How to Make a GRE Study Plan: 4 Sample Schedules

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Studying for the GRE can seem like a big task, akin to slaying a dragon that demands vocabulary and spews math problems instead of fire. To make preparing for the GRE more manageable, you need a study plan.

In this total guide to making a GRE study plan, we’ll discuss why you need a plan, what to consider when making a plan, provide four sample GRE study plans you can use, and give advice on making your own custom plan. Read on to learn how to tackle the GRE-prep dragon, piece by piece!

 

Why Do You Need a GRE Study Plan?

But why do I even need a GRE study plan? You might be thinking. Why can’t I just crack open a prep book, work through a few problems every day, and then be good to go? Well, here are three reasons why having a study plan for the GRE is essential to your success:

 

You’ll Use Time More Efficiently

If you have your studying more or less planned out, you’ll waste a lot less time trying to figure out what you should do that day/week/month of your preparation time. Your plan will give you a guide as to where to go next, all the way to the day of the test!

 

You’ll Stay on Track

Without a plan, it’s very easy to become distracted in your GRE studying process and end up studying a lot less than you intended. If you don’t have specific goals and targets planned out, it’s easy to feel like maybe you don’t really need to study for the GRE that day. A GRE study schedule will help keep you accountable to yourself.

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You’ll Be Strategic About Prep

This last reason is the most important one. If you don’t have a GRE study schedule, your prep may not be very effective. A plan helps you target specific areas you need to address in your prep in a strategic way. You could take hundreds of practice problems, but if you aren’t really addressing your weak points or learning new strategies to approach the test, you’re wasting your time and your preparation won’t help you that much.

 

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Like a baby in a maze, you’ll get lost without a study plan for the GRE!

 

Important Considerations for Choosing a GRE Study Plan

When you choose a study plan, there are a few things you’ll need to consider. Note that you’ll also need to consider these things when you make a GRE study plan, which we’ll discuss later in the article.

 

Which Section Is More Important?

For almost all graduate programs, either the Quantitative or the Verbal section is going to be more important. Sometimes this will be fairly apparent—a math-focused program like engineering will be much more interested in your quantitative acumen, for example. You’ll want to spend more study time on the more important section.

Select programs may consider both scores important, in which case, you’ll need to split your GRE prep time more equally.

In general, no program cares a whole lot about the Analytical Writing section. Bombing it completely could be a red flag, but even if you’re applying to a writing-focused program, don’t sweat it too much.

 

How Much Do You Want to Increase Your Score?

As you would imagine, you’ll need to study more the more you want to increase your score. Here are our estimates for how many hours to expect to devote to the follow score increases:

  • 5 points = 40 hours
  • 10 points = 80 hours
  • 20 points = 160 hours
  • 30 points = 240 hours

Note that these are for overall point increases, not per-section point increases. So 40 hours could help you boost one section score 5 points, or both section scores about 2.5 points.

As you can see from the time investment necessary, increasing your GRE score by 30 points is quite difficult, and increasing by more than 30 points is near-impossible. This is because the GRE implicates some foundational math and reading skills that are hard to build in the time before you take the test.

How much you need to increase your GRE score also depends a lot on your goal score. You can see more on setting the right GRE goal score in our guide to what makes a good GRE score for you.

 

How Much Time Do You Have?

When’s the test? Next month? Two months? Four? (You probably don’t need to prep for more than four months unless you really are going for that 30-point increase).

How much time you have before the test, combined with how many hours total you need to study, determines how many hours you’ll need to study a week. So, if you’re going for five points and you have a month, that’ll be about ten hours a week for your GRE study schedule.

If you haven’t registered for the test yet and you know how much free time you’ll have a week to devote to studying, you can also pick the best test date based on that information. So if you’re going for five points but you can only study for five hours a week, pick a test date two months away.

 

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Time: the critical resource in GRE prep.

 

How to Use Our Sample GRE Study Plans

We’ve created four sample GRE study plans for you to use. Here is some necessary guidance for using the study plans that follow:

  • Before you begin any study plan, you need to establish a baseline. This means taking a complete, official GRE practice test to get an idea of how you would score if you took the test tomorrow. This will let you know what sections you need to work on and how many points you need. I’ve included baseline-setting within each sample study plan. Just be aware that it’s pretty much the first thing you’ll need to do when you begin.
  • All of our plans assume you have a primary and a secondary section for the purposes of GRE prep. The primary section is the one that you want to get a higher score in. Alternatively, if you’re going for about equal scores on each section, the primary section should be the one you’re weaker in, because you’ll need to prep more to bring your score up to the same level as the other section.
  • Within each week, all tasks are presented in a suggested order of completion, but this doesn’t have to be ironclad—as long as you’re following the overall patterns of reviewing, then assessing, then reviewing based on weaknesses from your assessment. So for example, you do need to take your baseline first in all plans, but if you wanted to alternate a few sessions of content review for your primary and secondary sections (instead of doing all your primary hours and then sequentially all your secondary hours as listed in the plan), that’s fine.
  • These GRE study plans include a mix of time dedicated to content review and strategy review. Content review is when you’ll build your substantive foundation for a section. For Quant, this means going over concepts and doing practice problems (not necessarily GRE problems) to reinforce those concepts. For Verbal, this primarily means learning vocab and practicing reading and parsing complex texts.
  • Strategy review is when you’ll practice how you approach the test itself. So things like making sure you can answer questions at a fast-enough pace, working on question formats that you struggle with, and figuring out your best process-of-elimination strategies. You probably will spend a good chunk of your strategy review time just working on GRE-style practice problems. Prep books are a great place to go for strategy help.
  • These GRE study schedules rely on you identifying and targeting your weaknesses. So within a content or strategy review session, spend more time on the things that you struggle with.
  • And remember, these sample plans are just a starting place—feel free to adjust them to better suit your needs!

 

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And if your needs include wintry glamour shots with a white tiger, so be it.

 

These GRE study schedules also include shorthand for various activities. Here’s what that those terms mean:

  • Debrief – Identify and work through the incorrect problems on the test/section. Take detailed notes on any areas of weakness to target in your preparation, either in content or in your strategy. So if you notice that you’re having trouble with exponents on Quant, note that down so you can study those concepts. If you’re running out of time on Verbal, note that down too so you can work on your pacing.
  • Content review – Work on building your knowledge foundation for a section. This means reviewing math concepts for Quant, and working on vocab and complex texts for Verbal. Always target your weaknesses the most!
  • Strategy review – Work on building skills for approaching the test itself. This can include targeted practice of GRE questions (or even entire sections if you are working on time management). Focus most of your time on your weaknesses!
  • Complete one [primary/secondary] test section – Complete an entire timed 20-question test segment in Verbal or Quant. Be sure to follow the directions on time limits!

 

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Relaxing dog massage optional.

 

Sample GRE Study Schedule I: 1 Month, 5 Points

You probably aren’t going to be able to make enormous strides in your understanding of the underlying content and concepts of the GRE in one month, even studying 10 hours a week. So for this plan, it’s essential to identify content weaknesses that can be more easily addressed and work on strategies to make up more points on the margin, like keeping on pace and answering every question.

The weekly time commitment for this plan is 10 hours a week. Just so long as you can devote enough time to complete a self-contained task completely (i.e. taking a practice test), you can divide up this time however you want—don’t feel like you can only complete one task a day or session. The tasks are listed in suggested order, but you can make slight tweaks if you need to. This plan aims for about a 3-point improvement on your primary section and a 2-point improvement on your secondary section.

 

Week One

  1. Take a complete practice test on PowerPrep to set your baseline (with breaks) – 3.5 hrs
  2. Debrief the test – 1.5 hrs
  3. Review test format – 1.5 hrs
  4. Content review, primary section – 3.5 hrs

 

Week Two

  1. Content review, primary section – 4.5 hrs
  2. Content review, secondary section – 2.5 hrs
  3. Complete one secondary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  4. Strategy review, primary section – 1.5 hrs

 

Week Three

  1. Strategy review, primary section – 1 hr
  2. Complete one primary test section, focused on strategy, and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  3. Content review, secondary section – 2.5 hrs
  4. Take other PowerPrep test – 3.5 hours
  5. Debrief the test – 1.5 hrs

 

Week Four

  1. Practice Analytical Writing outlining with real prompts – 1 hr
  2. Strategy review, secondary section – 3 hrs
  3. Complete one secondary test section, focused on strategy, and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  4. Strategy review, primary section – 3 hrs
  5. Complete primary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  6. Take the test!

 

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And then retire to the family farm to relax with the sheep.

 

Sample Study Plan for the GRE II: 1 Month, 10 Points

This plan is an intense 20 hr/week plan. With 20 hours/week, you can actually make some substantive gains in your foundational understanding of your primary section. Again, you can divide up the 20 hrs/week how you want, just so long as you can complete self-contained tasks like practice tests in one session.

This plan aims for about a 6/7 point increase on your primary section, and a 3/4 point increase on your secondary section.

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Week 1

  1. Take a complete practice test on PowerPrep to set your baseline – 3.5 hrs
  2. Debrief complete test – 1.5 hrs
  3. Review test format – 1.5 hrs
  4. Content review, primary section – 8 hrs
  5. Complete one primary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  6. Content review, secondary section – 4 hrs

 

Week 2

  1. Content review, primary section – 8 hrs
  2. Strategy review, primary section – 2 hrs
  3. Content review, secondary section – 5 hrs
  4. Take another complete practice test – 3.5 hours
  5. Debrief complete test – 1.5 hrs

 

Week 3

  1. Content review, primary section – 4 hrs
  2. Strategy review, primary section – 4 hrs
  3. Complete one primary test section and debrief, 1.5 hrs
  4. Content review, secondary section – 3 hrs
  5. Complete secondary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  6. Strategy review, secondary section – 1 hr
  7. Take final PowerPrep test, focusing on strategy – 3.5 hrs
  8. Complete debrief of test – 1.5 hrs

 

Week 4

  1. Strategy review, primary section – 6 hrs
  2. Content review, primary section (brush-up any weak spots) – 2.5 hrs
  3. Complete primary test section and debrief – 1.5 hours
  4. Strategy review, secondary section – 5 hrs
  5. Content review, secondary section (brush-up any weak spots) – 1.5 hrs
  6. Complete secondary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  7. Practice analytical writing outlines – 2 hrs
  8. Take the test!

 

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He’s watching you prep…better stay on track.

 

Sample GRE Study Plan III: 3 Months, 8 Points

This plan only requires 5 hrs/week from you, but with three months, you can make a pretty respectable 8 point-gain in your score. This plan targets a 5 points improvement in your primary section, and a 3-point increase in your secondary section.

As with the other plans, you can divide up the sessions how you like just so long as you are completing self-contained tasks like practice tests in one session.

 

Month 1

The first month of this plan focuses mostly on content review.

 

Week 1:

  1. Take a complete practice test to set your baseline – about 3.5 hrs with break
  2. Debrief complete test- 1.5 hrs

 

Week 2:

  1. Review test format – 1.5 hrs
  2. Content review, primary section – 2.5 hrs
  3. Content review, secondary section – 1 hr

 

Week 3:

  1. Content review, primary section – 3 hrs
  2. Content review, secondary section – 2 hrs

 

Week 4:

  1. Content review, primary section – 2 hrs
  2. Complete one primary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  3. Complete one secondary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs

 

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This month is all about content, content, content.

 

Month 2:

The second month of this plan has a mix of content and strategy review.

 

Week 1:

  1. Content review, primary section – 2 hrs
  2. Content review, secondary section – 2 hrs
  3. Strategy review, primary section – 1 hr

 

Week 2:

  1. Complete practice test – 3.5 hrs
  2. Debrief complete test – 1.5 hrs

 

Week 3:

  1. Content review, primary section – 2 hrs
  2. Content review, secondary section – 2 hrs
  3. Strategy review, secondary section – 1 hr

 

Week 4:

  1. Strategy review, primary section – 2 hrs
  2. Complete one primary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  3. Complete one secondary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs

 

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Time to start honing your strategy.

 

Month 3

The final month of this plan focuses mostly on strategy review, with some hours built in for Analytical Writing prep.

 

Week 1:

  1. Practice analytical writing outlines – 1 hr
  2. Strategy review, primary section – 2 hrs
  3. Strategy review, secondary section – 2 hrs

 

Week 2:

  1. Complete practice test – 3.5 hours
  2. Full debrief – 1.5 hours

 

Week 3:

  1. Strategy review, primary section – 2 hrs
  2. Complete one primary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  3. Strategy review, secondary section – 2.5 hrs

 

Week 4:

  1. Practice analytical writing outlines – 1 hr
  2. Complete one primary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  3. Complete one secondary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  4. Final strategy brush-up, primary section – 1 hr
  5. Take the test!

 

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Fortunately for you, you don’t need to turn into a weird cyber-wolverine to succeed on the GRE.

 

Sample Study Schedule for the GRE IV: 3 Months, 12 points

Our last plan requires a mid-sized commitment of 7.5 hours a week (or 30 hours a month) for a sizable 12-point gain. But with three months to prep, this schedule is much less grueling than the 10-point, 1-month plan. This plan aims for about 7-8 points of improvement in your primary section and 4-5 in your secondary.

As with all the other plans, just so long as you are completing self-contained tasks like practice tests in one session, you can divide up the rest of the prep hours into sessions how you like.

 

Month 1

The first month focuses primarily on establishing your baseline, reviewing test format, and doing content review.

 

Week 1:

  1. Take a complete practice test to set your baseline – 3.5 hrs with break
  2. Debrief complete test – 1.5 hrs
  3. Review test format – 1.5 hrs
  4. Content review, primary section – 1 hr

 

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Week 2:

  1. Content review, primary section – 5 hrs
  2. Content review, secondary section – 2.5 hrs

 

Week 3:

  1. Content review, primary section – 5 hrs
  2. Content review, secondary section – 2.5 hrs

 

Week 4:

  1. Content review, primary section – 1.5 hrs
  2. Strategy review, primary section – 1 hr
  3. Complete practice test –  3.5 hrs
  4. Debrief complete test – 1.5 hrs

 

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Optional step 5: spend time with a puppy.

 

Month 2

In the second month, you’ll start to shift your focus to strategy review.

 

Week 1:

  1. Content review, primary section – 5 hrs
  2. Content review, secondary section – 2.5 hrs

 

Week 2:

  1. Content review, primary section – 2.5 hrs
  2. Strategy review, primary section – 1.5 hrs
  3. Complete one primary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  4. Content review, secondary section – 2 hrs

 

Week 3:

  1. Content review, primary section – 1.5 hrs
  2. Complete last PowerPrep practice test – 3.5 hrs
  3. Debrief complete test – 1.5 hrs
  4. Strategy review, secondary section – 1 hr

 

Week 4:

  1. Content review, secondary section – 2 hrs
  2. Strategy review, secondary section – 2 hrs
  3. Content review, primary section – 1 hr
  4. Strategy review, primary section – 2.5 hrs

 

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Optional step 5, ed. 2: spend even more time with a puppy.

 

Month 3

The final month focuses mostly on strategy review with some time for Analytical Writing review.

 

Week 1:

  1. Complete one secondary section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  2. Content review, secondary section – 1.5 hrs
  3. Strategy review, secondary section –  2 hrs
  4. Strategy review, primary section – 2.5 hrs

 

Week 2:

  1. Complete practice test – 3.5 hrs
  2. Debrief – 1.5 hrs
  3. Strategy review, primary section – 2.5 hrs

 

Week 3:

  1. Complete one primary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  2. Strategy review, primary section – 3 hrs
  3. Analytical writing practice – 1 hr
  4. Strategy review, secondary section – 2 hr

 

Week 4:

  1. Analytical writing practice – 1.5 hrs
  2. Strategy review, secondary section – 1 hr
  3. Complete one secondary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  4. Strategy review, primary section – 1 hr
  5. Complete one primary test section and debrief – 1.5 hrs
  6. Any last tweaks – Can use for more Analytical Writing prep, or brushing up on anything you’d like to refresh before the test – 1 hr
  7. Take the test!

 

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Optional step 8: gather all the puppies you can find and celebrate your success!

 

How to Create Your Own GRE Study Plan

Designing your own study plan involves a lot of the same principles as selecting and using a study plan created by someone else. Here’s a brief step-by-step guide to creating your own GRE study schedule.

 

Step 1: Make a Goal

Based on the schools and programs you’re interested in, select a goal score. You can see more on setting a goal score in our article on what makes a good GRE score for you. Also take this time to figure out which section is more important. The more-important section is your “primary” prep section.

 

Step 2: Take a Complete Practice Test

Taking a full practice test will show you what your baseline score is. Analyzing your first practice test will also help you target specific weaknesses in your prep. Make note of question types you struggled with, content areas you missed, points where you ran out of time, and so on. This will help you figure out areas to focus on when you start really digging in on prep.

 

Step 3: Determine How Much Studying You Need to Do

Based on your goal score and your baseline, figure out how many hours you’ll need to study to reach your goal score. Here are our estimates (note: these are for total point increases, not per-section):

  • 5 points = 40 hours
  • 10 points = 80 hours
  • 20 points = 160 hours
  • 30 points = 240 hours

 

Step 4: Calculate How Many Hours You’ll Need to Study Per Week

Divide the total number of hours you need to prep by the number of weeks you have until the test. So if you have 10 weeks and you need to prep for 80 hours, that’s 8 hrs/week. You can also reverse-engineer this if you haven’t registered for the test yet: divide the total number of hours you need to prep by the hours a week you can study, and that will tell you how many weeks from now you should take the test. So if you can study 10 hours a week and you need to prep for 60 hours, take the test in 6 weeks.

 

Step 5: Gather Prep Materials

You’ll definitely need a sizable bank of practice tests and problems. There are six official, complete GRE practice tests released by ETS, but to access two of them you need to buy the GRE Official Guide by ETS. I actually do advise purchasing the Official Guide if you can swing it, simply because getting your hands on all the official practice problems and tests you can possibly get is a good idea. Official material will be the most like the actual questions you face on test day, because it’s all made by ETS.

You’ll also need material to help you review key concepts (especially math) and to help you with test strategy. While you could use the free ETS math review for Quant, you will probably want something a little clearer and more user-friendly. You can go with a prep book, or use something like Khan Academy to help you review math content.

Finally, you’ll want to get guidance on the best GRE strategies to help you really tackle the test in a way that makes sense. See our guide to the best GRE prep books to help you figure out which option is right for your existing skill level and prep needs.

 

Step 6: Plan Out Your Week-by-Week Activities

Make a list of what tasks you’re going to accomplish each week. Try to keep your hours studied per week pretty consistent, although you can vary a little bit if you need to for scheduling reasons.

In terms of tasks to complete, the first thing you’ll want to do after taking your baseline is review the format of the GRE test. Then you’ll want to move on to content review, and gradually move into reviewing and practicing strategy.

I would spend about ⅓ of your time on practice, ⅓ on content, and ⅓ on strategy. You may want to spend a little more time on content or practice, depending on what you’re struggling with. Within content and strategy, I advise spending about ⅔ of your time on your primary section, and about ⅓ on your secondary section. You should also devote a couple hours to analytical writing practice. Look at the question bank, practice outlining some prompts, and maybe write a couple practice essays!

You’ll also want to schedule two to four GRE practice tests total (including your baseline) throughout your prep time. You can take single segments of a particular section (so, a complete 25-question Verbal or Quant segment) to brush up in between practice tests, to practice strategy, and so on.

 

Step Seven: Execute Your Plan!

Once you’ve written out your plan, stick to it. Keep in mind that as you are working on content and strategy, you want to be constantly assessing your weak points and addressing them. So whenever you do a practice test or practice section, be sure to debrief your mistakes afterwards by identifying exactly what you got wrong, noticing any patterns to your mistakes or holes in your understanding, and addressing those in your prep.

 

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Ah, the beauty of a well-made plan.

 

Key Takeaways: GRE Study Plans

When you study for the GRE, you should definitely use a prep plan. A prep plan will help keep you on track, you’ll use time more efficiently, and you’ll be more strategic.

We’ve provided 4 prep plans that you can adjust to your own specifications as needed. But if you want to create your own plan, here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Figure out a goal score, how many points you need to improve, and your most important section.
  • Determine how many hours/week you’ll need to study before test day to meet your goals.
  • Gather supplies to prep content and strategy.
  • Sticking to your schedule, review test format, then test content, and finally test strategy. Be sure to stay focused on assessing and addressing your weak points throughout your prep period. Then you’ll be able to crush the GRE on test day!

 

What’s Next?

Looking for GRE prep resources? Check out our comprehensive list of the best GRE books you need to succeed on the test! You can also learn which four GRE question of the day sites are most worth your time. And find the six official GRE practice tests here.

If you want more strategies for approaching the GRE, let us illuminate the GRE exam pattern and see our most effective strategies for using your scratch paper on the GRE.


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Author: Ellen McCammon

Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics.

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