If you’re preparing for the GRE General Test to apply to graduate schools, you may have heard people say that the GRE was surprisingly difficult. So, you may be wondering, “Is the GRE getting tougher?” In this article, I’ll provide a comprehensive answer to that question. I’ll discuss both how the difficulty level of the GRE has changed in the past and whether the difficulty of the GRE is increasing currently.
Here are the topics we’ll cover:
How the Difficulty of the GRE Changed in the Past
One thing that is clear is that the difficulty level of the GRE General Test did increase in the past. In fact, the difficulty of the GRE increased significantly in 2011, when major changes were made to the test.
The 2011 Revision of the GRE
Partly to make the GRE more appropriate for business school applicants, in 2011, ETS made major changes to it. These changes included drastic changes in the format and scoring of the GRE. They also included an increase in the difficulty of the GRE.
The types of questions in the Quantitative section were changed so that the questions required more advanced mathematical reasoning. Also, numeric entry questions that require the test-taker to create an answer rather than simply choose one were added. In the Verbal section, ETS replaced questions about analogies and antonyms with Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions, which require more complex reasoning.
ETS’s goal was to make the GRE “better reflect the types of reasoning, critical thinking, and analysis” used in graduate school. With ETS’s achievement of that goal came an increase in difficulty.
In 2011, ETS revised the GRE, making the new GRE more difficult than the previous one.
Meanwhile, changes in the difficulty of the GRE did not stop in 2011. After 2011, the difficulty of the GRE continued to drift upward.
The Post-2011 Upward Drift in GRE Difficulty
Even after the revision of the GRE in 2011, the difficulty of the GRE was still lower than that of the GMAT, for which the GRE had to a degree become a substitute. So, for that and other reasons, over the next several years, ETS continued to increase the difficulty of the math section. Consequently, toward the end of the twenty-teens, GRE Quant was a little harder than it had been in 2011.
For several years after the 2011 revision, the GRE continued to become more difficult.
So, we know that the GRE got harder in 2011, and then over the next several years. But what about more recently? Let’s discuss the answer to that question now.
Has the GRE Become Tougher Recently?
If you talk with people who have taken the GRE recently, you’ll likely hear from some that the GRE is still getting tougher. Many test-takers come away from the GRE saying that it’s harder than the official PowerPrep Plus practice tests that were released in 2017 and 2019. Others say that the GRE is harder than they remember it being when they took it a few years ago. So, it could appear that the GRE has continued to become harder, but what’s the truth?
Here’s my take, given what I’ve heard from many GRE test-takers, including some who work in GRE test prep. Some have said that the GRE is harder than it was. Others have said that it’s about the same. Some others have said they found it easier than the official GRE practice tests. Having reviewed everything they’ve all said, my take is that the GRE is not getting tougher currently, or at most has become very slightly harder.
Also, here’s something to consider. Though ETS tries to keep the difficulty of the GRE consistent, the questions on some GREs are slightly harder than the questions on others. Thus, there are a range of difficulties of the GRE. So, it seems possible that the midpoint of the GRE difficulty range is slightly higher than it was in the late twenty-teens. It may not be higher, however.
So, in recent years, there has been little to no increase in the difficulty of the GRE.
Aggregate information from test-takers indicates that, in recent years, there has been little to no increase in the difficulty of the GRE.
Now, if the difficulty of the GRE has remained about the same, why do many people say it’s getting harder? Let’s discuss.
If the GRE Is Not Getting Tougher, Why Do People Say It Is?
There are a few reasons why people say the GRE has been getting harder in recent years. One is that, as we just discussed, the difficulty of the questions on the GRE varies slightly from test to test. So, people who, by the luck of the draw, get slightly harder GRE questions get the impression that the GRE is harder than it was. However, it’s not harder on average.
Another factor is test-day stress. Test-day stress can cause people’s GRE scores to be lower than their GRE practice test scores. For this reason, people get the impression that the GRE has become more difficult than the official practice tests. Thus, they also get the impression that the GRE has become more difficult than the past GRE that the official practice tests were created to match.
Finally, underpreparation for the GRE can cause people to get the impression that the GRE has become harder. Underprepared test-takers can see on the GRE questions unlike any they encountered when preparing for the GRE. So, they may assume that they are seeing new types of questions that make the GRE harder than it was.
People get the impression that the GRE is getting tougher because of variations in question difficulty, test-day stress, and underpreparation for the GRE.
Let’s now answer some common questions about the difficulty of the GRE.
Is the GRE at Home More Difficult Than the Test Center GRE?
The GRE at home is not more difficult than the test center GRE. ETS is careful to keep the two tests’ difficulties the same, so that all GRE scores have the same meaning. This makes sense, since the point of standardized tests such as the GRE is to provide consistent measurements of skills.
Meanwhile, some test-takers actually find the at-home GRE easier than the in-person GRE because of the advantages of a comfortable environment.
Is the GRE More Difficult During Some Times of the Year?
Although more people take the GRE during some times of the year, the difficulty of the GRE remains the same. Also, the difficulty of the GRE is the same from one day of the week to the next. ETS does not adjust the difficulty of the GRE because of test-taker behavior or performance. Rather, ETS seeks to keep the difficulty of the GRE constant throughout the year, so that GRE scores are standardized.
Let’s now wrap up by summarizing what we have discussed.
Key Takeaways: Is the GRE Getting Tougher?
Here is what we’ve seen regarding the difficulty of the GRE:
- When the GRE was revised in 2011, the GRE became significantly more difficult.
- The difficulty of the GRE continued to drift higher for several years following the revision of the GRE in 2011.
- In recent years, there has been little to no change in the difficulty of the GRE, though some test-takers perceive the difficulty to have increased.
So, the final answer is that, currently, the GRE is either not getting tougher at all or not changing much.
If you’re wondering how to score higher on the GRE, you can get some key insights from our post on how to improve your GRE score.
Also, you can learn how to reduce the number of careless errors you make from our post on improving your accuracy on the GRE.