A 7-step GRE study plan: how to study and when to start

Earlier, we already spoke about what the GRE exam is and everything you need to know about this important test. Now, we would like to speak about how you can study for the GRE. Cramming for something important like the GRE test is never a good idea. This exam is test of patterns, not just facts. So, if you want to get your dream GRE score, you will need make time to practice and study. Many suggest devoting between 4 and 12 weeks to GRE prep. In this article we try to make your studying easier by providing a study plan and some tips and tricks about how to study for the GRE and when to start preparing. Let’s get started!

1. Find your baseline

This is the score that you would receive if you took the GRE today. Before you start making a study plan, take a full-length GRE practice test. For realistic results you should take this practice test under the same testing environment as the real exam. The score that you will receive after making the practice test will tell you exactly which sections you need to focus on the most.

You can find GRE practice tests on multiple websites, such as the ETS GRE practice test, Princeton GRE practice test and the Kaplan GRE practice test. Take the practice test that suits you best and find your baseline. This will help you to set the tone for your study plan.

2. Determine your target GRE score

Yes, important! You probably started making a list of the graduate programs that interest you. Find the average GRE scores for these programs and compare them with the score from your practice test. Do these GRE scores have a big gap? Then let’s get studying. Even if the gap is not too big, it will give you a good perspective of where you stand and what you need.

3. Determine how much studying you need to do

Based on your goal and your baseline, figure out how many hours of study you’ll need to reach your goal score. The estimates below are for total point increases, not per section or for the whole exam.

  • A 5-point increase = 40 study hours
  • A 10-point increase = 80 study hours
  • A 20-point increase = 160 study hours
  • A 40-point increase = 240 study hours

Divide the total of hours you need to prepare by the number of weeks you have until the test. For example, if you have 10 weeks until the exam and you need 80 hours for preparation, that is 8 hours per week. If you haven’t registered for the exam yet, you can also calculate this the other way around. Divide the total number of hours you need to prepare by the hours a week that you are able to study. So, if you can study 10 hours a week and you need to prep for 60 hours, take a test in 6 weeks.

We do like to advise you to build some extra weeks into your study plan as a buffer.

4. Find the right study materials

The study material that is best for you depends on what kind of learner you are. Are you more of a visual learner? Then test prep books, videos and flashcards are the right materials for you. If you are a traditional learner, a class or course will help you best. There are tons of GRE study material out there, so just find the ones that will make your studying easier. Here on Stuvia you’re able to find great GRE book summaries or notes too. Those documents are written by GRE tutors or fellow students that already passed the GRE exam. This way you can be sure that the content you’re learning is easy to understand and you will learn exactly what they will ask in the exam.

5. Don’t just remember the facts, understand the assignments

Make the study content your own. That is what we would advise you. You won’t succeed if you just cram all the answers and facts. It is important to understand how to approach each question. If you understand the problem they provide to you in the exam, it is way easier to answer this question. Which means it will also help you to get through the exam easier.

6. Review your results

Don’t forget to always review your performance after taking a GRE practice test. What kind of questions do you understand well and what types of questions slow you down? This way you’ll get a great overlook on your performances, and you’ll know which parts of the exam you must work harder for. This is where access to a GRE tutor can really give you a leg up. A tutor is able to help you with your weaknesses and point you in the right direction.

7. Prepare mentally and physically

It sounds cliché, but that means it's true: get enough sleep, perform confidence-boosting exercises and model healthy eating the days before your official test day. It doesn’t seem like much, but we guarantee you that it will make you feel focused and fresh on the day of your exam.

We hope we’ve provided you with the tips and tricks you need to build you own study plan. With a solid study plan you will definitely rock your GRE exam and get into the graduate school of your dreams. But there is more, we can help you out with great GRE book summaries and notes.

Or even better. Did you already pass the exam and do you have some study material? Sell your GRE book summaries or study notes on Stuvia and earn some easy money!