What Makes GRE English Difficult Over GMAT

The title obviously means GRE English is more difficult than that of GMAT. If you do not believe or are strongly opposed to my view, please read through the article before passing it off as a wrongly researched article!

Firstly, let us list down the parameters to determine the difficulty level of a paper. As a trainer for the last decade, I realized that a paper can be made extremely difficult, even when it has simple questions, by controlling the format of the exam. For example, it is easier to score in a paper with 30 min for 20 MCQ questions as compared to a 30 min paper with same questions but this time the answers need to be entered by the candidate. It is then only logical that we analyze the two exams not only by the absolute level of difficulty of the questions but also by the way in which the questions are presented.

Let us first list out the verbal sections in GRE and GMAT. Please note, I am not including AWA as it does not form a part of the final score and restricting myself only to the scoring portions.

  • Sentence Equivalence
  • Text Completion
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Critical Reasoning
  • Sentence Correction
  • Reading Comprehension

As you can clearly observe, except for the Reading Comprehension part, there is no commonality between the two sections. As expected, there is not much of a difference in the RC part except for the number of questions that come in the exams. The GRE English has almost approximately 50% of the questions dedicated to the RC section, whereas for GMAT it is close to a third. Another difference is that the RC in GMAT is slightly business oriented as compared to the GRE passages. But then again this should not be a surprise given that GMAT has a historically strong acceptance in the top b schools of the world.

Sentence Equivalence does not appear in GMAT but appears only in GRE. Almost a fourth of the GRE questions are from this section. If you look at the questions, you will notice that these are not very difficult. But what makes these questions extremely tricky and thereby difficult is that each question can have multiple options correct. Each question has one blank and one has to figure out what the best possible ways are to fill the blank. There are 6 options and more than one can be a good fit (usually two options are correct). No partial marks are allotted, and a student has to mark all the correct answers to get marks for that particular question. A sample is given below (taken from ETS) -

Q) The corporation expects only _______ increases in sales next year despite a yearlong effort to revive its retailing business.

  • A. dynamic
  • B. predictable
  • C. expanding
  • D. modest
  • E. slight
  • F. volatile
Correct Answer: D and E

Text Completion is once again unique to GRE. Almost 25% of questions appear from this section. If it were a simple single blank with 4 options, this section would not have been a head scratcher for most of the aspirants. However, each question has 2-3 blanks. To make it worse, each blank has 3 options. So, one has a total of 6-9 options to choose from. A sample is given below (taken from ETS)

Q) It is refreshing to read a book about our planet by an author who does not allow facts to be
(1)__________ by politics: well aware of the political disputes about the effects of human activities on climate and biodiversity, this author does not permit them to
(2)__________ his comprehensive description of what we know about our biosphere. He emphasizes the enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations, and the
(3)________, calling attention to the many aspects of planetary evolution that must be better understood before we can accurately diagnose the condition of our planet.

Blank (1) Blank (2) Blank (3)
overshadowed enhance plausibility of our hypotheses
invalidated obscure certainty of our entitlement
illuminated underscore superficiality of our theories
Correct Answer: overshadowed, obscure, and superficiality of our theories

Critical Reasoning has a 30% -35% weightage in GMAT but barely appears in GRE. There could be a question or two in GRE coming under the RC section based on the info provided in the passage. However, GMAT, gives a lot of importance to this section as it assesses how well a person can think critically (which is imperative for a manager). The questions have a small case with 5 options and only one of the options is correct. The questions are not really difficult, and a student will be able to score well with practice. Since these are new type of questions that students don't usually come across, one might find them difficult; something that a bit of practice can easily take care of! A sample question from the official GMAT site is given below -

Q) The cost of producing radios in Country Q is ten percent less than the cost of producing radios in Country Y. Even after transportation fees and tariff charges are added, it is still cheaper for a company to import radios from Country Q to Country Y than to produce radios in Country Y.

The statements above, if true, best support which of the following assertions?

  • (A) Labor costs in Country Q are ten percent below those in Country Y.
  • (B) Importing radios from Country Q to Country Y will eliminate ten percent of the manufacturing jobs in Country Y.
  • (C) The tariff on a radio imported from Country Q to Country Y is less than ten percent of the cost of manufacturing the radio in Country Y.
  • (D) The fee for transporting a radio from Country Q to Country Y is more than ten percent of the cost of manufacturing the radio in Country Q.
  • (E) It takes ten percent less time to manufacture a radio in Country Q than it does in Country Y.
Answer: (C)

Sentence correction once again has a 30% - 35% weightage in the GMAT exam and is non-existent in the GRE exam. This is purely grammar based and tests some specific areas. The questions are straight forward with 5 options to choose from and only one correct answer. While the answers are not easy to get, there are no tricks in this section. So, a student with sound fundamentals of grammar can easily ace this section. A sample question taken from the official GMAT site is given below -

Q) While larger banks can afford to maintain their own data-processing operations, many smaller regional and community banks are finding that the cost associated with upgrading data-processing equipment and with the development and maintenance of new products and technical staff are prohibitive.

  • (A) cost associated with
  • (B) costs associated with
  • (C) costs arising from
  • (D) cost of
  • (E) costs of
Answer: (B)

Conclusion: based on the information above, I believe one would agree that the questions in GMAT are actually more difficult than those of GRE; however, GRE ends up being difficult just because of the structure of the questions. If all GRE questions are also converted to a 5-option type, they would become a notch or two easier! Also, one has to note that GRE verbal is overall loaded heavily with vocabulary type questions whereas GMAT has little importance to vocabulary but has significant grammar elements. So, if you are deciding to give GRE or GMAT for a college that accepts any of the scores, you have to decide based on your strengths - vocabulary or grammar!