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Will the New GRE be Harder?

With less than three months to go, this question is becoming exceedingly important. Many of my own GRE students are now wondering, do I wait to take the GRE? Can I throw away all these annoying flashcards?

The answer, however, is not that straightforward. Below, I will touch on the most salient features of the two GRE tests to help you answer the question: will the new GRE be harder?


Reading Comprehension – Easier

Okay, the good news: there will be fewer long reading comprehension passages. From what I can glean from the revised GRE book, the passages also won’t be as hard (that is dense, dry and dull) as those found in the old GRE book. Indeed, some passages will feel more like short encyclopedia entries or pieces you’d read in a pop-science magazine. Sure, there will be some harder GRE passages, but on the whole, the reading comprehension should be a little easier.

Vocabulary – Easier

Don’t throw away your flashcards just yet. You will still have to know the difference between such confusing GRE vocabulary words as exacerbating and exasperating. No longer, however, will you have to stare down really arcane words—anyone know what a troglodyte is?—wondering what could possibly be the opposite of a word you’ve never seen before. Instead, you will be tested on more common GRE vocabulary in context. That’s right, antonyms and analogies will no longer be part of the test.

Sentence Completions – Harder

But it can’t all be easier. So, the new GRE has decided to unleash not just a new type of Sentence Completion, but also a new answer choice format. First, with the question types: they are called Text Completions. Essentially, they consist of either two or three blanks. While each blank only has one of three answer choices, you have to answer all three correctly. The chances of randomly guessing no longer equal 1 in 5, but 1 in 27 on the three-blank Sentence Completions.

But the new GRE is not done there in terms of making things harder. The Text-Completion will be accompanied by the Sentence Equivalence question. This question looks very similar to a one-blank sentence completion on the current GRE. However, there will be six possible answer choices, and you will have to choose two of the six (that’s 1 out of 15 for those of you who know your combinations and permutations).

Multiple Answer Questions (MAQs) – Harder

This type of question can pop up anywhere on the new GRE, making the test potentially more difficult than the current GRE. The reason I say potentially is that some students deal better with ambiguity. For instance, on Sentence Equivalence questions (see above) having to choose two answer choices has proved to be harder for some of my students, who prefer sentence completions with one answer choice.

Multiple Answer Questions (MAQs), as I refer to them, can also pop up in the new GRE reading comprehension. Some questions will have three possible answer choices, any number of which can be correct. That works out to a 1 in 7 chance of randomly guessing correctly. Again, it is the ambiguity of not knowing how many answers could be correct that makes this question harder for some students than the 1 in 7 odds suggest.


Computation – Easier

The new GRE allows you to use calculators. Unless you are technophobic to the point that anything with buttons frightens you, the use of a calculator will make the test easier. On the other hand, if mental math is your strong point it will no longer give you as much competitive advantage over other GRE test takers. Still, many problems can be solved faster with simple mental math than recourse to a calculator.


For the most part, the math section on the new GRE will not differ in terms of content. I’ve noticed a little more focus on coordinate geometry—parabolas, absolute value graphs, etc.—in the ETS revised GRE book, but, otherwise, I would say it’s business as usual: ratios, triangles, rates, mixtures, algebra.

New Question Type: Numeric Entry – Harder

Numeric Entry requires you to answer a math question by typing the answer into an empty box. This is the one area on the new GRE that most students will unequivocally say is harder. You will no longer be able to select from a group of answer choices. It is you and your math abilities vs. a blank box.

Multiple Answer Questions (MAQs)Harder

Just like the GRE verbal section, the GRE math section will have questions with multiple answers. However, on the math section, MAQs will be even more complicated. Some questions will have as many as ten possible answer choices, any of which can be correct (that makes guessing correctly a highly unlikely prospect).


Duration – Harder

I could have put longer instead of harder, because the new GRE will require you to spend an hour longer in the testing center. Unless you have marathonic concentration powers, I would say the four-hour duration won’t benefit anybody.

Non-Adaptive Nature – Easier

Currently on the GRE, you are not allowed to return to a question. If you get a question incorrect you will generally be given an easier question. Additionally, the beginning of the test will be weighted more than the end. These elements make up what is known as a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT). This format can be the bane of many students, especially when they get stuck on a question and can’t let go.

However, on the new GRE, you will not have to contend with this difficulty. You will be able to return to questions within a section. And, it is your overall performance—not how you do on a question-to-question basis—that determines whether you move on to a harder section or an easier one.


So which will be harder? According to the scores below we have:

Current GRE –Harder (4 total)

New GRE – Harder (5 total)

Does it Really Matter Whether the New GRE is Harder?

So, does this tally really mean the new GRE will be harder than the old one? The reality is the new GRE may be a little more difficult overall, but in the end it may not even matter. Simply put, you are competing against the same pool of students who were taking the old GRE.* You score is based on how you do versus other students taking the new GRE.

*This may begin to change if more business school candidates begin to take the new GRE.


The answer to this question really comes down to a case-by-case basis—we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Below, I will explore which type of student could benefit from taking the new GRE.

Text-Completions/Sentence Equivalence

The changes in these sections reward those who read more often. Or stated another way—Text Completions and Sentence Equivalence questions focus more on context recognition, and less on the explicit meaning of words. So you don’t really have to know the exact definition of the word, but generally the type of word(s) a Sentence Equivalence or a Text Completion requires.


If vocabulary is a weakness, or you simply despise learning words, then you may want to wait for the new GRE.


If mental math is your bane, you may want to take advantage of the calculator and take the new GRE. Also, if any of the points I mentioned for the math section are already causing anxiety, e.g. the Numeric Entity, or if looking at a blank box fills you with existential dread, you should probably wait for the new GRE.


If you’ve been studying for the current GRE, but are wondering whether to wait for the new GRE, unless you fell into one of the categories above, I would take the current GRE. Prepping for the new GRE will mean extra ramp up time getting familiarized with the test. This process alone could make the new GRE harder. So, if you’ve been prepping for the current GRE, take it now. Don’t wait only to have to learn a new test, regardless of the overlap.

If you’re not in this category and have just started prepping for GRE, then do the following: buy both the Practicing to Take the GRE Test 11th Edition and The Official Guide to the GRE revised General Test. Take the CD practice tests at home, and compare your scores. Then you will have the answer, for the person who matters the most, to whether the new GRE will be harder than the current one.

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