Is the GRE a Hard Exam

Is the GRE a Hard Exam? A Clear Answer with Expert Insights

The GRE is a standardized test necessary for entry into various graduate programs in the United States. A common query among potential test-takers is whether the GRE is difficult.

The answer to this question is not straightforward, as the difficulty of the GRE can vary depending on several factors. Compared to other standardized tests like the SAT or ACT, the GRE is typically considered more complex. This is because the GRE assesses higher-level reasoning skills and includes more challenging vocabulary and reading passages. 

Understanding the GRE

The Educational Testing Service organizes the GRE. It comprises Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The exam is computer-based and adapts question difficulty based on the test-taker’s abilities.

In the Verbal Reasoning section, the test assesses the ability to analyze written material. This part has two 20-question sections, each with a 30-minute time limit. Questions evaluate understanding of words, reasoning with concepts, and exploring relationships.

The Quantitative Reasoning section evaluates interpreting quantitative information. It includes two 20-question sections with a 35-minute time limit per section. This part gauges a grasp of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis basics.

The Analytical Writing section examines expressing intricate ideas and arguments concisely. With two tasks—analyzing an issue and an argument—each task allows 30 minutes. Effective responses should be well-reasoned, organized, and well-written.

Is the GRE Hard?

The GRE can be tough due to the question difficulty. It tests math, verbal, critical thinking, and analysis. It has sections like Analytical Writing, which needs essay writing on assigned topics within a time limit. This can be hard, especially for those needing to improve writing or time management.

Intimidation Factor

The GRE can seem hard due to intimidation. Students get stressed about this big exam that affects their future. Stress leads to anxiety and hurts exam performance.

GRE Difficulty

The GRE is commonly seen as a tougher test than standardized exams such as the ACT or SAT. Yet, its difficulty varies based on the test-taker’s strengths, weaknesses, and readiness.

GRE vs Other Standardized Tests

Regarding standardized tests, the GRE is often compared to other exams such as the ACT, SAT, MCAT, LSAT, and GMAT. Here’s a comparison of the GRE to these other standardized tests, taking into account factors such as difficulty, content, and scoring:


The ACT and SAT are college entrance exams that test high school students’ math, reading, writing, and science knowledge. Both exams are less complicated than the GRE as they do not test advanced expertise in specific subjects. 

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UNLIKE THE GRE, the ACT and SAT have a scoring system that does not penalize students for incorrect answers.


The MCAT test used to evaluate knowledge and skills needed for medical school. It covers biology, chemistry, physics, and critical analysis. It’s considered tougher than the GRE due to its complex topics and longer duration.


The LSAT test assesses the skills required for success in law school, including reading and analytical skills. The exam tests knowledge in logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, and reading comprehension. The LSAT is more complex than the GRE due to the advanced analytical and critical thinking skills required to succeed.


The GMAT assesses the skills required for success in business school. The exam tests knowledge in analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning. The GMAT is more complex than the GRE due to the advanced analytical and critical thinking skills required to succeed.

SAT Subject Tests

The SAT Subject Tests are standardized tests that assess knowledge in specific subjects such as math, science, and foreign languages. Compared to the GRE, the SAT Subject Tests are easier as they do not test advanced knowledge in specific subjects.

Analytical Writing Section

The Analytical Writing part evaluates how well you express intricate ideas simply and clearly. It has two tasks: “Analyze an Issue” and “Analyze an Argument.”

In the first task, you assess a complicated topic and share your viewpoint. In the second task, you analyze an argument, noting its strong and weak points.

This section is scored from 0 to 6, with half-point steps. Your score reflects writing quality and skill in presenting a logical argument.

Verbal Reasoning Section

The Verbal Reasoning part assesses the test-taker’s skill in comprehending and analyzing text. It includes two question types: Reading Comprehension and Text Completion.

In Reading Comprehension, you read a passage and answer questions about it. In Text Completion, you fill in the blanks in sentences with the right words.

Scores for Verbal Reasoning range from 130 to 170 in one-point steps. The score is based on the correct answer count.

Quantitative Reasoning Section

Quantitative Reasoning assesses a person’s comprehension and analysis of quantitative data. It involves two types of questions: Problem Solving, where mathematical problems are solved, and Data Analysis, which requires interpreting information from graphs and tables.

Scores for the Quantitative Reasoning section range from 130 to 170 in one-point steps. The number of correct answers determines the score.

Challenges in GRE

The GRE is known for its challenges, which test-takers should know before taking the exam. Here are some of the difficulties that test-takers may face during the GRE:

Challenging Vocabulary

One of the most significant challenges of the GRE is its vocabulary. The GRE vocabulary is designed for students with higher-level reasoning and includes many words not commonly used in everyday conversation. Test-takers must understand the meaning of these words to answer the questions correctly.

Tricky Wording

The GRE also includes questions with tricky wording. Test-takers must understand the question and identify the information needed to answer it correctly. 

Some questions may be phrased intentionally, making it easier for test-takers to identify the necessary information.

Reading Comprehension

The GRE includes several reading comprehension passages, which can be challenging for some test-takers. The passages are often lengthy, and test-takers must be able to read and understand the information presented in them quickly. Test-takers must also be able to identify the passage’s main idea and answer questions based on it.

Math Problems

The math problems on the GRE are easier than those on the SAT or ACT, but they can still be challenging. The problems often require higher-level reasoning and may include multiple steps. 

Test-takers must be able to identify the information needed to solve the problem and use the appropriate formulas or methods to solve it.

Time Constraint

One more hurdle on the GRE is the time limit. Test-takers have only a short time for each question and must handle time well. They also must swiftly and smartly answer as many questions as possible in the given time.

GRE Scoring System

GRE test-takers are evaluated on three sections: Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning, graded between 130 and 170 in one-point increments, and Analytical Writing, scored from 0 to 6 in half-point increments. 

Score reports are typically delivered to test-takers within 10-15 days after the exam, and selected schools also receive these scores.

It is important to note that there is no passing or failing score for the GRE. The score requirements vary depending on the program and the school. It is recommended that test-takers research the average GRE scores of the schools they are interested in to determine a target score.

A competitive GRE score is subjective and varies depending on the program and the school. However, a good rule of thumb is to aim for a score above the program’s average score.

Test-takers can take the GRE multiple times and choose which scores to send to schools. However, it is essential to note that some schools may consider the highest score while others may consider the most recent. It is recommended that test-takers research the score policies of the schools they are interested in.

Preparation for the GRE

Preparing for the GRE can be daunting, but it can be manageable with the right approach. It is crucial to have a smart study plan that includes practice, practice tests, and prep materials.

A great approach to getting ready for the GRE is through practice tests. They make you comfortable with the test format and question types. To mimic test day, it’s advised to take timed practice tests.

Many prep materials are available for the GRE, including prep books and courses. When choosing a prep course, looking for one that offers full-length practice tests and personalized feedback is vital. Prep courses can be expensive, but free resources like practice questions and study guides are available online.

On test day, it is important to be well-rested and prepared. Bring all necessary materials, such as identification and test admission tickets. It is also recommended to arrive early to allow time for check-in procedures.

Skills Tested in the GRE

The GRE assesses various skills needed for success in graduate school. It consists of three key parts: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Each section gauges different skills, as outlined below.

Verbal Reasoning

The GRE’s Verbal Reasoning part gauges a person’s skill in comprehending, analyzing, and assessing written content. It covers reading comprehension, critical thinking, and vocabulary. The passages are from diverse academic fields like humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Quantitative Reasoning

The GRE’s Quantitative Reasoning part assesses a person’s skill in comprehending, interpreting, and analyzing quantitative data. This section covers arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and advanced reasoning. The math questions in the GRE aim to gauge someone’s math know-how, logical thinking, and capacity to use math in practical scenarios.

Analytical Writing

The GRE’s Analytical Writing section gauges your skill in clearly expressing intricate concepts. This part consists of two essays: the “Issue Task” and the “Argument Task.” These essays assess your writing, critical thinking, and analysis abilities concerning complex arguments.

GRE for ESL Students

ESL students, or those whose first language is not English, may find the GRE more challenging than native English speakers. This is because the exam requires a strong command of the English language in terms of vocabulary and grammar. However, with the proper preparation and practice, ESL students can still perform well on the exam.

One of the biggest challenges for ESL students is the vocabulary section of the GRE. The verbal reasoning section evaluates knowledge of advanced and esoteric words that may be unfamiliar to ESL students. To prepare for this section, ESL students should focus on building their vocabulary through reading and practice tests. They can also use flashcards or vocabulary apps to help memorize new words.

Another challenge for ESL students is the essay writing section. This section requires strong writing skills, including grammar, sentence structure, and organization. ESL students may struggle with these aspects of writing, but they can improve their skills through practice. 

They should also focus on understanding the prompt and developing a clear and well-supported argument.

Time management is also challenging for ESL students, who may need more time to read and understand the exam questions. To overcome this, ESL students should practice taking timed practice tests to improve their speed and accuracy. They should also focus on reading comprehension strategies, such as skimming and scanning, to help them quickly identify critical information.

GRE for Business and Humanities Majors

Business and humanities majors are two of the most popular fields of study for graduate students, and the GRE is an essential component of the application process for both.

Business majors may find the quantitative reasoning section of the GRE to be more challenging than other sections. This section tests the ability to understand, interpret, and analyze quantitative information, including basic arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. Students pursuing a business degree should be comfortable with these concepts, as they are essential for success in the field.

Humanities majors may find the verbal reasoning and analytical writing sections more challenging. These sections test the ability to analyze and evaluate written material and articulate complex ideas in writing. 

Students pursuing a humanities degree should be comfortable with reading and writing, as these skills are essential for success.

No matter their study area, all graduate students should prepare for the GRE by learning the test’s structure and content. 

The GRE website offers free study stuff, like practice tests and sample questions, to aid students in their prep. Also, various test prep firms provide GRE courses and resources to boost students’ scores.

Test Day Experience

Test day for the GRE can be a nerve-wracking experience for many test-takers. Being well-prepared and knowing what to expect to minimize stress and perform at your best is vital. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Test Center Environment

The test center environment can vary depending on the location. Some test centers may be quiet and spacious, while others may be cramped and noisy. Test-takers should be prepared to adapt to their surroundings and try to remain focused on the exam. It is also essential to dress in layers, as the temperature in the testing room may be unpredictable.


To minimize stress, test-takers should plan their journey to the test center and aim to arrive 30 minutes before the scheduled exam. Confirming the test center’s location, date, and time is crucial.

Computer-Delivered Test

The GRE is a computer-delivered test, meaning test-takers will use a computer to answer the exam questions. Before test day, it is vital to be familiar with the computer interface and practice using the provided tools, such as the calculator and highlighter. Test-takers should also be prepared for any technical difficulties during the exam.

Time Pressure

The GRE is a timed exam, with a total testing time of approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes. Test-takers should be prepared to manage their time effectively and pace themselves throughout the exam. Taking breaks during the exam is recommended to help manage stress and maintain focus.

Test-Taker Experience

The test-taker experience can vary depending on test anxiety and familiarity with the exam material. Test-takers should remain calm and focused throughout the exam and not let mistakes or difficult questions affect their performance. 

Taking care of one’s physical and mental health leading up to the exam is essential by getting enough rest, eating well, and engaging in stress-reducing activities.

Content of the GRE

The GRE has three key parts: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. It assesses critical thinking, writing, verbal, and math abilities.

The Verbal Reasoning section gauges students’ ability to analyze written content, combine information, and understand sentence relationships. It involves Reading Comprehension and Text Completion/Sentence Equivalence questions.

Reading Comprehension involves reading a passage and answering questions about it. Text Completion/Sentence Equivalence requires filling in blanks in sentences.

The Quantitative Reasoning section evaluates a student’s grasp of quantitative data, problem-solving using math, and applying concepts to real situations.

This part includes Quantitative Comparison and Problem-Solving questions. Quantitative Comparison involves comparing quantities. Problem Solving entails solving math problems using arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.

The Analytical Writing section assesses the ability to express complex ideas clearly, provide reasons and examples, and evaluate claims and evidence.

It contains two tasks: Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument. Analyzing an Issue requires writing about a topic, while Analyze an Argument involves responding to an argument.

Adaptive Nature of the GRE

The GRE is an adaptive test, meaning the questions presented to the test-taker vary depending on their performance. 

The GRE is section-level adaptive, which means that the computer assesses the test taker’s performance on the first section of Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning and uses that information to select the difficulty level of the second section in that subject area.

If the test-taker performs well in the first section, the computer will present more challenging questions in the second section. Conversely, if the test-taker performs poorly in the first section, the computer will present them with easier questions in the second section. This adaptive nature of the GRE ensures that each test-taker is presented with questions that are appropriately challenging for their ability level.

It is important to note that the adaptive nature of the GRE applies only within each section of the test. The difficulty level of the second section of Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning is determined by the test-taker’s performance in the first section of that same subject area. However, the difficulty level of the Analytical Writing section could be more adaptive and is the same for all test-takers.

The adaptive GRE test has its pros and cons for test-takers. It offers questions matching their skill level, aiding accurate skill assessment. Yet, this adaptiveness can stress some, causing them to feel consistently judged.

Graduate Schools and GRE

The GRE is a crucial test for getting into graduate school. Many grad schools ask for it during the application. It helps schools decide who’s a good fit for advanced studies, even in highly competitive programs.

It tests critical thinking, writing, and math skills. The GRE General Test is good for various subjects, while GRE Subject Tests focus on specific areas.

But remember, grad schools look at more than just GRE scores. Your GPA, recommendations, and personal statement matter too.

Kaplan Test Prep suggests starting three months ahead to prep for the GRE. They offer online courses, books, practice tests, and tutoring to help you succeed.

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