The program that I want to apply to isn't accepting students until next year, so that gives me plenty of time to study for the GRE. However, I also want to take it as soon as possible because 1.) As far as I know, they're only offering at home testing until Sept. 30, and I'm way too OCD to take the test in person, even if everyone is wearing a mask. (I have a phobia of germs as it is, and I've become completely paranoid since the pandemic.) I also want to "get it over with" already because it's a source of anxiety. However, I want to get the best score possible, and I've set my goal as a top 10% verbal score and a math score sufficient for the program not to reject me due to a low score... (I'm applying to a humanities field with virtually no math involved.)

After a week of intense focus (studying most of the day), I've been distracted for the past couple of days with ruminations, and I'd like advice as to how get back on track. How does one stay focused while studying for the GRE?

Also, what is a realistic time frame to study? If I set a date in mid or late Sept., would that be too soon to achieve my goals? (A top 10% verbal score/decent math score [I don't have a number in mind for math])

*question edited to delete my specific ruminations

  • 5
    You should consult a mental health professional about your non-GRE problems mentioned above. Aug 15, 2020 at 6:47
  • 1
    Studying for the GRE is not particularly different from studying for other tests you have taken. Normal attention span is a few minutes. Aug 15, 2020 at 6:48
  • 3
    You should plan on at most 40 hours a week of studying, doing a mixture of different types of work. Use the rest of your waking time for exercise, relaxation, and mental health. Aug 15, 2020 at 7:03
  • Your ruminations deflect from the actual question. I'd suggest to delete everything but the last sentence, your goal (top 10%), your strategy (study 8-10h/day, 7 days/week) and your constraints (4 months time, OCD).
    – henning
    Aug 15, 2020 at 7:08
  • 4
    Please listen to @AnonymousPhysicist's advice, go to a mental health professional to seek help before it's too late.
    – Nobody
    Aug 15, 2020 at 7:26

2 Answers 2


A few things that helped me

Pomodoro Technique - Study for 25 minutes with a 5-minute break in-between. After 4 Pomodoros, give yourself a longer break.

Timeboxing - Limit your study time to specific times of the day, like 9-4 with a lunch break. This will train your brain to expect to focus during the time-window, then do other things after. Combine this with the Pomodoro Technique to best utilize your time.

Retake a practice test at the end of each week - This will both get you as familiar with the test as possible, and let you take a snapshot of your progress. This snapshot should happen during your timebox. Arrange to take the test during this timebox as well.

Take at least 1 day off a week - Be sure to give yourself at least 1 day off a week where you do not study or do work.

See a therapist - Studying for the GRE and applying to grad schools is stressful. It may help to deal with your ruminations so they won't be as distracting. They may also be able to teach you how to manage stress and time better.

It sounds like you may have burned out studying in one week. Take a day off. Tomorrow regroup and try at least some of these suggestions. You'll likely need to play with the times suggested, but they are a good place to start.

Finally, remember that a few hours of focused, uninterrupted time is better than a day filled with interruptions and poor planning. Make sure you're getting quality study time, then look at increasing the quantity.


There is no universal realistic time frame to study. It primarily depends on where you already are. Some may prepare for several months, while others may prepare for less than a week, and still score just as well or better. Your earlier question suggests that you may be closer to the latter category, at least for the verbal section.

To get a good idea of your current level of preparedness, try solving practice tests under close to realistic testing conditions. See how close or far you are from your target. Identify the areas you are weak in, and prioritize your time on those. Spending a lot of time on an area you are already good at may make you bored and contribute to your distraction and lack of focus.

There is no end to improving your preparedness, but once you reach a point where you are reasonably certain that you are well prepared to meet and exceed your expectations, it may be better to spend time on something more useful.

This answer does not comment on the issues of anxiety and mental health, on which, as others have already suggested, you should seek advice from trained professionals.

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