As a GRE instructor, I get asked a lot whether or not the GRE is hard. My answer is simply this: The GRE is not hard, the GRE is tricky.
So basically let me elaborate on what makes the GRE tricky but not hard. We all know that the content of the GRE is all O-levels or Matric level – from arithmetic to probability to reading comprehensions. In fact the content is so basic that most of us taking the GRE have almost forgotten that we ever studied this stuff. Moreover no college or university level content is tested on the GRE. This is because the GRE wants to test everyone on common ground – so for instance if you studied 4 years in you Bachelors doing engineering from NUST or UET and another student did fashion design from NCA, then you would be far better on advanced quantitative topics because you had more exposure to the content. By testing only school level topics, the ETS makes sure that all test takers are tested on the same platform.
Now the good thing about testing material from school days is that everyone is familiar with the content – and frankly speaking the content is not that difficult. Therefore the GRE has to somehow make difficult questions on easy material – so how do they do it?
Most students would score higher if there was no time limit to answer the GRE questions. Therefore in order to make the test more stressful, the ETS cuts short the time you have to complete the test. This adds a lot more pressure – with time running out, you have little time to think and work on solving a question. This makes you more likely to err on a question that would otherwise be solved easily if there was ample time.
Provide only a Basic Calculator
By providing a basic mathematical online calculator which is tedious to use, the GRE make easy questions more difficult. This gives the GRE test makers a big opportunity to increase the difficulty level of the questions by allowing a basic calculator that is not only difficult to use but also is limited in its utility. For instance it cannot help you solve the following question:
What is the square root of 44736903121?
So someone who prepares the GRE thinking that all mathematical computations can be left at the mercy of the calculator will greatly falter on the test day. Then how would you solve this question? Well, in order to solve this question you need to utilize the concept of unit digits. For example if you multiply two or more numbers, the unit digit of the result will be the product of the unit digits of the multiplying numbers.
This is precisely the reason what makes the GRE tricky rather than difficult. As you can see the above problem is not hard – it utilizes a very basic concept from the place values of digits.
No Grammar or Spell checker
In analytical writing you have to type the essay – there’s no spell or grammar check on the AWA. Since we all are usually accustomed to writing with Microsoft word which has an embedded spell or grammar checker, it gets really hard to write without it on the GRE. Moreover it adds to the frustration – this is what the GRE is looking for.
A lot of times students try to use brute force to prepare for the GRE. By brute force I mean, for example, they will learn tons of vocabulary to make sure that they will do well – they are sadly mistaken. If you try to use force you will face a lot of resistance. However if you understand that the GRE tests your approach rather than knowledge, you will do far better. Your job while preparing for the test is to learn the approach.