Wondering how long to prepare for GRE exams? When it comes time to study for the GRE, there’s no single best answer on how long you should take to prepare.
In fact, that answer will depend on a variety of factors. What is your baseline score? Do you have access to resources like GRE preparation courses or textbooks? What kind of graduate programs are you trying to get into?
However, in general, most scholars agree – you are going to want to give yourself at least four to twelve weeks to master the content on your practice tests. Ultimately, what’s most important when it comes to preparing for the GRE is not that you take a certain amount of time to do so – but that you do so wisely.
What is the GRE?
Short for “Graduate Record Examination,” the GRE is a comprehensive standardized test that evaluates your skills in reasoning and analysis, particularly in areas like writing, reading, and mathematics.
It’s not subject-specific, so it’s not going to ask you to master complicated equations or scientific concepts. It also won’t require any kind of advanced knowledge in any specific course of study, meaning it’s a broadly used test for students of all college majors and career paths.
Instead, the GRE is used to determine how qualified a student might be to engage in the complex critical thinking and problem-solving tasks required by graduate schools of all kinds. It’s required for admission to most graduate school programs, except medical school and law school (which have their own tests) and sometimes business schools (which often require the GMAT exam as an alternative).
Doing well on the GRE won’t guarantee that you are admitted into graduate school but it can dramatically increase your odds.
When, Where, and How to Take the GRE
Ideally, you should take the GRE about a full calendar year before you plan on starting graduate school. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to retake the exam if you aren’t satisfied with your first set of scores.
That said, you don’t want to take it too far ahead of schedule – your scores will only be valid for five years.
The GRE is offered at test-taking locations all around the world – as of writing this article, you can sign up for and complete the GRE at more than 1000 locations in 160 countries. Often these tests are administered on college campuses but you can also often take the test at an independent testing center offered by a company like Pearson.
You’ll register online via ETS and sign up to take the exam (which is typically now offered on the computer, though it may still be possible to take the exam on paper, too). You’ll pay a fee to sign up. You can retake the test every 21 days but you can only register five times within a 12-month period. Therefore, you shouldn’t use retesting as a get-out-of-jail-free card – only retake the test when you know you have adequately prepared and studied well enough to do so.
The GRE is broken down into three parts – the verbal reasoning section, the quantitative reasoning section, and the analytical writing section. You’ll be given a time limit on each section of the exam.
How Long Does the Average Student Study for the GRE?
Studying for the GRE is no easy task, and there’s a wide variation in terms of how long the average person takes to prepare for the GRE.
That said, most people will spend around one to three months, studying about two hours a week, for the test.
That’s still a wide range – and doesn’t reflect the outliers, either. Some people will study as much as ten hours a week for months on end. Much of this variation has to do with the different ways people handle test-taking stress, while some of it has to do with preferred study techniques. Some people prefer just to skim through old notes while others will enroll in formal test preparation courses.
How Long to Prep for the GRE: Steps for Figuring Out Your Timeline
Below are some steps you can follow when figuring out what your goal GRE score should be – and consequently, how much time it will take for you to achieve that score.
1. Figure Out Your Ideal Target Score
Begin by calculating your goal score. Look up the average GRE scores of all the schools to which you’d like to apply. You can easily find this on a college’s admissions page, but if you can’t find it there, go ahead and give the school a call.
Make a list of these target schools – then find the highest scores for both the quantitative and verbal sections and add two points to each. This will give you a good “goal” score to work for. Why is it higher than what the schools listed as their cut-offs? It gives you some wiggle room.
2. Take a Practice GRE
Taking a practice test – or ideally, taking several of them – before test day is the best way to prepare for the exam. It will help you figure out not only the content of the test but also the structure and time constraints. Time yourself as you take these – it will help simulate the conditions you’ll actually experience on test day.
Once you take your first practice exam, go ahead and score it. This will give you an idea of where you currently stand.
3. Determine How Much You Need to Study
After figuring out your target and baseline scores, figure out how much you need to study to reach your goals.
Although there’s no hard calculation on how much you will need to study to raise your GRE score by a certain number of points, there are estimates you can use.
For example, if you want to raise your total score by 5 points, you’ll need about 40 hours of studying. By 30 points, you’ll need 240 hours of studying. You can break things down (or scale them up) from those estimates.
Once you have the estimates in mind, you can break down the time you need to spend studying based on how much time you have available. If you haven’t scheduled your test yet, you have some freedom in designing your study schedule. If you have, you’ll need to start moving things around in your schedule to fit in the right amount of study time!
4. Make Adjustments as Needed
As you dive into your GRE study schedule, you may find that you need to adjust your time spent studying based on a few different circumstances. For instance, if you have already studied a lot and your initial practice test score takes that into account, you might want to tack on some additional study time – it might take you longer to make significant progress.
Remember that the more time you have spent studying already, the harder it will be to raise your score.
You’ll also want to include adjustments for your natural abilities. If you’re the type of person who picks up new material quickly, you might not need as much study time – and the opposite is true, too. Of Course, the quality of the prep materials you use can make a difference in determining your study time, too, though this is a variable that can be hard to quantify.
5. Rearrange Your Schedule
Now that you know about how much time will be required to ace the GRE, you need to start rearranging your schedule.
Be realistic when you choose the number for the number of hours you want to study – overestimate how much time you need, and you’ll end up frustrated and burned out. Don’t allot enough time, and you will be underprepared.
If you have a ton of free time (like during the summer), then sure – go ahead and schedule yourself for 30 hours of study time. But if you’re already in school or working, just five to ten houses might be a better goal to shoot for.
6. Include Plenty of Time for Retakes
Even if you feel confident going into your first GRE test, be sure to give yourself time for retakes. You’ll need to wait at least 21 days between tests but ideally, you should give yourself at least four weeks for each retake.
7. Check School Deadlines for GRE Score Report Submissions
Be sure to give yourself enough time to prepare for and take the exam (ideally with time for at least one retake) before your grad schools need your scores.
At a bare minimum, take the GRE at least three weeks before deadlines.
8. Create a Study Schedule
Once you have an idea of how long it will take you to prepare for the GRE, it’s time to create a study schedule. We’ll give you some tips on how to do this below!
9. Access Any Available Resources
There are all kinds of GRE prep books and other study resources available to you as you are preparing for the GRE. Take advantage of these! You can’t prepare overnight and there are plenty of ways to maximize your study sessions, regardless of whether you want to take a year to prepare for the exam or cram it all into two short weeks.
You might consider tapping into resources such as:
- Study apps
- Online practice tests
Whatever you do, leave no stone unturned as you look for the best study tools for yourself. You don’t have to break the bank to do this, either. Many resources are completely free – check online as well as with your local library for free or low-cost GRE prep aids. You might consider tapping into free online resources such as:
- ETS POWERPREP II
- Study Beans
- Khan Academy
Questions to Ask Yourself When Building Your GRE Timeline
There are a few questions you will want to ask yourself when figuring out how long you should study for the GRE. Below are the most important questions that you’ll need yo answer.
Is English Your First Language?
Many GRE test takers don’t speak English as a first language – and score very highly. However, just keep in mind that if you are still working on your language skills, you may want to give yourself more time to prepare for the GRE.
How Competitive is Your Program?
Of course, you’ll need a higher score to get into Harvard than you will to get into a state college – that goes without saying. However, keep in mind that some schools are surprisingly lax (and others surprisingly stringent) when it comes to their cut-off scores. It pays to do your research ahead of time! Naturally, more competitive programs necessitate a longer period of preparation before the exam.
Are You a Strong Reader?
If you are naturally a strong reader, you’ll likely need less time to prepare for the GRE exam because you can breeze through material quickly and efficiently. This lends you two advantages – one, you’ll have a stronger sense of vocabulary in context, and two, you’ll be able to read test questions faster and more accurately.
How Are Your Math Skills?
If you’re a strong mathematics student, you’ll likely need less time to prepare for the quantitative section of the GRE. If not, you could consider investing in a math tutor to help brush up your skills.
Do You Perform Well on Standardized Tests?
Last but not least, how is your standardized test performance? If you tend to do well on these exams, you’ll likely need less time to prepare. However, if you suffer from test anxiety or just find that your test performance does not accurately reflect who you are as a student, you may want to give yourself extra time to prepare.
GRE Study Tips
Follow the tips below to ace the test – it all starts with your study sessions!
Practice Your Technique
Focus not only on the content of each question, but also its structure. How do you approach each question while taking your practice tests?
Review Your Results
When you take GRE practice exams, don’t just mark each question as right or wrong but instead take the time to evaluate which question types you tend to ace – and those in which you fall flat.
Mimic Real Conditions
Don’t just jump into the test blindly. While taking practice tests is a great way to master the content on the exam, you aren’t going to see much success if you aren’t actively working to mimic the real conditions of the exam. Prepare for the time constraints – put yourself on the clock when you take your practice tests so you know what it’s like to work within a time limit.
You can even mimic real conditions in other ways, such as by not allowing yourself to use the bathroom until you reach the end of a section or not eating and drinking while you work on the practice questions.
Read as Much as Possible
The more you can read, the better. The verbal analysis section on the GRE includes complicated vocabulary that you might find in more challenging books – so dust off that easy chair and crack open a book as often as you can.
Go Over High School Concepts
Still have all of your old high school notebooks kicking around? If so, this might be one of the most effective ways to prepare for the exam. Many GRE questions aren’t based on baccalaureate-level knowledge but instead on the basic concepts you mastered in high school – like the Pythagorean theorem!
Consider Common Pitfalls
There are several pitfalls you will want to avoid when taking the GRE exam. Many of these are section-specific, meaning they might apply only to certain areas of the exam. Knowing common mistakes to avoid cna help you prevent them from occurring in the first place!
Here are some examples.
- Not memorizing equations: Often, you don’t have to be super skilled in mathematics to do the quantitative reasoning section. Memorizing equations can help you recall basic geometry or algebraic equations quickly so you have at least an idea of how to complete a problem.
- Not proofreading: This is less of a study tip, perse, and more of a test-taking tip – but make sure you proofread every section of your test!
- Failing to review topics before test day: When preparing for the writing section of the GRE, be sure to go over common questions and topics that are provided by ETS. YOu might not realize this, but ETS provides a long list of all the possible argument prompts it might use on the essay section on its website. Go over these and craft a brief outline to each question – that way, you’ll be mentally prepared for whatever the test throws your way.
How Much Improvement Do You Want to See?
The most important factor you will want to consider when deciding how long to prepare for the GRE? Decide how much improvement you’d like to see. Set a goal score and figure out how far you are from it.
Then, you can study for the GRE in a way that makes sense for you. Good luck – we hope you get the target score you need to get into your top graduate schools!
Preparing for the GRE: FAQ
Below are some top questions and answers for how to prepare for the GRE.
Can I prepare for the GRE in 1 month?
You can. You might only have a few weeks of time to study for the GRE, and that’s ok – but you’ll likely need to spend at least 10 hours a week studying (if not more) and be okay with a less impressive improvement if you only give yourself one month to prepare.
Is the GRE test hard?
The GRE is considered more challenging than the SAT and ACT – which makes sense, since you are now at a different level. It has more difficult reading and vocabulary passages in the mathematics problems include more complex wording and require higher-level thinking. That said, it’s definitely not a test that’s out of reach for college students to complete!
What is a good GRE score?
A good GRE score will vary depending on the program you are considering. The average score for all test takers is 152 for quantitative reasoning and 150 for verbal.
Can I prepare for the GRE in 10 days?
Maybe. For many people, two weeks or ten days might be enough time for comprehensive GRE prep, but you’re going to want to have a very detailed, highly actionable plan to tackle the study material.