How Hard is the GRE

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How hard is the GRE? In short, it can be very challenging.

In this guide, we will review what makes the GRE so difficult and the different factors that make this exam challenging.

Summary: Learn about the GRE difficulty and why it is challenging. For help preparing, use a best GRE prep course.

Is the GRE Hard?

The GRE is typically considered more difficult compared to the ACT or SAT. The trick to the GRE is that it has more challenging vocabulary and reading sections.

In addition, most of the math problems require higher-level reasoning or have more complicated wording – the math problems on the GRE will challenge your critical thinking more than they challenge your actual arithmetic skills.

However, the GRE is less difficult than more specialized exams like the MCAT. The MCAT requires students to have more specific knowledge that they may have learned in undergrad like chemistry or biology.

You can read our guide on what is the GRE for a deeper dive into the specific topics tested. If you want to get some practice in, you can use our free GRE practice tests.

What Makes the GRE Hard?

In a nutshell, the GRE is challenging because it requires students to think critically and is not as cut and dry as other exams you may have taken in the past.

Ultimately, students will find that the GRE is a little trickier than the SAT or ACT but may be more manageable once they discover the tricks to solving its problems.

Whether it’s harder depends on your current knowledge of vocabulary and critical thinking skills.

Let’s go over the specific difficulties you might encounter as you take the GRE. You can use a GRE prep course to start preparing for this exam.

What Makes the GRE Hard?

  • Difficult Vocabulary
  • Challenging Wording
  • Time Factors
  • Two Essays
  • Computer Testing

Difficult Vocabulary

Much of the GRE difficulty lies in its advanced vocabulary. Sophisticated words are used not only for the language-focused portions of the test but across all of its problems and essay prompts. 

In addition, many questions ask test takers to fill in words or sets of words in blanks, challenging their sentence construction and critical thinking along with their raw knowledge of higher vocabulary.

This will require that students brush up on their advanced English words, and it may be a particularly challenging obstacle for ESL students.

You can practice for this by using our GRE verbal practice test.

Challenging Wording

While the vocabulary choices are difficult in and of themselves, many of the questions are made even harder because of the way the questions are worded. 

Rather than speaking plainly, many questions require you to use your logical analysis skills to locate the correct answer, unraveling the question before solving it. 

Not only does this slow you down, but it requires you to use multiple sections of your brain at once.

It’s easy to be tripped up or tricked by the wording of certain questions, resulting in a wrong answer even if you had the knowledge needed to solve the problem. 

Overcoming this requires students to practice the GRE extensively. Eventually, you can train your brain to understand the tricks unique to the GRE and untangle the questions efficiently.

Time Factors

Each section of the GRE is timed – this causes a lot of trouble for students. So much of the GRE’s difficulty comes from understanding the questions before you answer them.

Many first timers will spend lots of their precious time on specific questions. This can lead to lower GRE scores and students feeling they were not prepared for the exam. 

Practicing the GRE and learning how to quickly digest and answer each question is the key to earning a high score on the exam.

Many students struggle with timing on the quantitative reasoning section. You can practice this section with our GRE math practice test.

Two Essays

The GRE is different from several other standardized tests in that it requires you to write two essays in a single hour. 

You aren’t allowed to “bank” time between the essays. You get 30 minutes per essay regardless of whether you finish the first one faster.

This can be particularly intimidating for many, especially if they’re naturally slow writers. GRE test-takers will need to sharpen their writing skills and learn to develop and express an opinion in mere minutes. 

Computer Test

The GRE is almost exclusively taken on a computer. This is different than a lot of other standardized exams and many students are not used to this.

You may need to change the way you take the GRE as you will not have the ability to scribble notes directly on the exam.

While this may make the GRE harder, you can combat this by practicing in an online environment. A GRE prep course is a great place to start as they offer online exams that mimic the actual exam.

How to Make the GRE Easier

You can make the GRE easier by being prepared for the exam. Some of our favorite methods to do this include:

  1. Give yourself enough time to study
  2. Take a practice test
  3. Invest in a prep course
  4. Consider a GRE tutor

The biggest component to doing well on this exam is by going into the exam prepared. Giving yourself enough time to study for the exam is one of the most important things you can do. Review GRE test dates for more information on when to take the exam.

In addition to giving yourself enough time, choosing the right study resources is also very important.

Trevor Klee
Trevor is our GMAT and GRE expert. Trevor runs his own tutoring company and scored in the 99th percentile of the GRE and GMAT.