How long do you need to study for the GRE? Answers will vary from source to source, and there is no one correct answer. It very much depends on which sections of the test you’re emphasizing, the business school or grad course you’re applying to, and your own personal study needs and habits.
Having an idea of the study schedule that will work for you is hugely important to getting the score you need. It will ensure that you have sufficient preparation time for the GRE, but equally importantly, that you don’t burn yourself out with too much unnecessary studying.
When should you start studying for the GRE, then? Let’s find out.
How Long Do You Need to Study for the GRE?
How Long Does The Average Person Spend Preparing For The GRE?
As previously mentioned, there are a lot of factors that go into how long each individual person spends preparing for the GRE. Some people may spend less than ten hours prepping for the test (or none at all); others might pump in as much as 120 hours prior to sitting the GRE.
There is also the question of how many hours to put in per week. Some people might only study for two hours a week; others for ten. This, again, is a matter of personal preference and ability. If you’re easily bored or distracted by lengthy study periods, it’s probably not a great idea to sink 10 hours a week into your preparations. On the other hand, if you’re studious and diligent, you’ll wanting to be making the most efficient use possible of your study time in the run-up to sitting the GRE.
All this is, admittedly, not terribly useful in the most important question that you likely have: how long should you spend getting ready for the GRE?
In order to answer this question, it’s necessary to think about two things. Firstly: what score do you want? Secondly: how far are you from achieving that score?
Work Out The Score That You Need/Want
Before you can figure out how long you need to study for the GRE, you’re going to need to know that score that you need or want.
Most people need to take the GRE in order to satisfy the entry requirements for their chosen business school or grad course. There’s no better place to start, then, than by looking at the GRE score that your chosen study program requires. These vary greatly from school to school and course to course, and there may be variation within the GRE scores themselves; an engineering score, after all, probably cares more about your Quant score than your Verbal. Not every school will list their GRE requirements for individual courses; if this is the case, it’s a good idea to contact them or their admissions officer directly.
Perhaps you’re interested in more than one course, or you haven’t made a final decision yet. In that case, you should look at all the courses that have piqued your interest and make a note of their scores. Of those scores, pick the highest required scores in both Quant and Verbal. Add 2 to each of those scores for safety. Voilà – you have the score that you need!
Aiming for these scores (the highest needed score +2 in each section) accomplishes two things: firstly, you cover your bases for any given course that you’d wish to apply for, and you’re aiming for a slightly higher score to stand out from the crowd. Secondly, you’re not wasting time studying for scores that are much higher than you actually need.
Check out our guide on finding out what a good GRE score means for you.
Sit A Practice GRE Test
So far, so good – you’ve got the scores you need. Now it’s time to take a look at the scores that you’re currently capable of.
The easiest way – and, in truth, the only way – of doing this is by sitting a practice test. ETS offers a number of online tests that you can take for free. When sitting the test, stick to the official times and take breaks only when you would in the actual test. Ensure that you’re also in a quiet place that mimics the conditions of an exam hall as closely as possible.
ETS’s online tests will automatically grade the Quant and Verbal sections for you at the end of the test. If you’re also sitting a practice AWA, there are instructions to help you assess your own score once you’ve finished.
Once you’ve got your scores, you can compare them to your desired score and start to formulate a study plan.
Work Out How Much Study Is Needed For Your Required Score
You’re now able to see the deficit between the scores you need, and those you have. How many points in both Verbal and Quant are you from the scores you need?
Once you’ve figured this out, you can generate a very rough idea of how many hours of study you’re going to need to put in in order to hit your target. Below is a quick guide to give you an idea of this. Please note that the scores listed are increases in both Verbal and Quant, not one; raising your score by 5 overall, then, really means raising Quant by 2.5 and Verbal by the same amount.
|Desired Point Increase||Required Hours|
Note that this is a very rough idea; it may require more or less time depending on your individual needs and circumstances.
Raising your scores by more than 30 is a gargantuan – but not necessarily impossible – undertaking. It’s probably a good idea to enroll in GRE classes led by professional tutors (or just getting a private tutor) if you need to raise your score by these kinds of amounts.
Figuring Out A Personalized Study Plan For The GRE
You should, at this point, have a rough idea of how much time you’ll need in order to correctly prep for the GRE. As we can see from the above table, you’ll be able to raise your score by 5 per 40 hours of study time (again, though, this is not an exact science).
In order to further fine-tune your study plan, you should probably give consideration to a few other factors.
Adjust Your Study Time Based On Your Study History
It could be that you’ve already been studying for the GRE, or that it’s your second time round the block. Factors such as this – and others – can affect how much time you should put into getting ready.
Have You Already Spent Time Studying For The GRE?
If you’ve already put hours into prepping for the GRE, you’ll need to add more hours to your study plan in order to account for those. The reason for this is that you iron out the biggest kinks in your earliest hours of study, and so you’re going to see the most improvement in that initial time. A good rule of thumb is to add a further 10-20 hours of study time if you’ve already been studying.
The Higher Quality Your Prep Tools, The Faster You’ll Improve
Basically, this means that you should be using materials that mimic those you’ll find on the test as closely as possible. If the practice questions and tests you’re studying/taking mimic the GRE closely, then it’s going to yield the greatest results for students. If, on the other hand, you’re using outdated or inaccurate test materials, then it’s not going to be as useful – and it’s going to mean you need even longer to prep.
Are You A Fast Learner?
Your ability as a student will obviously affect how long it takes for you to prep for the GRE. Are you a naturally quick learner? If so, you can probably reduce the study time by as much as 10%-25%. If, on the other hand, it takes you longer to acquire and retain new knowledge, then you might want to increase your study schedule by as much the other way.
It’s important to be honest with yourself on this one, naturally. If you overestimate your capabilities, you could end up being woefully unprepared when it comes time to walk into that GRE test room. Examine your previous test performances and ask yourself if you’re really as competent (or incompetent) as you think you are.
Decide On How Much Time You Can Spend Studying
Now it’s time to decide how many hours a week you can put aside for your GRE studies. As with the previous point, it’s important to be honest with yourself. Like a new diet or exercise regimen, it’s very easy to overcommit – but the only thing you’ll be committing to is disillusionment and burnout. You need to set realistic goals, and put aside a realistic amount of time to reach those goals.
It may well be that you’ve just finished college and have plenty of time on your hands. In this situation, perhaps you can devote 20-30 hours a week to your studies. However, if you’re currently working or studying, you’re going to have a lot less free time. For such a student, 5-10 hours a week might be a more realistic goal.
It’s tempting to think that the more hours you put in per week, the fewer hours you’ll have to spend getting ready for the GRE. To an extent this is true; this doesn’t mean, however, that you can spend 2 weeks before the test crunching 40 hours of study and walk away with a great score. Those 40 hours would be much better allocated over a few weeks or even months.
Similarly, if you’re only studying for two hours a week over a course of ten weeks prior to the test, you’re probably not going to retain that knowledge very effectively. It’s important to find a balance between retention and motivation.
Calculate How Long You’ll Need To Study For
Once you know how many hours a week you can afford to allot to your GRE studies, you can figure out how many weeks you’ll need to be ready.
Take the study estimate you decided upon earlier (40 hours per 5 points, plus or minus whatever extra you think you need based on your own personal aptitude) and divide it by the number of hours you can study per week. This is how many weeks you need to get ready.
For instance: say you need to increase 10 points, and you can study 8 hours a week. 10 points requires 80 hours, which means that you’ll need [80/8] 10 weeks of study in order to be where you need to be. It’s probably a good idea to give yourself an extra ‘safety’ week at the end so that you can plug any gaps and ensure you’re fully prepared, so take it up to 11 weeks. That’s how long you’ll need before you’re ready to walk into the ETS test center.
Be Sure To Allot Time For Retakes
If you’re worried that you might not hit the score you need the first time, you might want to budget extra time for a potential re-sit.
It’s not possible for candidates to retake the GRE within 21 days of their previous attempt. That means that if you want to take it again, you’ll need to wait a minimum of 3 weeks.
However, that’s not very much time to get ready for a re-sit – particularly on the heels of a demoralizing setback like not getting your desired score on your first attempt. It’s probably a good idea to add a week or two onto that, so that you can figure out where you went wrong and shore up any gaps in your GRE knowledge. It’s a good idea, then, to give yourself another 4-5 weeks before re-sitting.
Check School Deadlines
The aforementioned advice is all well and good in a vacuum – but you’re likely not operating in a vacuum. You probably have school deadlines to worry about, and those deadlines might be earlier than you’d like. This can accelerate your study timeline, and you need to plan accordingly.
It could be that you’re not applying to school for 6 months or longer. In this instance, you might as well be operating in a vacuum, and you can proceed at your own pace without worrying about deadlines.
If your application deadline is closer, you need to bear in mind that it takes around 10-15 days for ETS to report your scores to schools and grad programs. That means that you need to make sure you sit the GRE at least 3 weeks before the application deadline, just to be on the safe side.
This means that you need to add on a further 3 weeks to your study schedule to make sure you’re ready to go before admissions close. But what if, in addition to factoring in a potential re-sit, you simply don’t have time to allocate an extra three weeks? In that case, there are two things you can do.
Firstly, you can resolve to pass the GRE the first time around. This means that you don’t need to budget an extra 4-5 weeks for a re-sit. It also puts a lot of pressure on you to make sure that you get the scores you need the first time around, however. If you don’t deal well with pressure, this might not be the solution for you.
The second solution is that you fit more study hours in per week, meaning you need fewer hours before test day. Whether or not this works depends on what kind of student you are; if high-intensity cramming doesn’t work for you, then this solution might be a non-starter.
Finalize Your Study Schedule
Armed with all of the above knowledge, it’s time to create your study schedule. Make sure that your schedule fits around any other obligations that you have, and that you’re not cramming too much into a short space of time; for instance, if you plan on studying 10 hours a week, don’t allot 5 hours to Saturday and 5 to Sunday. This is packing too much into a short space of time, and will both reduce your capacity for knowledge retention and potentially cause burnout. It would be much better to study for an hour or so each day before or after work or school, with the remainder going on the weekend.
It’s also important to take breaks regularly. Two days on, one day off is often a good idea, because it gives you time to recharge your batteries. Above all, do not study daily with no breaks, as you’ll almost certainly burn out.
Once you’ve settling on a feasible study schedule with well-paced sessions and regular breaks, you’re good to go.
Once you have a solid GRE study schedule in place, you’re halfway towards getting the result that you need. From that point on, it’s simply a case of sticking to your guns and making sure that you follow through with your commitments. If you can maintain that study plan, then come test day you’ll be ready to walk into that room and ace the GRE.