how hard is the gre

How Hard is the GRE?

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke

The GRE is the standardized test you’ll need to take to get into most graduate schools. There are multiple sections, including one essay section, one multiple choice verbal skills section, and one multiple choice math section. Each year, hundreds of thousands of students take this test. Some find it more difficult than others. But how hard is the GRE, really? We’ll break down the different aspects that students sometimes struggle with, along with helpful tips to mitigate these issues.

Prepping for the GRE? Consider the best GRE prep books to add to your studies! 

Why Computer Adaptive Testing Can Be Hard

The GRE is known as a computer adaptive test. This means that while the test format is similar for each student, the exact content on the test will vary from student to student. The Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning parts of the best both have two sections. After your first section is scored, the questions you’re asked in the second section will either be more or less difficult than those in the first.

If you get most of the questions correct during the first section, the second section will pose much more of a challenge. Meanwhile, if you get most of the questions incorrect, the second section will be much easier. With this in mind, it’s common for a student to become stressed while trying to figure out how well they’ve done on each section. This added stress can cause them to score lower.

The best way to overcome this obstacle is by becoming familiar with computer-based testing. If you’ve never taken a computer-based test before, you should do electronic practice tests so that you familiarize yourself with the format. You should also avoid wasting time analyzing the question and section difficulties. The organization that compiles test resources for struggling students, the ETS, offers free GRE practice tests.

Related: How Many Times Can You Take the GRE? 

How Hard Is the GRE? Let’s Break It Down By Section

Analytical Writing:

Analytical Writing is scored from 0 to 6, and requires students to complete two essays in one hour.

Quantitative Reasoning:

Quantitative Reasoning has scores between 130 and 170, and tests the basic math skill level of the student.

Verbal Reasoning:

Verbal Reasoning also has scores between 130 and 170, and challenges the students’ vocabulary.

How Hard is Analytical Writing

During the Analytical Writing section, you’ll be required to write two essays during the hour time period. This means you should spend a half hour on each essay. The first essay topic is called “Analyze an Issue,” while the second topic is called “Analyze an Argument.”

The Analyze an Issue section requires you to oppose or support an idea based on the evidence you give. The second essay requires you to oppose an argument by categorizing and deconstructing its weaknesses.

Some people have a hard time with this section because they’re not used to writing analytical essays. This section can also be hard for people who know how to write essays, but need an extended amount of time to do so. There aren’t multiple choice answers here; you need to write entirely from scratch.

How to Make the Analytical Writing Easier:

  • Become familiar with your essay structure. Use the topics and prompts provided by your practice websites and books in order to practice writing essays. Time yourself as you do to make sure that you can finish in the appropriate period.
  • Learn to outline your essays very quickly. If you can jot down a thesis, three points of supporting evidence, and a conclusion, you already have a basis to work with.
  • Practice finding evidence to deconstruct an argument and present an opposing argument, rather than just providing evidence to strengthen your own initial point.

Check out our #1 Recommended Analytical Writing Prep Book:

GRE Analytical Writing: Solutions To The Real Essay Topics 

How Hard is Quantitative Reasoning

Quantitative Reasoning is the math section of the GRE. Unless a person has studied engineering or has a math-intensive degree, it’s likely they will find this section of the test difficult. With that said, the test only covers basic high school concepts. These are tables, graphs, basic statistics, basic geometry, and basic algebra.

If your field of study isn’t math-intensive, it’s easy to forget the math you learned in high school. A lot of people find themselves needing to study basic concepts because it’s been such a long time since they used them. Being unsure how to do a problem on the test is stressful, and stress leads to a lower overall score.

How to Make the Quantitative Reasoning Easier:

  • First of all, make sure you do a thorough review of your practice books and material. Ensure that you can grasp and understand all of the concepts.
  • Don’t waste your time attempting to predict what examples will appear on the GRE. The examples vary widely from year to year, and there’s no way to predict them.
  • Put your time and energy into practicing the basic concepts. If you know how to solve every equation that might be covered, you’ll be prepared for whatever the test throws at you.

Check out our #1 Recommended Quantitative Reasoning Prep Book:

ETS Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions

How Hard is Verbal Reasoning

One piece of the Verbal Reasoning test is a section on vocabulary words. You’ll be required to know the definition of a word, find synonyms or antonyms for a word, or fill in a sentence with a blank. This task is challenging because it tends to use obscure words that aren’t commonly found in everyday interactions and conversations.

This section is always hardest for people who don’t have English as a first language, but it’s also difficult for native English speakers who don’t read often. People with a limited English vocabulary have a smaller chance of knowing the words used in the test. Because the vocabulary required on this section is so sophisticated, it’s common for students to become stressed and confused by this part of the test.

How to Make the Verbal Reasoning Easier:

  • Allot a good amount of time to study practice websites and books to learn the vocabulary.
  • The ETS in particular will publish lists of words that should be known before you take the test. Make sure you access and study these.
  • Employ creative methods of studying to learn the vocabulary words. Some students are helped by flash cards, while others find that writing sentences helps the most. You can even practice using the new words in your day-to-day conversations!

Check out our #1 Recommended Verbal Reasoning Prep Book:

ETS Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions 

Related: Get scheduled for the upcoming GRE test dates 

Time Restriction

The final factor impacting the difficulty of the GRE is the limited time. The Analytical Writing section gives you thirty minutes for each essay. The Verbal Reasoning section gives you thirty minutes per section, with two sections. The Quantitative Reasoning section gives you thirty-five minutes per section, with two sections.

When you break the numbers down, you need to be able to answer each verbal question in an average of one and a half minutes. Each quantitative question should be answered in one minute and forty-five seconds.

Test takers can sometimes become stressed about the amount of time they’re taking on any one question. Stress causes people to lose their focus, which makes the test take longer than it should.

Related: A Proven GRE Study Plan for 1-6 Months

How to Get Better With GRE Timing:

  • Do practice tests to get a feel for the amount of time you should be spending on each question.
  • Do practice tests that simulate the strenuousness of the test environment. Two essays plus four multiple choice sections is a lot to deal with at one time!
  • When you get into the actual testing environment, relax. Make sure you get enough sleep the night before and have an adequate breakfast. Stay hydrated. And most of all, breathe!

Summary: How Hard Is the GRE?

The GRE can be difficult. It’s hard to deal with the long periods of time required for the test. You might have trouble with creating essays from scratch, or you might struggle with vocabulary or math review. But if you adequately utilize the preparation materials you’re given, you shouldn’t have any problem achieving a high score. Read What’s a Good GRE Score

The biggest factor in low scores is a lack of preparation. ETS creates so many preparatory materials, both free and paid, that it’s easy to avoid this. Breathe, relax, and get used to each section of the test. If there’s an area you know you struggle with, make sure you focus some extra practice time there before test day arrives.

Did you find this How Hard is the GRE article helpful? Which section gives you the most difficulty? Let us know by commenting below!

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