Is the New GRE Difficult for Pakistani Students?


Published May 31, 2012

Is the new GRE difficult for Pakistani students? Lately this question has become increasingly popular – time and again our teachers at BrightLink Prep are asked this question by our students.

The answer, however, varies for each section and question type of the new revised GRE. Today I will answer this query.

The Verbal Section

Reading Comprehension – Easier now than the Old GRE but still difficult for us, Pakistan students.

The good news is that in the new revised GRE there are fewer really long reading passages. The passages are also not that hard as compared to the old pattern but still GRE aspirants from Pakistan face a lot of difficulty on these types of questions.

So why is it a bane to our existence? Well the answer is simple – because most of us are not used to or habitual of reading regularly good English articles. Therefore most of us face a lot of challenge still. The solution is simple – make a habit of reading quality articles from magazines like New York Times, Economic Times, US News etc. A couple of months of regular reading will make things a lot easier.

Vocabulary – Slightly Easier (since we in Pakistan are good at cramming & memorizing in short bursts)

No longer will you have to stare down really complex words — anyone knows what a hominidae is? — Well don’t worry if you don’t, because now there are no analogies or antonyms for which you needed to learn over 3000 words previously. Now you will be tested on more common GRE vocabulary in context. From what I have seen is that vocabulary is now a lighter part of the verbal section for all of my students. But still learning 1200 to 1500 words is a must – a lot easier than before.

Text Completions – A lot Harder.

Why? The answer also lies in the fact that we are not used to reading quality English – the one tested on the GRE. Moreover most us of us are also not familiar with structure nuances of text completions – like what does a colon, semi colon etc. mean? All these and many more structures are tested time and again on the new GRE.

For those who have the habit, they need not worry a bit because they’ll instantly know what the test is about. For those who don’t, let me warn you that the new GRE has decided to unleash not just a new type of text Completion, but also a new answer choice format. They consist of either one, two or three blanks. While each blank only has one of three answer choices, you have to answer all of them correctly. The chance of randomly guessing is no longer equal 1 in 5, but 1 in 27 on the three-blank text 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 Choice Questions with multiple answers (MCQMAs) – Harder.

MCQMAs, as I refer to them, are a very new type of questions not only on the new GRE but also what students in Pakistan are familiar with. Very few even know what the question is about. These questions will have three possible answer choices, any number of which can be correct. Some of these will have up to seven choices of which you have to choose all the correct ones. Of course random guesses will not at all work in these questions.

They can come up anywhere on the new GRE, making this more difficult. A lot of us are not apt at dealing with unexpected situations or questions on the test. Therefore this adds more to our problems. 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.

The Math Section

Solutions & Computation – A lot Easier.

The new GRE allows you us use calculators. Most Pakistani students are not very good at mental computations and mathematics. We are more used to calculators – hence in this perspective the new GRE is much easier now. 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.

Content and topics – Hard to Very Hard.

The math content covers topics from arithmetic, algebra, probability, geometry, permutations and combinations. It’s not the topics that are difficult for students in Pakistan. It’s the way GRE tests you on these. For instance we all are very good at taking the LCM or HCF of 2 or more numbers. But GRE doesn’t test that. It tests your analytical prowess by giving you the LCM and HCF and then asks you to find the actual numbers, which is much harder.

So basically for all of us, math is after all not that easy – and on the GRE even the best flounder on the quant sections. Of the entire topics tested on the GRE, probability and permutations/combinations challenge students the most. Why? Answer again is very simple. We all have the tendency to skip these question types and topics at our Matric/O and FSc/A – level. We avoid them totally or do them superficially.

Numeric Entry – Harder.

Numeric Entry requires you to answer a math question by typing the answer into an empty box. This is 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 Choice Questions with multiple answers (MCQMAs) – Harder.

Just like the GRE verbal section, the GRE math section will have questions with multiple answers. However, on the math section, MCQMAs 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 impossible).


Duration – Much Harder.

Students in Pakistan are not used to 4 hours of non-stop high stress testing. You’ll need to have marathonic concentration powers.

Non-Adaptive Nature – Easier.

On the new GRE, you will be able to return to questions within a section – change, review or edit as you wish. 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. This functionality was not on the old GRE. Hence in this respect, the new pattern is far easier.


So is the new GRE harder for Pakistani students? Undoubtedly Yes.

But does it really matter whether the new GRE is harder? Yes it does – because you are competing against the same pool of students at a global level. Your score is based on how you do versus other students taking the new GRE around the world. And to be honest Pakistani’s do not fare too well when compared to them.

Final Advice

Give yourself 2 months of full dedication to prepare for the GRE exam – devout 5-6 hours each day. It’s a really tough exam and you’ll have to work your heart out to get a top score. This is not meant to scare you out of the taking the GRE exam but only to WARN you against the potential threats.

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Every GRE student measures success differently. For some, it may be a 320/340 on the GRE or finally realizing you aren’t bad at math. For others, it could be to score just enough to pass the GRE test. For us, it is the score that makes you happy!

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