How Long Should I Study for the GRE?

This article was written by Chris Lele, GRE expert at Magoosh GRE Prep, and originally posted here.

How long you should study for the GRE is an important consideration. However, there is no one pat answer. You can be a quantum physicist with a penchant for vocab, one who enjoys spending his or her time solving really convoluted math problems (while penning purple poetry). Clearly this person could cram for the GRE by whipping through the 2ndEdition Official Guide.

On the other hand there are many who take the GRE for whom English is not a first language. There are others for whom the only thing that comes to mind when they hear π is apple (usually the last time they opened up a textbook on math bell-bottom jeans were in). Clearly cramming is not a viable option.

Can I cram for the GRE?

If cramming means two to three weeks then you don’t have to be our aforementioned quantum physicist. For some, they are relatively adept at math and can score well with little preparation. Many of these same people are looking to enter a program that is quant-heavy, so their verbal scores do not need to be very high. A few weeks and they can get the scores they need (and thus focus on other important parts of their applications!).

Regardless of your aptitude you will need to do a couple of practice tests, just to test your mettle. So even if you believe that you are capable of cramming for the GRE, the very nature of the word cramming implies that you are going to sit down and do some serious studying (just not for a very long time).

So yes: you can cram for the GRE, but you better have a pretty good reason: Rhodes scholar, non-competitive programs, major procrastination. Regardless, you should keep in mind the following:

That said, I only recommend cramming if you can’t avoid it. And even for the most gifted amongst us, I recommend more than just a lazy Sunday afternoon with the GRE 2nd edition propped open on your lap.

How long SHOULD I study for the GRE?

Again, the answer to this question depends on a lot of factors. But I can give a range: you should study for the GRE for one to six months. Below are some of the factors to consider.

How long have you been out of school?

If you are fresh out of an undergraduate program, you have been around academic jargon and, presumably, you’ve been studying diligently for four or more years. Your brain is most likely pretty sharp. That of course is not to denigrate those who’ve been out of school for years. However, when the “study part” of your brain has not gotten a workout for a while, it takes some time to get back into learning word lists and math formulas, and reading dense passages.

How much do you read (and what do you read)?

I don’t mean to imply that after graduating people become glaze-eyed zombies incapable of fathoming even basic prose. Much to the contrary our adult brains become more adept at sifting through a morass of words and gleaning the overall meaning”¦if we continue to read diligently. And I don’t mean the last gossip column.

Read literary works, essays on current events, or even a best-seller (provided it has some challenging words in it). If you have been reading diligently over the years, it is very likely that you’ve developed a strong sense of how vocabulary works in context. And hence, you will need as much time prepping for the GRE.

Are you a math-y person?

If you are the person everybody turns to when it comes time to figure out the tip on a bill, then you likely very good with numbers. You will likely to be able to navigate the GRE math section without too much prep.

Which program do you hope to get into?

There is a big difference between the state college down the road from your house and a Harvard Ph.D. program. Most likely, your choices will fall somewhere in between. The more competitive the school, the more you will have to prep.

Are you “good” at taking tests?

I’ve tutored standardized tests for a while now. Some of my students seem to have a sense of how the tests are put together and how the answers are meant to trick you. Others are simply good at focusing for four hours at a time. None of this is a bad thing. If you are good at taking test, you should not have to study for more than a few months.

Are you a non-native speaker?

Simply put, the GRE verbal is insanely difficult for non-native English speakers. If you fall into this camp, do not despair. You can still do well on the GRE verbal. But you may have to study for six months, or even longer (depending on your answers to the questions above).

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For more on this subject, visit our section devoted to test prep advice from Stacy Blackman Consulting.

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