How long you should study for the GRE is an important consideration. However, there is no one simple answer. Maybe you’re a quantum physicist with a penchant for vocab who enjoys spending your time solving really convoluted math problems (while penning purple poetry). If that’s you, then you could cram for the GRE by whipping through the 2nd Edition Official Guide.
Of course, it’s unlikely that you are such a person. Many GRE students don’t speak English as a first language. Others hear π and think “apple” (usually the last time they opened up a textbook on math, bell-bottom jeans were in vogue). Clearly, cramming is not a viable option for them.
Can I cram for the GRE?
If cramming means two to three weeks, then you don’t have to be our aforementioned quantum physicist. For those that are relatively adept at math, you can score well with little preparation. Many of these same people are looking to enter a program that is quant-heavy, so their verbal scores do not need to be very high. A few weeks of studying will suffice for them to get the scores they need (and leave them time to focus on other important parts of their applications!).
Regardless of your aptitude, you will need to do a couple of practice tests to test your mettle. So even if you believe that you are capable of cramming for the GRE, the word cramming implies that you are going to sit down and do some very serious studying (just not for an extended period of time).
So yes: you can cram for the GRE, but you better have a pretty good reason — Rhodes scholar, non-competitive programs, major procrastination. Regardless, you should keep in mind the following:
- Free Magoosh e-books (vocabulary, math formulas, and general)
- On-line, paper-based test
- 2nd Edition Official Guide
- Powerprep tests (available on CD that comes with the 2nd Edition).
- For those quasi-cramming: 30-day study plan
- Really cramming: 1-week study plan
- Magoosh GRE Prep App: Study with Magoosh lessons (and more) on your phone
How long SHOULD I study for the GRE?
How long have you been out of school?
If you are fresh out of an undergraduate program, you have been around academic jargon and, presumably, you’ve been studying diligently for four or more years. Your brain is most likely pretty sharp. That’s not to denigrate those who’ve been out of school for years. However, when the “study” part of your brain hasn’t been worked out for a while, it takes some time to get back into learning word lists, memorizing math formulas, and reading dense passages.
How much do you read (and what do you read)?
I don’t mean to imply that after graduating people become glassy-eyed zombies incapable of fathoming even basic prose. Much to the contrary, our adult brains become more adept at sifting through a morass of words and gleaning the overall meaning… if we continue to read diligently. And I don’t mean the latest gossip column. Read literary works, essays on current events, or even a best-seller (provided it has some challenging words in it). If you have been reading diligently over the years, it is very likely that you’ve developed a strong sense of how vocabulary works in context. And hence, you will not need as much time prepping for the GRE.
Are you a math-y person?
If you are the person everybody turns to when it comes time to figure out the tip on a bill, then you are probably very good with numbers. You will likely to be able to navigate the GRE math section without too much prep.
Which program do you hope to get into?
There is a big difference between a state college and a Harvard Ph.D. program. Most likely, your choices will fall somewhere in between. The more competitive the school, the more you should prep.
Are you “good” at taking tests?
I’ve tutored standardized tests for a while now. Some of my students seem to have a sense of how the tests are put together and how the answers are meant to trick you. Others are simply good at focusing for four hours at a time. None of this is a bad thing. If you are good at taking tests (scored well on your SATs, AP tests, etc. in high school), you should not have to study for more than a few months.
Are you a non-native English speaker?
Simply put, the GRE verbal is insanely difficult for non-native English speakers. If you fall into this camp, do not despair. You can still do well on the GRE verbal. But you may have to study for six months, or even longer (depending on your answers to the questions above).