Back to blog

Developing A GRE Study Plan: Five Concepts to Consider


Time management is important in all walks of life: at home, at school, and at work.  In this article, we'll talk about time management when you are creating and executing a GRE study plan. Before reading this article, if you’d like to take an interesting, short quiz from Mind Tools on how good your time management skills actually are, click here.

What are the types of activities that typically fall under the umbrella of "time managmeent?" Typically, time management tips and techniques include things like:

  • Setting goals
  • Making lists
  • Using a calendar/planner
  • Etc.

However, when you're studying for the GRE, you're in a unique situation.  The distinctive aspect is that you're adding an important activity into your daily workflow that you aren't otherwise used to fitting into your schedule.  For example, say you are either a college student or a young professional with a part-time or full-time job, hobbies, and close family and friends to keep up with. You've learned to use a calendar and to-do lists to get through class, do well at your job, play a sport, and enjoy an active social life.  Now, on top of that, you decide you’re going to study for the GRE for 3-6 months over the winter.  You already have a full load of activities, and you're trying to fit one more new thing into the mix.

Here are five tips, in no particular order, to manage your time when studying for the GRE.

#1: Set aside 5 hours at the same time and location each week

This first tip ensures that you commit yourself to showing up and taking part in some sort of studying at the same time and place each week.  If you devote 5 hours to studying each week, but don't put a time and location against that commitment, it's easy to procrastinate. Eventually, the week is over, and you're starting on a new week having already missed one.

Take into account how productive you’ll be in the location you choose. Check here to view the different details to consider when choosing a study area (music, smells, temperature, etc.), posted by Western Governors University.

#2: Develop a study plan upfront

If you write out a study plan upfront in the test prep process, you can plan out when to study what.  So when you show up at your designated time and place to study (see tip #1) each week, you'll know exactly what your obejective is on that particular day. You should literally write out this study plan, and keep it with you. You'd be surprised how many students set aside time to study, but then somewhat haphazardly review topics during their allotted time.

If this is your first time creating a study plan, you may have no idea how to begin the process. PrepScholar provides sample study plans for the GRE based on the amount of time you have and the GRE score you’re trying to achieve. These plans include both content and strategy review, based on the idea that strengthening your test taking abilities is just as important as understanding subject matter.

#3: Decide what "time trade-offs" you are implicitly or explicitly making in deciding to study for the GRE 

One problem that busy students and young professionals run into is that, while they are mentally committed to making time for prepping for the GRE, studying for these tests is a bit of a long term activity and goal.  Getting homework/work done or hanging out with friends are near term activities.  It's always easy to substitute the near term for the long term, even when the long term activities are actually much more important.

For example, you don't really care that much about golfing all day on Sunday relative to how much you care about getting a good score on the GRE in the long term.  But when your friend calls and asks you to play golf, even though you have your five hour study session scheduled, it's easy to say "yes" because you know you can always try to fit in the studying later, whereas the opportunity to golf is right there in front of you - it's near term, while the test prep process is long term.

So, it's helpful to look at your 3-5 major priorities in life (family, school, work, friends, etc.), and mentally note which of these may suffer a bit when you embark upon studying for this test - proactively manage and make the trade-off in advance in your mind.  This way, you'll be more comfortable saying "no" to golf, because you will already have mentally prepared yourself to give up a few outings, etc. while you study for this important and challenging test for a few months.

#4: Take regular practice tests

It’s important to begin your study plan with a diagnostic GRE practice exam to determine your starting point. It’s just as necessary to continue taking practice exams every three to four weeks after the initial one to measure progress. This also helps increase comfort level, confidence, and knowledge of the layout and content of the exam. Taking the tests at regular intervals is essential to evaluating progress in relation to your ingoing strengths and weaknesses (i.e., are you improving and building your skills in the areas in which you were initially struggling?)

It’s easy and inexpensive to incorporate practice exams into your GRE study plan. provides free GRE test prep materials including practice exams for both the computer generated and the paper version of the exam. The materials include math review, videos from Khan Academy, and overviews of the verbal, quant, and writing sections.

#5: Improve your focus

To increase the productivity of any given study session, you must improve your focus. Removing distractions is very imporant, and employing methods like the Pomodoro Technique, a system that uses a timer to break work down into (typically) 25-minute intervals with quick breaks, will make the many hour sessions bearable and keep your attention concentrated on studying.

There are apps and web-sites to help you improve your focus.

The Focus Booster blog provides articles written to help you live a more focused, improved, balanced life. Through the app you can visualize progress, keep track of your time, and apply the Pomodoro Technique spoken of earlier. Focus@Will explores the role music plays in increasing focus and productivity and offers a free trial perfect for those intense GRE study sessions.


Studying for a standardized test like the GRE places unique stress on your personal schedule.  To effectively study for the GRE, you need to set aside time, develop a study plan upfront, be prepared to make trade-offs, take practice tests, and find ways to improve your focus so that you stick to your study schedule and achieve the desired results.