Close this search box.

How Hard is the GRE

Curious about how hard the GRE is?

In short, the GRE can be very challenging, but not as difficult as other exams (like the MCAT or LSAT).

The GRE recently underwent some changes, and it is now shorter. We will discuss what makes the GRE challenging and how you can succeed.

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.

With that being said, the GRE is less difficult than more specialized exams like the MCAT or LSAT.

Summary: The GRE can be very challenging. It is more difficult than the ACT or SAT, but less difficult than the MCAT or LSAT. You can practice for the exam by taking our free GRE practice test.

What Makes the GRE Hard?

There are numerous factors that make the GRE challenging. Four of the biggest factors include:

  1. Computer Adaptive Sections
  2. Difficult Vocabulary
  3. Challenging Wording
  4. Time Factors

An image showing a summary of what makes the GRE hard

1. Computer Adaptive Sections

The GRE is a computer adaptive test. However, the way in which it is computer adaptive is a bit different than other exams.

Each section of the GRE is computer adaptive. This is different as many exams that are computer adaptive are adaptive on a per question basis.

This means that the first section you are given will be average difficulty. The next section you are given will be based on how you performed on the first section. This only applies for similar sections (verbal reasoning section 1 and 2 & quantitative reasoning section 1 and 2).

Sections & Computer Adaptivity:

  • Analytical Writing: 1 Essay, 30 Minutes
  • Verbal Reasoning 1: 12 Questions, 18 Minutes. Average Difficulty.
  • Verbal Reasoning 2: 15 Questions, 23 Minutes. Difficulty Based on VR 1.
  • Quantitative Reasoning 1: 12 Questions, 21 Minutes. Average Difficulty.
  • Quantitative Reasoning 2: 15 Questions, 26 Minutes. Difficulty Based on QR 1.

Tips for Making the Computer Adaptive Aspect Easier

There is not a single tip or trick to combat the computer adaptive aspect of the GRE. As long as you are aware of this, you will be fine.

Students who are not aware of this may get frazzled while taking the exam, which will cause them to score poorly.

2. 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 prompt.

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.

Tips to Make the Vocabulary Easier

Students should brush up on their advanced English words, especially ESL students. You can practice for this by using our GRE practice test.

3. 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.

Tips to Make The Wording Easier

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. Take one of our full-length GRE exams to prepare.

4. 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 scores and students feeling they were not prepared for the exam.

Allotted Time Per Question for Each Section:

  • Analytical Writing: 30 Minutes (1 Essay).
  • Verbal Reasoning 1: 90 Seconds / Question.
  • Verbal Reasoning 2: 92 Seconds / Question.
  • Quantitative Reasoning 1: 105 Seconds / Question.
  • Quantitative Reasoning 2: 104 Seconds / Question.

Tips to Make The Timing Easier

One of the best ways to make the timing aspect easier for the GRE is by taking GRE practice tests. We suggest taking your first practice exam “cold turkey” and seeing how you do and where you struggled with timing.

Once you have a better idea of where you struggled (time wise), you can put together a plan (for timing) and be more cognizant of that when you take the exam again. Once you are more confident, take another practice exam and see how you do.

GRE Changes and Effect on Difficulty

The GRE recently underwent some changes. The major changes included:

  • Fewer Questions
  • Shorter Testing Time
  • Only 1 Essay

The GRE is now only 1 hour and 58 minutes long. It used to be 3 hours and 45 minutes. In addition, the total number of questions has been reduced to 54 questions and 1 essay.

There are pros and cons to these changes when it comes to GRE difficulty. The exam has been streamlined and shortened (pro), but this means there are less questions, so each question carries more weight (con).

Even with all of these changes, the overall difficulty has not significantly changed.

How Hard is it to Pass the GRE?

Technically, there is not a passing score for the GRE. Graduate programs use your scores as a means to determine admissions. The higher your score, the better your chances.

Listed below are some percentiles for the GRE. You will want to score in the 50th percentile or higher.


For more information, read our guide on good GRE scores.

Tips 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. Take a Baseline GRE Practice Test
  2. Plan Out Your Studies. Give Yourself Enough Time.
  3. Invest in a GRE 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.