What to Do if You Fall Off the Study Wagon

Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.

We begin with this quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower because it illustrates a very important point—falling off the study wagon not only is normal but also expected. Even the best laid plans are imperfect.

Studying for the GRE is an arduous process that takes time, and after all the planning, you weren’t able to stay the course. But just because you failed to meet your goals, you don’t have to throw the whole thing out. Actually, you are in a good place to begin again. You already have a plan that you know didn’t work, so now you’ll be able to craft a better plan this time around (which at some point you will probably realize is also incomplete and useless causing you to start the whole cycle over again).

Let’s examine what might have happened, how to correct it, and make plans to begin again.


Consider Your Goals

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Part of the problem might have been the goals that you set for yourself. Goals that are ambiguous or broad lend themselves well to failure. With goals that aren’t tangible, of course you’ll give up or drop off. You don’t know what to do next or how to achieve the goals.

Set smaller, more attainable goals. This allows you to achieve goals with greater ease. For example, saying “I am going to get a perfect score on the Quant section on the GRE.” is a nebulous, hard to reach goal. Whereas, “I am going to memorize all the prime numbers from 0 – 100 and memorize the conversion of common fractions to decimals, which will help me achieve a perfect score on the GRE quant section,” is a much more tangible, reasonable goal.


And Now for Something Entirely Different

Sometimes life intervenes and you have to abandon your studies for personal issues, family emergencies, or professional deadlines. These are the unexpected events that are impossible to plan for and will inevitably throw your schedule completely out of whack.

There is very little that you can do in advance to avoid these hiccups. The only recommendation is to build a plan that has some leeway in it. Plan to miss days in your study schedule. So, I would scatter free days throughout your study schedule. These days can be used to for adjusting your schedule when the unexpected happens.

Make a study schedule, mapping the days until your test, planning for the unexpected with “flex days.” Or use a pre-made study schedule and adapt it to your needs.

And remember—if you don’t have a long period of time to devote to studying on a particular day, that doesn’t mean you should skip the day entirely. Take advantage of 15 minutes here and there (on the bus, waiting for an appointment, etc.) to review concepts, resources, and lesson videos. You can even use the GRE Prep App to access Magoosh prep and blog resources on your phone. That way, you’re putting all your time to good use.


Bound to Happen Again—Catch Yourself Now

Whatever path you have chosen, anticipate times when you might fall off the wagon. Did you just plan a trip? Are you going to a wedding or surprising your mom for her birthday? These need to be accounted for in advance. If you know something is coming, make changes—don’t just trot along with the same plan. By seeing bumps in the road you can account for them and adjust now.


Good Planning is About Iterating

The main point that I hope you realize after reading this article is that plans need to change. Life changes and is unpredictable. As such, your plan should be something that you re-visit and evaluate regularly (maybe every other week). Ultimately, your study plan is a living, breathing thing that will evolve and change as you get closer to the GRE test. You have to account for unknowns, and you have to make changes, adjust focus, as your strengths and weaknesses change.

Now dust off those test prep materials and get back to it! You have a test to dominate! 🙂


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