How to Find Your GRE Motivation — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
8 min readApr 6, 2023

Finding the motivation to stay focused and study for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) can be a daunting task, especially if you’re already juggling classes, respective commitments, and your personal goals. But with hard work, dedication, and an appropriate approach, it is possible to prepare effectively while maintaining a healthy mental balance.

In this blog post, we will explore how to uncover your inner motivation with straightforward tips that allow you to set realistic expectations based on individual needs. Together we’ll look at both long-term vision-setting as well as ‘micro-motivators’ along the way; so buckle up and let’s get ready to make studying for the GRE manageable once again!

Enjoy the process

Enjoying what you’re doing is important for motivation whether you’re working, studying in college, or preparing for the GRE. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, working hard and achieving your goals may become difficult.

Finding joy in your studying can significantly improve your motivation to achieve your GRE goals. Keep in mind that a high GRE score not only earns you a spot in a top graduate program but also equips you with skills vital to your graduate classes and daily life. Instead of seeing the preparation for GRE as a boring task, try seeing it as a chance to enhance your abilities and personal growth.

Envision the test as what it is: skill building.

The skills you develop while preparing for the GRE can be applied to your everyday life and serve as motivation for your GRE studies. These skills will be valuable not only in school but also in your career and other aspects of your life. Why not try to enjoy studying for the GRE and find motivation within yourself to do well?

The GRE is an investment in yourself

Investing in yourself is one of the best decisions you can make. Studying for the GRE is a way of investing in your skills, abilities, and knowledge. Moreover, the time and energy you spend are a valuable investment in your future. Scoring high on the GRE is crucial for gaining entry into a graduate program, which can lead to better job opportunities and increased earning potential in the long run.

Ignore negative talk

When preparing for the GRE, you may come across some peers who are unhappy with the process. They may express frustration and dislike towards studying for the exam. This is likely because they have experienced difficulties with their own GRE preparation. Instead of wasting your time complaining like others, focus on preparing well for the GRE. Don’t let their negative attitude affect you. Use your motivation to give yourself a competitive advantage over others. If your competitors are not as motivated to study as you are, you are more likely to succeed than they are.

Key Strategies to Increase Motivation

You can start implementing simple strategies to stay motivated during your GRE preparation.

Get the tools you need

Make sure you have study materials that provide a detailed plan of your progress and goals before starting to study for the GRE.

Join a Study Group or be active on GRE Forums

Preparing for the GRE can often feel isolating since it is uncommon to have someone else studying for it next to you. This loneliness can lead to a decline in motivation to study. To stay motivated, try regularly engaging with other people who are also taking the GRE. If you live in a big city, consider joining a GRE meetup group where you can attend meetings with other test-takers once or twice a week. You can join GRE forums like the GRE subreddit or an online GRE group on Whatsapp, no matter where you live, and become an active participant. Interacting with other students who are also preparing for the GRE can help you stay motivated and enthusiastic about achieving your target score.

Formalize your approach with a schedule and reward yourself for achievements

To prepare for the GRE, it is recommended that students study for at least 2 hours on weekdays and 4 hours on weekends. This adds up to a total of 18 or more hours of studying per week. However, it can be challenging to stick to this plan. To stay focused, devise a study schedule and adhere to it. Since you probably have a lot on your plate, you’ll have to be both vigilant and innovative when it comes to studying. The crucial thing is to come up with a study schedule that suits your needs.

To maintain consistency in studying, it’s important to give yourself a break occasionally. You can reward yourself with a cheat day where you take time off from your GRE prep and engage in enjoyable and relaxing activities. This will give your mind a much-needed break from studying.

Put the GRE at the forefront of your life for a few months

To maintain high motivation while preparing for the GRE, it is essential to limit the number of days taken off from studying. While taking an occasional day off is fine, avoiding consecutive days off is crucial.

To keep the GRE fresh in your mind, it’s important to prioritize and be willing to say “no” to things in your life. To stay motivated while studying, it’s best to minimize non-GRE-related activities. Doing so will allow more time for studying and decrease the chances of losing motivation. Once you successfully complete the GRE exam, you will have ample time to enjoy yourself.

GRE Anxiety is often a source of low motivation

One major challenge for GRE students is dealing with anxiety, which can be extremely debilitating. If anxiety arises while preparing for the GRE, it can harm your drive to study effectively. Let’s talk about two common causes of anxiety related to the GRE and ways to overcome them.

Time is against you

Unfortunately, many students are not allocating enough time for studying to achieve their desired scores. Attempting to achieve high scores within a short duration is just not possible. Some students try to manage this type of situation, but they end up feeling anxious and unable to make progress in their GRE preparation.

If you are unable to achieve your desired GRE score, the best course of action is to reschedule the test for a later date. Although you may have a deadline to meet for your application, it won’t be of any use if you don’t score well on the GRE. Giving yourself more time to prepare can reduce potential anxiety and help you stay motivated.

Your expectations are unrealistic

Many GRE students have a misconception that they can achieve a high score by studying intensively for a few weeks. However, this approach rarely leads to an “overnight success” on test day. If you’ve just started preparing for the GRE, keep in mind that improving your score typically takes more than a few weeks. Having unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and hinder your progress. If you expect a miracle to happen for your GRE preparation, you might feel demotivated when it doesn’t work out. It’s better to avoid rushing and follow a gradual and structured approach to studying. This way, you’ll be satisfied that you took the time to do things correctly.

Pace yourself

We’ve talked about how crucial it is to prioritize GRE prep and follow a study schedule. However, it’s essential to remember that burnout is a real concern. While every GRE student wants to finish their preparation as soon as possible, studying non-stop for days on end is not a feasible solution.

Studying for the GRE for 8 hours a day would be manageable if you were doing it in isolation. However, considering other mentally exhausting activities such as a full-time job or school, you need to adjust your study routine accordingly. To avoid burnout, it is recommended to study for shorter periods regularly. Reserve longer study sessions for days when you have more free time and a fresher mind to better handle the extended GRE study period.

Stick to your guns

If there are days when you lack the motivation to study for the GRE, don’t skip it even if you are feeling lazy. Having discipline is more important than motivation in this case. When you’re feeling unmotivated, it’s important to still study for the GRE even if it’s the last thing you want to do. This happens to all GRE students from time to time. Having discipline now will benefit your future self greatly. Discipline leads to motivation, which in turn leads to success on exam day.

Visualize your achievements

To stay motivated, try visualizing yourself confidently walking into the GRE testing room feeling fully prepared and ready to excel in the exam. Imagine yourself well-prepared and confident as you approach the screen displaying your exam score. You’ll feel proud knowing that your hard work and dedication paid off and that every moment you spent studying and preparing was worth it. Your commitment and discipline will lead to significant positive changes in your life.

Final words…

Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine what works best when it comes to motivation. Motivation isn’t going to come out of anywhere and keep you pushing forward: that’s why these tips are so important. Make sure to set realistic goals, break them down into achievable steps, use short-term motivators along the way, and adopt a long-term vision.

Use these tried-and-true techniques and soon enough studying for the GRE will be more tolerable and effective. Here at The Admit Lab, we specialize in helping students find the right program for their educational needs; if you feel like you may need some extra help, please reach out and schedule a free admissions consultation — we’d love to work with you on uncovering your purpose! Best of luck on your GRE journey!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Originally published at on April 6, 2023.



Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: