. On average, students start preparing one to three months in advance. However, the hours they spend studying vary based on how much prep they need to do.

There’s no one-size-fits-all advice when it comes to how long you need to prepare for the GRE. You might need to study only an hour per week or several hours per day.

Here’s another thing to consider: how much time do you actually have? Be specific and give an exact number of hours.

We’re not talking about how many hours there are before the test day, but how many hours you can dedicate to studying.

Students are often too optimistic and underestimate how much of their week is spent on daily activities—a common phenomenon you might know as planning fallacy.

The planning fallacy is also to blame for students underestimating how long they need to study. Put the two together and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. You’ll spend way too many hours doing your daily task and way too little preparing for your test. Instead, be honest about your lifestyle. You’ll shape a better plan and secure your success in the long run.

We have a great guide on how to prepare for the GRE exam that can provide you with more details about GRE test. You can read our guide by clicking here.

5. Test Yourself Under Real GRE Conditions

Exams are always nerve-wracking—but the GRE is twice as stressful.

Stress hinders our decision-making skills. We make even worse decisions when we’re in unfamiliar situations. To avoid unnecessary stress, know how the GRE questions look and what you’ll be required to do ahead of time.

Take a free GRE practice test. ETS offers two PowerPrep practice tests that you can take for free when you register. However, the score report is available only with paid options. You can find our complete review of the ETS PowerPrep here.

Worry not, because there are other practice GRE exams online. Consider Magoosh’ and Princeton Review’s free GRE practice tests, or use free examples provided by your teacher.

6. Make a Study Plan

A man reading a book outdoors

A good plan will help you hit deadlines and feel confident on your test day. It should include the subjects and topics you need to study, a study schedule, and your goals. Your goal is the target GRE score you’ve already set up. Here’s how to plan the rest, step by step.

First, know exactly what you need to study. List the subject you want to cover during your GRE study prep. Review your baselines to figure out how to divide your time. The lower your score, the more hours you’ll need to master a subject—easy as that.

Next, block out certain hours in your calendar and dedicate them to studying for the GRE. Switch between subjects if you want to meet your score goal without burning out the first week. It helps your brain refocus and learn faster. [2]

We’ve also learned that your brain focuses better if you allow it to take a break:

"From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!"

 

- Alejandro Lleras, Research Associate at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Scheduling mini-breaks in your calendar may be a good idea, too. If that sounds like too much work, just use an extension like Marinara: Pomodoro® Assistant that will notify you when it’s time to take a break. The Pomodoro technique gives you a break every 25 minutes.

The bottom line is this: don’t study for the GRE for hours on end.

Dedicate a few hours per day to your study sessions, make them diverse, and don’t study for too long at once. Instead, spread out your study sessions across a few days or weeks.

Recommended Article: 2-Month GRE Study Plan

Length of Time to Prepare for the GRE: The Bottom Line

To sum up, how many hours per week you need to study for the GRE will largely depend on your individual needs and wants or, in this case, your baseline and your score goal.

But one thing’s for sure: you have limited hours in a day that you can spend studying for the GRE. To make the most of it and not burn out the first week, you need a good plan and spread your studying across a few months. Be objective about your time, take the steps we listed above, and do the work. You’ll surely get into the grad school of your choice.

References:

  1. https://www.ets.org/s/gre
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/everybody-is-stupid-except-you/201009/study-better-space-it-out-and-mix-it

About the author

William Cohen

William Cohen

William is an electrical engineer whose great passion is helping promising students achieve their goals and dreams. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise with aspiring learners from all over the world.

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