S is for Summer AND GRE Studying!
I am, without question, a summer person. As soon as the weather gets warm, I emerge from my perpetual crust of low-grade gloom and become the person I know I’m really meant to be: cheerful, energetic, relaxed (sort of), and ready to spend as much time as I can in the sun, near the ocean, and with friends. Ironically, the season in which I have the most energy is the one in which I’m least inclined to get anything done.
Now, not everyone is a summer person (I have friends who swear their Seasonal Affective Disorder hits hardest in July). But whether or not you thrive in the warmest months, you can harness the general good cheer, longer days, and relaxed atmosphere of the season to make the most of your GRE studying. Here are some thoughts on how to do that.
1. Allocate travel time productively.
Weddings, beach trips, camping, family vacations: for a lot of us, the summer is packed with travel. Whether you’re taking a train, bus, or plane, commit to always using travel time for GRE studying. You can get many resources online or as e-books, so you don’t have to lug around anything besides a laptop. You’ll be surprised by how much you can accomplish using travel or commute time alone. When I was in grad school and working nearly full time, I used all of my subway commutes for reading, and I was able to get a big chunk of my schoolwork done that way. It’s a pretty painless way to put serious hours toward your GRE studying. If you’re going to be driving, this becomes a bit more challenging, but not impossible. Listening to audiobooks or podcasts that use GRE-level vocabulary is a great way to build both vocab and verbal comprehension skills.
2. Create a reasonable GRE studying schedule and stick to it.
For many, work schedules can be a bit lighter in the summer, making this a great season to tackle the additional challenge of preparing for a standardized test. If this applies to you, commit now to a summer study schedule.
Decide on how many hours a week you can realistically put toward GRE studying. A realistic schedule is one that you can stick to without it being unduly painful. Then portion these hours out into a regular weekly pattern (I often recommend at least 5 hours per week and ideally 10-15, depending on how much time you have and how quickly you work).
Don’t let all your hours pile up on weekends. Half an hour a day each weekday will add up and save you from unproductive marathon sessions on Sundays. Give yourself at least one day a week entirely off. If you find that you are consistently not sticking to your schedule, decide: is the schedule unreasonable, or do you need to be more committed?
3. Use outdoor exercise to manage stress.
Preparing for the GRE can be exhausting and stressful, and many of the students I work with grapple with test anxiety. For this reason, regular stress-reducing routines are just as important as regular GRE studying habits. Being in the sun, exercising and playing, spending time near trees and water: these are all great ways to relieve stress, and summer is the perfect time to enjoy outside activities. So don’t get so invested in your GRE studying that you forget to take care of yourself, and remember that taking some time to enjoy the season will actually improve your memory and overall test performance.
4. Stick to an end-of-summer deadline.
Many test centers start to get busy in the late summer and early fall, so sign up for an official test now. Pick a late August or early September date, so that you have a hard deadline for your studying (for my part, if I didn’t have deadlines, I’d never get anything done). An end-of-summer date is a good choice for a few reasons.
First, if you begin your GRE studying in June, this will give you about two-and-a-half to three months to prepare, which, if you’re committed and consistent, is a good timeline for many students. Second, you’ll still leave plenty of time to take the test again before most application deadlines. In an ideal world, you’d only need to take the test once. Bad days do happen, though, and I see many students take the test twice (and most do better on their second sitting). Third, you’ll get the test out of the way with plenty of time left to work on the other, equally important aspects of your application.
5. Remember that a change of scene is a great antidote to burnout.
It turns out that GRE studying in different places and at different times actually helps you to better retain material. Changing up habits and routines can also help re-energize you if your enthusiasm starts to wane. So, take some time this summer to visit a new place, whether close to home or far-flung. And when you do, bring a few GRE resources along for the ride.
Good luck in your studies, enjoy the sun, and remember: there’s no time like now, because winter is coming!
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Cat Powell is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in New York, NY. She spent her undergraduate years at Harvard studying music and English and is now pursuing an MFA in fiction writing at Columbia University. Her affinity for standardized tests led her to a 169Q/170V score on the GRE. Check out Cat’s upcoming GRE courses here.