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How Hard Is The GRE?

When considering applying to grad school and taking the required admissions exam, the first question students typically ask is – “how difficult is the GRE?"

The difficulty of the GRE is often the first thing prospective graduate school students worry about since it has such a strong influence on their application. It’s a complex topic to discuss, though, because the term “difficulty” is rooted in a variety of factors, including the format, length, timing, and content of the test. In other words, to determine if the GRE is difficult, you have to consider your own strengths and weaknesses. In this article, we cover just how hard the GRE is, what makes it difficult and what you can do to make it easier.

Outline For This GRE Article:

Use the links above to quickly skip between sections. If you’re just beginning your GRE journey, be sure to check out our list of the best GRE prep courses before you start studying.

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Is The GRE Hard?

Depending upon who you ask, the GRE’s level of difficulty varies. For example, when compared to the SAT and ACT exams commonly taken by high school students, the GRE is much more difficult because the test contains more challenging math problems and reading passages, as well as vocabulary that is designed for students with higher-level reasoning.

However, many students find that the GRE is not as difficult as other graduate admission exams, such as the LSAT or MCAT.

What Makes The GRE Difficult?

Students often determine the difficulty of an exam based on their strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you struggle with math concepts, you may find this portion of the GRE more difficult than other tests. There are also some other factors that make the GRE hard for some.

The Wording of GRE Questions: Part of finding success with the GRE is also preparing yourself to learn how to navigate tricky wording. For instance, within the quantitative reasoning section of the GRE, you may have to apply more logic to find the answer versus relying on analysis. This is because the wording may be tricky, causing you to have to use logic to uncover the type of answer that is needed.

The Writing Section: When determining ‘is the GRE test difficult?’ some students refer to the difficult writing section. The GRE requires two essays, which is more than what most other graduate admission exams require. The two essays, though, are designed to showcase your writing style, but also test your ability to analyze and argue. The first essay features a prompt that asks you to argue a position and then support it with evidence. The second essay of the GRE requires you to critique an argument, detailing the weaknesses and pitfalls.

The Timing: For students who need ample time to write and complete exams, the GRE can be difficult due to the time crunch. The essay portion alone only allots 30 minutes for each essay, the verbal portion allows for 1 ½ minutes for each question and the math portion gives you approximately 45 seconds to answer each question. One way to prepare more thoroughly, is to take timed practice tests online to see just how long you are taking to answer questions and improve your speed without sacrificing performance.

how hard is the gre

The Format: The GRE is one of the only graduate admission exams that require a computerized test only. While many other standardized tests allow for the option of a paper or computerized option, you are left with just one choice with the GRE. This can make the GRE hard for students who don’t always perform best when taking computerized tests. The GRE is also what’s deemed an adaptive test. How well you perform on the first section of the test determines just how difficult the questions may be in the second section. If the idea of taking a computerized format test is stressful for you, the best way to prepare is to take practice tests solely in this format when preparing for the GRE.

The Vocabulary: The GRE is heavily focused on vocabulary and analysis, which is why many students deem the test to be difficult. The test uses sophisticated vocabulary and asks test takers to analyze sets of words or fill in blank sentences. Beef up your vocabulary prior to taking the GRE so you are more prepared for more complex words you may not be used to seeing on standardized tests.

The Math Portion: The math portion of the GRE does require a solid knowledge of math concepts. For many, this makes the GRE difficult because the quantitative reasoning portion covers concepts such as basic statistics, graphs, data tables, geometry and algebra. You must have a solid knowledge of these math concepts in order to perform well. If you haven’t taken a math course in a long time, spend ample time reviewing these concepts so the GRE is not as difficult as you may anticipate.

Related Article: GRE vs LSAT Comparison Guide

Wait, Is The GRE Really That Hard?

Although preparation for the GRE, including hours of studying and tutoring is recommended, it may not be as difficult as you think. For example, while the wording may be tricky for some questions, many of the questions on the GRE are in a multiple-choice format. This gives you a better chance of getting a question correct when you feel the need to guess the answer.

The reading comprehension section of the GRE also provides you with clues for each answer. This section provides students with reading passages to evaluate. The answers to the question are within each passage, leaving you with an objective answer versus a subjective one.

how difficult is the gre

There’s also good news for students who struggle with math. The GRE does not include questions that are beyond lower-level math concepts. For instance, you won’t see math problems typically found in a trigonometry or calculus class. The GRE focuses primarily on statistics, algebra, geometry, data tables and graphs. Students are also given access to an onscreen calculator.

How Prep Courses Can Make The GRE Easier

One surefire way to increase your GRE score is to prepare with a test prep course. Without studying, the GRE can feel overwhelming and frustrating. The GRE covers subjects that you may not have seen in years, and tests these concepts in ways that are designed to trick you. The test is laden with trap answers and double negatives. As such, we strongly suggest you get a tried and true prep course to help you get ready. We recommend the GRE prep courses from Princeton Review and Kaplan. Best of luck!


How difficult is the GRE?

Many students find the GRE very challenging due to the difficult math problems, robust reading passages and required essays that make up the exam. With that said, compared to other graduate admission exams such as the LSAT or MCAT, the GRE is often considered easier.