Prep for the GRE

With fall semester college classes back in swing many students are tempted to postpone their GRE prep.

Whether it’s GRE quantitative, GRE verbal, or GRE analytical writing, there’s a better solution than postponing it; a very simple solution that will keep you from losing hard-won ground as you prepare for the GRE test.

Slow, Not Stop

Many college students prepping for the GRE tend to view it in very black and white terms.

They get busy at the beginning of the college semester or during finals and think, “No time for prepping for the GRE now. I’ll wait until I’m not so busy.”

They set aside their with the intention of picking it up again later. That’s a recipe for losing GRE prep ground, and–even worse–never starting up again.

A better solution is to significantly slow your for a time. Slowing your GRE prep down, but not stopping altogether, has several advantages.

  1. It keeps what you’ve already learned from fading away from your memory.
  2. It reminds you of your ultimate GRE goals (and your graduate school success goals).
  3. It gives you a sense of control and satisfaction. You’re prepping for the GRE on your terms.       
  4. It can keep you from dropping your GRE study habit altogether–disaster!

Slow and Simple, Here’s How

There are three things you can do to keep your on the back burner without ceasing to study for the GRE altogether; set a goal for how much to prep for your GRE, prep for your GRE less, and commit to a start date for full GRE study. These three things can be the difference between GRE success and GRE failure.

1) Set a Goal

Most students have a very nebulous idea of what their should look like and how much GRE studying they should do. Deciding exactly how much you need to prep for the GRE can give you a handle on how much and how often you need to prep. It puts parameters on your GRE study. That makes it more manageable.

So, how much should you study? For most of my students, I recommend sixty to eighty hours of total time. Don’t get me wrong; just prepping for ten hours will still help! However, the ideal would be sixty to eighty hours. There may be some students for whom more than eighty hours prep would be useful, but for most, you run into the law of diminishing returns. More and more study nets you less and less GRE score improvement.

There are many variables on that equation though. How much do you want to improve? Do you need to practice for just the GRE quantitative? Do you need GRE verbal practice as well? How much GRE do you need to memorize? Are your target grad schools even going to look at your GRE written analytical score? (Many don’t.) These are all questions I can help you answer in my GRE prep course. Feel free to call or email me with questions.

Knowing how much time you have and how much prep you intend to do will enable you to set a daily GRE study goal. It will also give you an idea of how much you can slow your GRE study down during busy semester times, such as at the start of the semester or during mid-term exams.

2) Prep Less for Your GRE

Once you know your overall study goal, it gets easier to respond well when things get super-busy, such as at the start of the semester. When your university workload gets overwhelming, simply reduce the amount of time you’re spending on your weekly GRE prep . Instead of devoting hours each week trying to master GRE quantitative topics or GRE verbal words and questions, move to maintenance mode.

Maintenance mode might look like this. Once a week, spend twenty or thirty minutes quizzing yourself over what you’ve already learned for your GRE. Go over your GRE flashcards, thumb back through your GRE math workbook quizzing yourself over important formulas and concepts, take some time to go over techniques you’ll be using on your GRE written analytical essays. Don’t add new material or techniques; simply maintain the GRE knowledge you already have.

One great way to do this is with a free app such as Anki. It’s the way I recommend memorizing anything; not just GRE math formulas or GRE vocabulary. Did I mention it’s free?  Anki is a flashcard app with magic-memory goodness. Anki uses a spacing algorithm–similar to what the language website Duolingo uses–to make sure you review the flashcard as few times as possible while still transferring the information into your long-term memory. Magic! The folks at Anki aren’t giving me any money for talking it up, but they ought too. I love Anki and use it all the time!

Even a few minutes of review each week will be enough to keep you from losing the GRE prep work you’ve done. Instead of those hard GRE words sinking into the musty cellar depths of your memory, you can keep them in a side-room of your intellect for easy access. When it’s time to begin studying the GRE full force again, you’ll be way ahead of the game!

3) Set a Date to Resume GRE Study

With the best of intentions, GRE students may set aside or slow their GRE study thinking to pick it up again when the rest of their course load seems more manageable. Unfortunately, it becomes all too easy to keep putting off that GRE start date, and, next thing you know, your GRE is a month away and you aren’t anywhere near prepared.

Better: pick a day to restart–maybe after the third week of school or after the next round of tests–studying for the GRE, full speed ahead. Put that date on your calendar, and set a reminder. Set mini-reminders to remind yourself the restart date is coming up soon. That will keep it from seeming like an overwhelming and unwelcome surprise when the day finally comes.

Worried you won’t resume your GRE prep? Bet your friends and family that you’ll start again on that day. Send them an email that says something like, “On October 12th, I’m going to start doing two-hours of GRE prep a day, at least five days a week. Please put it on your calendar and ask me about it. If I don’t start on that date, I owe you a dinner at the restaurant of your choice.” Send that email to the people in your life you KNOW will hold you accountable, and then make every effort not to have to buy anyone dinner 🙂


By taking three simple steps, you can survive the busiest times of the year without losing all your diligent GRE study progress. First, figure out exactly how much studying your planning on doing. That makes the whole process more manageable so you have the freedom to slow down your GRE prep when needed to make your life livable. Second, don’t stop studying the GRE altogether. That’s a sure way to begin forgetting what you’ve already learned and losing your hard-earned progress. Just slow your GRE prep down from hours a week to minutes a week. Finally, be sure to put a date on the calendar when you will resume studying for the GRE at full intensity. For added “oomph,” bet your friends and family members that you’ll begin again on that day.

With these steps in place, you can weather the busiest parts of the semester and know you aren’t losing ground in your GRE test prep. 

Leave a comment below with questions or suggestions. I read them all 🙂


© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

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