How Hard Is the GRE: Expert Guide and Comparison Insights

April 25, 2024
5 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

Dive into this comprehensive guide, as we unravel the mysteries of the GRE, reveal its challenges, and equip you with expert strategies to help you ace this crucial exam in your graduate school journey.

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test that plays a crucial role in the graduate school admissions process and some undergraduate admissions like nursing school. Many high-ranking medical schools require these scores for admission in lieu of the MCAT. So, how hard is the GRE? 

This article aims to demystify the GRE, providing insights into the test's difficulty level, and factors that make it challenging, and provide tips on how to prepare effectively.

We will also answer some frequently asked questions about the GRE, such as "how hard is it to get a 300 on the GRE?" to help you better understand the intricacies of the exam.

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Is the GRE Test Hard?

The question of whether the GRE is hard can be subjective, as the difficulty level depends on an individual's background, academic strengths, and weaknesses. For some, the test may be quite manageable, while others may find it challenging.

However, it is generally considered a demanding exam that measures your critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, which are important for success in graduate-level studies. To do well on this test, you need to have a strong foundation in vocabulary, math, and analytical writing.

You must also be able to quickly and accurately answer questions under timed pressure. The test's adaptive nature, which adjusts the difficulty level based on your performance, adds an extra layer of challenge.

What Makes the GRE Hard?

Several factors contribute to the difficulty of the GRE. To make sure you know exactly what to expect from the GRE, we’ll discuss them below.

Time Constraints

The GRE is a timed test, with each section having strict time limits. For the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections, you have 41 minutes and 47 minutes, respectively, to complete 27 questions each. The Analytical Writing section, on the other hand, consists of one task, with a 30-minute time limit. 

Managing time effectively can be challenging, especially when working on complex questions. To succeed, it's essential to practice pacing yourself and developing strategies for answering questions efficiently.

Broad Range of Topics

The GRE covers a wide variety of topics, including algebra, geometry, data analysis, reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence. This broad coverage requires test-takers to have a strong foundation in multiple areas. 

To excel, you need to refresh your knowledge of these topics and learn how to apply that knowledge to the unique question types found on the test.

Adaptive Nature

The GRE's computer-adaptive format can make the test more challenging, as the difficulty level of the questions is adjusted based on your performance. If you're doing well, you'll receive harder questions, which can be stressful during the test. 

On the other hand, if you struggle with a particular question, you may become discouraged and lose focus. To overcome this challenge, it's important to maintain a positive mindset and concentrate on the question at hand, without worrying about the overall difficulty of the test. 

Test-Taking Strategies 

The GRE requires specific test-taking strategies, such as process of elimination, time management, and essay organization. Mastering these techniques can be difficult for some students, as they may not have encountered these strategies in their previous academic experiences. 

To succeed on the GRE, it's essential to familiarize yourself with these strategies and practice applying them to a variety of question types.

Understanding the GRE Structure and Content

The GRE is divided into three main sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Each section measures different skills and knowledge, so it's essential to understand the GRE content and structure to maximize your performance on the test.

Verbal Reasoning

This section assesses your ability to analyze and evaluate written material, understand the meanings of words, and recognize relationships between words and concepts. The Verbal Reasoning section consists of two sub-sections, each containing 27 questions. 

The question types include reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence. To excel in this section, you need a strong vocabulary and the ability to analyze complex texts and draw inferences from them.

Quantitative Reasoning

This section measures your problem-solving skills using basic mathematical concepts from arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. The Quantitative Reasoning section also has two sub-sections, each with 27 questions. Question types include quantitative comparisons, problem-solving questions, and data interpretation. 

To succeed in this section, it's crucial to have a solid foundation in math and be able to apply your knowledge to various problem-solving scenarios.

Analytical Writing

This section evaluates your critical thinking and analytical writing skills. It consists of one "Analyze an Issue”. This section has a 30-minute time limit, and you must produce a well-structured, coherent essay that addresses the specific requirements of the prompt. 

To excel in this section, you need strong writing skills, the ability to construct logical arguments, and the capacity to analyze complex issues.

How to Crack the GRE With Essential Skills and Strategies

To perform well on the GRE, it's important to focus on developing the skills and strategies needed for each section of the GRE test. Here are some tips to help you prepare effectively:

Build a Strong Foundation

Review and reinforce your knowledge in vocabulary, math, and analytical writing. Use high-quality resources, such as GRE prep books, online materials, and practice tests, to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Regular practice is essential for mastering the GRE. Take practice tests and work on sample questions to familiarize yourself with the test format and question types. This will help you build your confidence and improve your test-taking skills.

To get started, try using our interactive GRE pop quiz tool! You’ll find sample GRE questions to sharpen up your skills and familiarize yourself with the style and format of the GRE test.

Learn Test-Taking Strategies

Develop strategies for each section of the test, such as process of elimination, time management, and essay organization. These strategies will help you work more efficiently and accurately during the test. 

Create a Study Plan

Design a study schedule that allows you to focus on areas where you need improvement, while also maintaining and building upon your existing strengths. Allocate sufficient time for reviewing content, practicing questions, and taking full-length practice tests.

Seek Support

If you're struggling with certain aspects of the GRE, consider seeking help from a tutor, joining a study group, or enrolling in a prep course. This additional support can provide personalized guidance and encouragement as you prepare for the test.

GRE vs. Other Tests Difficulty Comparison

The GRE is one of many standardized admissions tests. But, is it the hardest? Read on to find out!

GRE vs. SAT: Which One is Harder?

The SAT is written by high school students hoping to gain admission to undergraduate programs, whereas the GRE is typically written by students hoping to get into graduate school. As such, the difficulty of the GRE vs. SAT is clear–the GRE is far more complex and challenging. 

GRE vs. ACT: Which One is Tougher?

Again, since the ACT is written by high school students it is far less complex than the GRE! 

GRE vs. IELTS: Which One is Difficult?

The IELTS only tests students’ language proficiency, whereas the GRE tests a range of abilities and skills. They have different purposes so they are difficult to compare, but in general the GRE is consider to be harder.

GRE vs. TOEFL: Which One is Easier?

The GRE is about academic aptitude and readiness for graduate-level work, while the TOEFL focuses on English language skills. As such, they are not easy to compare! But, the TOEFL is generally considered to be easier. 

GRE vs. GMAT: Which One is Tougher?

The GMAT is specifically designed for admission to business schools, particularly for MBA programs. Both tests have similar sections, but with different focuses. These tests are often considered to be of similar difficulty. 

GRE vs. LSAT: Which One is Easier? 

The LSAT is notorious for being challenging, but does not ask any math questions like the GRE. If math is not your strong suit, you may find the LSAT better. However, in a direct comparison, the GRE is generally regarded as the easier of the two.

FAQs: How Hard Is the GRE?

In this section, we’ll tackle the most common questions about the GRE, from studying and preparation to the math content and achieving your target score. 

1. Is the GRE Hard Without Studying?

Attempting the GRE without adequate preparation is not recommended. The test covers a wide range of topics and requires specific test-taking strategies, so studying and practicing are essential to achieve a competitive score. 

A well-planned study schedule can help you focus on areas where you need improvement and familiarize yourself with the test format.

2. How Hard Is It to Prepare for the GRE?

Preparing for the GRE can be challenging but manageable with the right approach. To succeed, it is important to develop a study plan, practice regularly, and use high-quality resources. Keep in mind that the amount of preparation required will depend on your current skills and the target score you aim to achieve.

3. Does the GRE Have a lot of Math?

The GRE includes a Quantitative Reasoning section, which tests your problem-solving skills using basic mathematical concepts. The topics covered include arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. 

While the math involved is not advanced, it is essential to have a strong foundation in these areas and be able to apply your knowledge to solve problems quickly and accurately.

4. What Is the Most Difficult Part of the GRE?

The most difficult part of the GRE varies from person to person, as it depends on individual strengths and weaknesses. Some may struggle with the vocabulary and reading comprehension in the Verbal Reasoning section, while others may find the Quantitative Reasoning section more challenging. 

The Analytical Writing section can also be difficult, as it requires well-structured and coherent essays within a tight time frame. Identifying your weak areas and working on them is crucial to improving your overall performance on the GRE.

5. How Hard Is It to Get a 300 on the GRE?

A score of 300 on the GRE is considered an achievable goal for many test-takers, as it represents an average performance. The GRE is scored on a scale of 260-340, with 130-170 points possible for both the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections. 

Achieving a 300 means scoring around 150 in each section, which is close to the average scores for these sections. However, aiming for a higher score is recommended, especially for competitive programs that require higher GRE scores for admission.

Final Thoughts

The question "how hard is the GRE?" can have different answers depending on individual circumstances. However, it is undeniable that the GRE is a challenging test that requires a strong foundation in various subjects, effective test-taking strategies, and rigorous preparation. 

By understanding the test's difficulty and committing to a well-structured study plan, you can increase your chances of success and achieve the score you need to pursue your graduate studies.

Remember that the GRE is only one component of your application, and while it is essential, it does not solely determine your admission chances. 

Demonstrating your abilities through other aspects, such as your personal statement, letters of recommendation, and academic achievements, is equally important in showcasing your potential as a successful graduate student. 

By combining a strong GRE score with a well-rounded application, you can improve your prospects for admission to your desired graduate programs and pave the way for a successful academic and professional future.

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