How to Study for the GRE: Strategies To Help You Ace the Test

April 27, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/13/22

The GRE is gaining popularity as an admissions test. To learn the most effective strategies to ace it, read on!

As an assessment of your academic potential, the GRE is known to be extensive and challenging, with some students even comparing it to the MCAT! Without correct strategy and preparation, students can expect to make little score improvement on this test.

Considering high-ranking schools require high GRE scores, this can put you at a disadvantage and lower your competitiveness! 

To avoid this, this guide will go into further depth about how to study for the GRE, and answer all of your inquiries including what’s on the GRE, how long to study for the GRE, and the study methods you can use to get your target score.

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How to Study for the GRE: 10 Effective Strategies

Before we share the 10 most effective strategies to study for the GRE, it’s important you know the three main study methods students use to tackle this test:


The first method is the cheapest and most popular amongst students. Self-study involves you creating your own study schedule, using bought or borrowed resources, completing practice tests, and rectifying your weaknesses on your own!

This study method allows you the flexibility to work around your schedule but requires you to hold yourself accountable. Students that use this method can successfully improve their score to reach their target, but may need more time to do so.

Expert Study

Other students that feel they’ll only improve their score with expert help typically rely on GRE tutors, like Inspira’s top-scoring coaches, to help them increase their scores. 

While they may spend some time practicing on their own or completing homework assigned by their tutors, their main study strategy is to heed expert advice and work closely with their mentor.

While this study method typically yields the highest score improvement in the shortest amount of time, it can be expensive. 

Combination Study

This final strategy gives you the best of both worlds. You have the flexibility and agency to create a study schedule that works best for you, can figure out your own test strategies, and use the resources that are available to you. 

Once you reach a score you can’t seem to beat, or simply want more test strategies to increase your speed or accuracy, you can enlist the help of tutors. You may only need help a couple hours a week to supplement your studies and hone your skills.

Whether you’ve already begun your study prep, or are looking for new strategies you can apply, these 10 strategies can help you reach your target score with as little hassle as possible.

1. Be Prepared to Put In the Work and Time

Whether you’re studying for the MCAT, DAT, or the CASPer test, all exams require preparation and patience, and the GRE is no different. You know better than to write the GRE without any studying, but you still may be under preparing. GRE study prep typically requires months of hard work. 

This doesn’t mean just a few hours of light practice a week! Many students treat their GRE prep like a full-time job, dedicating up to eight hours a day, five days a week, to their studies. 

You should only begin studying for the GRE when you’re sure you have the time and energy. While you may have been able to get away with cramming for your college exams, this strategy will not work for the GRE!

2. Complete a Diagnostic Test

Before you open your first GRE prep book, complete a practice test to assess your existing abilities. This will give you a more realistic and accurate understanding of how much time you’ll need to reach your target score. 

3. Experiment

If you find one prep material isn’t working for you, move on to another. Don’t force yourself to complete prep materials if you're not retaining any of the information in them.

Try to also incorporate visual aids in your test prep. While traditional methods focus on textbooks, videos or lectures showing how people tackle questions can be extremely helpful. 

4. Strategy, Then Speed

Students find one of the hardest parts of the GRE to be the time restrictions. Knowing this, you might think you need to prioritize speed throughout your studies—this is incorrect.

Doing this will hinder your improvement. You must perfect your strategy first, then move on to increasing your speed. If you know exactly how to tackle questions, you can get faster with practice. However, you’re more likely to make errors if you only focus on speed without fully understanding how to answer the questions.

5. Prioritize Comprehensive Practice

While you should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the content of the GRE, and learning theory and strategy, all of this will be of no use if it’s not put to practice! You should complete several practice tests each week to ensure you’re retaining the knowledge you’re learning from your prep resources. 

You can find free GRE practice questions in the quiz we've created for you.

Once you complete a practice test, do not simply go through the answers and move on. Review your mistakes. Try to figure out why you got questions wrong and make note of them. Revisit them every once in a while until you’re able to answer them correctly. This is the most productive way to avoid making the same errors on test day!

6. Mimic Test Conditions

You’ll want to begin with untimed tests to get your techniques down, then move on to completing practice tests under the same conditions you’ll be in on test day. This will not only help you feel more comfortable, but will force you to increase your speed and learn how to problem-solve under pressure. 

7. Target Your Weaknesses

There are three different sections on the GRE: analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. After completing some practice tests and going through your prep materials, you’ll learn your strengths and weaknesses.

While you don’t want to completely neglect your strengths, you should prioritize rectifying your weaknesses to ensure you receive high scores on each section of the GRE. 

8. Answer Questions Strategically

Avoid answering questions chronologically. Spend an extra few seconds going over each section to figure out which questions you can answer the fastest. Finish these questions first and then move on to the harder questions, so you can spend more time on them. 

If you find you’re spending longer than anticipated on a particular question, cut your losses. Make an educated guess and move on! 

9. Set Milestones

Throughout your prep, you should set milestones for yourself. Whether it be a certain score overall, a score in a section, or a number of practice tests completed correctly, setting milestones can help you stay motivated. 

Analyze your performance at each milestone. If you aren’t able to meet a particular goal, don’t be too hard on yourself. Figure out what steps you need to take to meet it and push your next one a week or two. Do not skip milestones! 

You should also celebrate your accomplishments! Little victories are still victories, and each one means you’re a step closer to your ultimate goal. 

10. Recognize Signs of Burnout

The last tip to consider when exploring how to study for the GRE is arguably the most important and overlooked. To achieve optimal results during your studies, you need to be focused and dedicated, but these two traits can lead to burnout in excess. 

If you’re losing sleep, missing out on meals, or staying in your room for hours on end without any social contact, it’s time to re-evaluate your test strategy and take a break. You will certainly feel some level of angst during your studies but if you feel extreme stress, you’re pushing yourself too hard. 

While it’s important to take your studies seriously, you must prioritize your well-being first and foremost. If you don’t, you risk developing unhealthy study habits and working at suboptimal levels which will hinder or decrease your performance.

How Long Should You Study for the GRE?

The time you’ll need to study for the GRE depends on a few factors:

Your Target Score

The first factor to consider is your goal. Do some research to figure out a general range you need to be within to be considered a competitive applicant at your dream schools. Whatever this range is, increase it by a few points! Students typically perform slightly poorer on test day than they do during their practice sessions.

Using your diagnostic score, determine how much of a gap there is between where you are and where you want to be. The larger the gap, the longer your study schedule.

Students that only need to increase their score by 5-6 points typically only require around a month of studying to reach their desired score. Those that need to increase their score by 20–25 points, on the other hand, should aim for a three-month study schedule.

Your Other Commitments

In a perfect world, you would be able to dedicate your full attention to the GRE and finish your prep in a few weeks. However, this isn’t realistic! As an upcoming grad student, you’ll likely have several other time-consuming responsibilities to consider. 

Do not spread yourself thin by dedicating equal time to your prep as your other commitments. For instance, if you’re in full-time school while studying for the GRE, you won’t be able to dedicate full-time hours to your studies. Doing so will cause you to burn out early into your prep or make you lose all motivation to study. 

If you already have full-time responsibilities, give yourself a longer study period. Dedicate a few hours a week to your prep but consider studying for three to four months instead of just one or two.

Your Limits

You know yourself best! If you find your schedule is too difficult to follow, change it. Do not feel obligated to follow someone else’s study schedule or one you found online. There is no perfect timeline that works for every student. Prioritize your goals, limits, and commitments and modify your schedule until it’s perfect for you.

FAQs: How to Prepare for the GRE

In case you have remaining inquiries about how to study for the GRE, here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions about this standardized test.

1. What Is the Best Way to Study for the GRE?

The best way to study for the GRE is to follow your own path. Do not force yourself to follow a study schedule you didn’t create yourself. 

Figure out the difference between your baseline score and target score, consider your other commitments, acknowledge your personal limits, and create a personalized study schedule. Set your weekly hours and bring your A-game to each one of them.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with the prep materials you use until you find ones that work for you. Focus on strategy before speed and prioritize rectifying your weaknesses more than honing your strengths.

2. Is the GRE a Hard Exam?

Yes, the GRE is considered to be a challenging exam. It mainly tests students’ critical thinking skills, which can be difficult to develop. It also uses tricky wording that can confuse students. Students find writing essays within a short period of time to be difficult as well. 

3. Can I Study for the GRE In Two Weeks?

If your target score is very close to your diagnostic score, you may be able to only study for the GRE for two weeks, although the recommended time period is at least one month.

4. Can I Study for the GRE In Two Months?

Yes, two months is typically enough time for students to master the GRE, unless they have other time-consuming commitments that only allow them to study a few hours a week, and they have a large gap between their baseline score and target score.

Final Thoughts

While your GRE score will play a large role in the graduate school you attend, you can limit your test anxiety and save your time and sanity by following the tried and true strategies shared in this guide! These tips will aid you in creating a personalized study plan and working smarter, not harder.

Good luck on your exam!

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