Funny GRE Questions, Vol. 1: “How long should I study for the GRE?”
Students often ask funny questions — funny to me, anyway. Some of them are so common that you’ve probably wondered them yourself, so I’d like to share them — and their answers — in a series of posts. I’ll kick things off with the timeless classic, “How long should I study for the GRE?”
I like to look in people’s eyes when they ask this. Sometimes I see hope there, perhaps wishing for an answer like, “Well, are you busy right now? The next fifteen minutes ought to do it.” Or perhaps your voice quivers with anxiety, fearing I’ll say something like, “THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, MORTAL. THERE REMAIN NOT ENOUGH HOURS IN THIS PLANE FOR YOU TO EVER DREAM OF SALVATION.”
I don’t want to make too much fun of you for asking this — I get where the question’s coming from, and on the surface it seems sensible. But look closely and you’ll realize that the question doesn’t make any sense. For example, would three months be enough? Well, not if you study 20 minutes a week and spend the rest of your time watching Gangnam Style parodies on YouTube. On the other hand, if you study six hours a day, even one month might be overkill.
The problem lies in the implied assumption that GRE preparation can be measured in calendar days. It can’t: it’s measured in hours. The actual answer to the question is, “Somewhere between 50 and 200 hours, depending on how efficient your GRE preparation is and how many points you need your quant and verbal scores to go up.” An English major who doesn’t care about the quant section and only needs about 5 more points on the verbal section needs fewer hours than someone who got 140/140 and seeks 160/160. And however many hours it’ll take you to reach your target scores, whether you spread those hours over one month or one year is up to you.
Bonus: a close cousin to this question is, “How many hours a week should I study?” Um, how about as many as you possibly can? I mean, unless you want to walk in on Test Day thinking, “Boy, I sure am I glad I didn’t put any more effort into studying for this test that might determine my future!”