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The Graduate Record Examinations or GRE is a standardised test taken by graduate students willing to get admission to master’s programs abroad. There are more than just simple explanations of what the GRE is all about. Getting familiar with the test and its specifications will help you to better prepare for it. This will also assist you in seeking the answer to the most asked question – “Is GRE tough?”

Students are required to have a decent GRE score to crack the test. But how hard is the GRE exam to score good marks? To help you understand this better, here we have discussed all the essential information related to the difficulty level of the test, its difficulty in comparison with the other tests and much more.

Overview of GRE Exam and Difficulty Level

The GRE exam is one of the popular tests for admission to a master’s program at the top universities abroad. The GRE scores have been widely accepted in over 160 countries in more than 1,300 study institutions worldwide. 

Well, if you are thinking, how tough is GRE to score?. The answer is quite not easy as the GRE is not exactly difficult but a bit challenging. You might need a lot of dedicated hours to score good marks to make it to the top MS colleges abroad. 

How Tough is the GRE Exam?

GRE is typically considered more complex than other tests like SAT or ACT. The reason being its more challenging vocabulary and reading sections.

Most of the questions asked in the test require you to have a higher level of reasoning skills. For example, the mathematical sections have higher-order reasoning with more complicated wordings. These problems check your critical thinking ability more than the actual arithmetic skills.

Toughness of GRE As Compared to Other Exams

Is the GRE exam tough in comparison to other standardised tests like SAT, GMAT etc? Every aspirant has this most common question while preparing for the exam. Although the difficulty level of an exam depends on its various factors, here we have compared the GRE test with others in terms of its syllabus.


In terms of SAT vs GRE, the types of questions asked in GRE are more logic-oriented, whereas the SAT are mostly calculation based. GRE paper has a little bit tougher structure than the SAT. The GRE contains many tricky questions that check the student’s critical thinking skills, whereas the SAT is somewhat more straightforward.


Between IELTS vs GRE, IELTS is perceived to be easier if you are an English aspirant, but it doesn’t assure you will ace the test. A dedicated practice and preparation are required to qualify for the IELTS test. The GRE, on the other hand is comparatively difficult as it requires you to have a higher level of reasoning skills with a strong vocabulary.


If we talk about the comparison between TOEFL and GRE, the GRE is considered as much harder than TOEFL as it has more difficult questions of quantitative and reading passages with sophisticated wordings. The mathematics part of the GMAT is also of a lower level compared to other exams.


To talk of GMAT vs GRE, both are quite similar in major aspects from the syllabus to their acceptance. But the GMAT test comes with an extra section of integrated reasoning, whereas GRE has no such section.

The quantitative reasoning questions asked in the GMAT are harder than the GRE test for most of the applicants. GMAT has more challenging and tricky questions in comparison to the GRE test. If you are an aspirant with more expertise in solving logical questions, then the GMAT test suits you the most. It is because the GRE paper contains a lot of geometrical questions. 

Hence, if you are asking, is GRE exam tough in comparison to other tests? The answer is GRE is harder than tests such as SAT, TOEFL, or IELTS but not as difficult as GMAT. 

What Makes the GRE Hard?

How hard is the GRE test? The most popular query for every graduate student looking to get into the top universities. To answer your question, here we have listed some of the GRE test components which make it difficult among the aspirants. 

  • Difficult Vocabulary
  • Tricky Wordings
  • Computer Adaptive
  • Time Factors
  • Two Essays
  • Content 

Difficult Vocabulary

The majority of the GRE difficulty may lie in its advanced vocabulary section. Its sophisticated words can be used not only for its language section but also in its sections and essay prompt. Most of the questions ask aspirants to fill up the words or sets in the blanks, challenge your sentence correction and critical thinking knowledge with a higher vocabulary.

This will require you to brush up your English language skills and become familiar with the vocabulary words used in previous tests.

Tricky Wordings

Although the vocabulary choices are tough, many of the questions are pretty harder. Out of which various questions require you to use your logical analysis skills to solve the questions. These may not only take your major time to solve but also use your multiple sections of the brain at once. 

To avoid this problem, you can solve as many GRE practice tests which help you to see through the GRE’s trick in solving questions.

Computer Adaptive

Since the GRE is computer adaptive in nature which may increase its difficulty to score better. If you have completed any section correctly, then no one knows about the next section as sometimes the next section looks similar but has a higher difficulty level or vice versa. 

This shows that your GMAT score is based on the number of questions you have answered correctly and its difficulty level. The more difficult questions answered correctly, the higher score you get.


Timing is also another aspect that makes the GRE test hard. You will get only 30 minutes to solve each essay part and an average time of one minute and 30 seconds for solving the verbal questions. And each quantitative part requires you to spend an average of one minute and 45 seconds.

How tough is GRE exam because of this time-bound? Even if you know every question, you won’t get the highest score if you don’t solve a lot of questions as you have run out of time. You need to work and practice daily on your speed to ace the GRE with the highest marks.

Two Essays

The GRE test contains two essays compared to other tests. You must write both essays in an hour with no breaks between them. This can be extremely intimidating for some students, especially those with slow speed. 

So, to solve it in the given duration, try to sharpen your writing skills and learn to develop and be able to express your opinions in an hour.


Another factor that comes to everyone’s mind if we look at how hard is the GRE exam interms of its contents? The content asked in the GMAT test is majorly based on the high school and undergraduate syllabus, i.e. algebra, higher geometry, data tables, and statistics of quantitative sections. While the verbal section includes modifiers, parallelism, agreement, grammar etc. 

Though, the syllabus seems easier but the type of questions framed from these are a bit tricky to solve. The GRE test questions always try to mislead or trick you into focusing on the wrong things, which may cost you a lot of valuable time in the test.

So these are some of the components of the GMAT test which make it hard to solve.

Frequently Asked Questions About Is GRE Tough

How hard is it to secure a 338 mark on the GRE?

Only a limited number of students of the full GMAT test takers can get a 330+ score. This doesn’t show that the rest 90% cannot achieve 330+ marks. What it means is that not everyone who appears wants a 340 score. The majority of the students only need an average GRE score, which is between 160 to 220.

Is the GRE preparation easy to get admission to an abroad university?

The GRE exam preparation is not that easy, but it is definitely pursuable. Once you have covered all the concepts and plan the GRE study, you can have a higher chance to score good marks.

How much time is required to prepare for the GRE test?

With a consistent study of 3 hours daily, one can cover all the important sections of the GRE standardised test well within 10 to 12 weeks.

What Makes the GRE Hard?

Why is the GRE hard? Below are six of the exam’s most difficult aspects, along with who is affected most by each factor and what you can do to help overcome the issue.

Factor 1: Challenging Vocabulary

One of the more difficult aspects of the GRE is its vocabulary. Fully half of the Verbal Reasoning section tests your knowledge of some pretty obscure and sophisticated vocabulary. Throughout this section you’ll be asked to select words or sets of words to fill in the blanks in sentences. Even if you did well on vocab questions on the SAT or ACT, the GRE has more challenging vocabulary, so you’ll likely still need to do some review.

Who This Affects Most: ESL students not as familiar with the English language.

How to Overcome It: Fortunately, the GRE repeats many of the vocab words it tests, so you can study and become familiar with the most common vocab words by making flashcards and quizzing yourself.

Factor 2: Requires Solid Math Knowledge

Most people who take the SAT or ACT do so while they’re in high school and likely taking regular math classes. However, for some people who take the GRE, it may be years since they’ve last taken a math class or had to put their geometry skills to use. Or you may just have always disliked math and thought you were done with it once you finished your undergrad math requirements.

Either of these situations can make the GRE harder because you may have to make up a lot of ground in order to get your math skills to where they need to be. The Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE tests algebra, geometry, data tables and graphs, and basic statistics, so you’ll need to have solid knowledge of each of these areas in order to do well on that part of the exam.

Who This Affects Most: People who haven’t taken a math class or used a lot of math recently, such as humanities majors, and those who’ve never been comfortable with math.

How to Overcome It: Prep books are a great way to improve your knowledge of GRE math. There are many prep books available to help you become more familiar with the math tested on the GRE. You can also supplement with additional resources, such as math videos from Khan Academy, if you’d like more in-depth information on a topic.

Factor 3: Tricky Wording of Questions

In addition to testing your knowledge of multiple areas of math, the GRE makes itself even more challenging by wording questions in ways that require more logic and analysis to find the correct answer. This is especially true in the Quantitative Reasoning section. Even though the math tested isn’t that challenging, the wording often makes it harder than the quantitative sections of the SAT and ACT.

How is the GRE hard because of this? This can be an especially frustrating aspect of the exam because you may know all the content needed to do well, but you end up getting tripped up by the wording of the questions by not understanding what’s being asked or being fooled into selecting an incorrect answer.

Who This Affects Most: Those who haven’t taken standardized tests recently or don’t have a lot of experience with them.

How to Overcome It: The way to avoid this issue is to do so many practice problems that you begin to see through the GRE’s tricks and are no longer fooled by them. Take multiple practice quizzes and tests and, for each one, go through every question you answered incorrectly and make sure you understand what went wrong so you can avoid making those same mistakes in the future.

Factor 4: Time Crunch

Like most standardized tests, the GRE doesn’t give you much time to answer each question. You’ll get 30 minutes to write each essay and an average of one minute and 30 seconds to answer each verbal question and one minute and 45 seconds to answer each math question. That means you’ll have to be aware of the time for the entire test.

How difficult is the GRE because of time pressure? Even if you know everything you need to know in order to ace the GRE, you won’t get a high score if you can’t answer a lot of questions because you ran out of time. You’ll need to work quickly and efficiently throughout the test in order to get to all the questions.

Who This Affects Most: Slow readers and people who struggle to complete standardized tests (or any tests) in the time allotted.

How to Overcome It: Practice, practice, practice! The more familiar you become with the GRE and the types of questions it asks, the more quickly you’ll be able to answer questions. Be sure to take timed practice exams to see which sections you run out of time most often on and to track your progress. Also be aware of where you tend to spend a lot of time. Do the critical reading passages take you forever to get through? Do you get stuck on a math problem and lose track of the time, wasting valuable minutes trying to solve it? Focus specifically on eliminating these problem areas, and make it a habit to move onto the next question if you’ve spent over a minute looking at a question and still have no idea how to solve it.

actor 5: Difficult Writing Section

The Analytical Writing section of the GRE requires you to write two essays, which is more than most other standardized tests: The first essay will ask you to take a position on an issue and support that idea with evidence, and the second prompt will ask you to critique the weaknesses in a given argument. You’ll have 30 minutes to complete each essay.

Many people find the Analytical Writing section intimidating because you can’t just select choice “A” and hope for the best. You’ll have to compose two complete essays within an hour.

Who This Affects Most: ESL students and those who aren’t confident in their writing skills.

How to Overcome It: Become familiar with the essay prompts and essay rubrics so you know what to expect. ETS also has published the entire list of possible prompts for both the Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument essays, so you can know exactly what to expect.

Factor 6: Computerized Test and Adaptive Format

The SAT and ACT are both still taken with paper and pencil, but almost everyone who takes the GRE does so on the computer. This can throw some people for a loop because they’re not used to seeing questions and answers on a screen and they prefer to be able to hold and write directly on the test. This means you may need to change some of your test-taking strategies, such as scribbling notes in the margins or crossing out answers you’ve eliminated.

Additionally, the GRE is also section-level adaptive. There are two sections each for Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning, and how well you do on the first section of each subject determines the overall difficulty of the questions in the second section. The better you did on the first section, the more difficult the questions will be on the second section. Some test-takers are stressed or confused by adaptive testing and waste valuable test time trying to estimate how well they did on the first section by judging the difficulty of questions in the second section.

Who This Affects Most: People not used to computer-based or adaptive testing.

How to Overcome It: Familiarize yourself with the format of the computer-based GRE. ETS, the people who create and administer the GRE, have two computer-based practice GREs you can download for free. These follow the exact format of the computer-based GRE so you know what to expect on test day. Try to take additional unofficial GREs on the computer as well to become more comfortable with the format. As for adaptive testing, don’t let it affect you or the way you answer test questions. Trying to guess how well you’ve done won’t help you get a higher score, and it will only cause you to lose time on the test. Focus on the questions in front of you, and don’t worry about your score until you’ve finished the exam.

Factor 7: It’s Multiple Choice

Another point to remember is that, no matter how tricky a question is on Verbal or Quantitative Reasoning, you can always take a random guess and hope for the best since the exam is multiple choice. Besides the Analytical Writing section, the entire GRE is multiple choice; there are no fill-in-the-blank or short answer questions.

There’s also no penalty for guessing, so if you have no idea how to solve a problem, give it your best guess and don’t stress too much about it.

Factor 8: All Reading Comprehension Questions Must Be Objectively Correct

Reading Comprehension questions, which require you to read a passage on a specific topic and answer multiple questions on it, may seem daunting, but they’re actually often easier than you may think.

This is because every single Reading Comprehension question must be objectively correct. This means that, for every question, there is an answer that is supported evidence in the passage itself. You’ll never need to solve a question by going with what “feels right” because there will always be proof in the passage. You just need to find it!

Factor 9: No Advanced Math Knowledge Is Required

Even though the math questions on the GRE can be tricky, they actually test a lower level of math than many other standardized tests do. There are no trigonometry or calculus questions on the GRE, so you don’t have to worry about knowing those subjects to do well on the test.

The Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE only tests algebra, geometry, data tables and graphs, and basic statistics, so even if you haven’t taken math in a while, you’ll only need to review a limited set of concepts, all of which you’ve likely been taught already. Also, you’ll have access to an on-screen calculator during Quantitative Reasoning sections so you won’t have to worry about doing arithmetic by hand.

Factor 10: You May Only Need to Worry About One Section

Here’s an awesome piece of potential news: you may only really need to worry about one section of the GRE. For many grad programs, admissions officers are only really interested in your scores for the GRE section that relates to what you plan to study (and most don’t consider your Writing score a major factor in admissions decisions). So, if you’re applying to a grad program in chemistry, your Quantitative Reasoning score would be more important, and if you apply to an American literature program, it’d be your Verbal Reasoning score that matters more.

This isn’t true for every program, and, even if it is, it doesn’t mean you can completely check out during the other sections, but for many programs it does mean you only have to get an average score on one section, leaving you more time to concentrate on the other section. This means that, in many cases, you now only need to worry about getting a top score on one section of the test instead of the entire GRE.

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