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What Are the Hardest GRE Math Questions?

Last Updated On: April 18, 2021

GRE prep is never easy, but math prep can be especially difficult. Most students don't know what problems to focus on and end up wasting time on the wrong things.

Start with the hard GRE questions. Solve them, and you'll have no trouble on the actual exam. Here are five practice questions to start with.

What’s the Benefit of Solving Hard Questions?

A notebook and notes full of GRE math equations

GRE questions always have a similar structure so, after you go through them two or three times, you’ll learn how to solve them in the fastest way possible.

Many test-takers skip solving difficult math questions during their GRE prep. They think it's a waste of time, or they don't feel like rising to the challenge.

But it would help if you didn't stray away from difficulty. If you solve the hardest questions now, not one question could surprise you on the test.

You’ll get familiar with the questions during your prep, so you'll be able to make better choices on the actual GRE. Start your practice with these five examples that appeared on the previous official tests.

5 Types of GRE Math Questions

The GRE quant section contains five types of questions:

  • Quantitative comparison
  • Multiple-choice
  • Multiple-answer
  • Data interpretation
  • Numeric entry

We’ll give you one example per each. Try to solve them correctly, then check your answers.

1. Quant Questions

The GRE quantitative section often contains some of the hardest questions.

To solve them, you should compare two quantities—Quantity A and Quantity B, and choose the correct solution. You'll always get the same four options:

  • The A Quantity is greater.
  • The B Quantity is greater.
  • Quantities A and B are equal.
  • The relationship between the two quantities cannot be determined from the information given.

The ETS gives one example of a GRE quant question: [1]

Quant questions example

“Many Quantitative Comparison [tasks] involve algebraic expressions. When this is the case, simplify where possible by factoring and/or canceling out terms that appear in both Quantity A and Quantity B. Simplification often either makes the answer obvious or makes it easier to plug in numbers to get a better idea of the answer.”

 

- Ellen McCammon, an education expert

2. Multiple-Choice

Multiple-choice questions will offer you five options to choose from. Only one is correct.

Here’s an example question:

Multiple choice GRE math question example

Before you start solving the task, keep in mind that only 11% of test-takers answered this question correctly. Don’t be frustrated if you encounter some difficulty.

3. Multiple-Answer

The ETS considers multiple-answer a subtype of multiple-choice questions, but there’s a big difference between the two.

In both cases, you’ll have four or more options.

However, multiple-choice questions have only one correct answer, while multiple-answer questions can have more. Thus, the main difference comes down to the number of possible correct answers.

The question might or might not specify how many answers are correct.

Here’s an example of a multiple-answer question:

Multiple answer GRE math question example

During the real test, read the instructions carefully. That way, you’ll know if you’re solving a multiple-choice or a multiple-answer task and how many answers you need to check.

4. Data Interpretation

The name says it all: to solve data interpretation problems, you’ll have to analyze and interpret data.

Your task may contain exact numbers or a visual representation of data, such as pies, charts, graphs, or tables.

Take a look at the example:

Data interpretation GRE math question example

Even if the question isn't incredibly long, it might contain too much information that you can't process properly just by reading.

The above question is an excellent example of this. Notice how many pieces of data this question includes:

  1. First quarter last year
  2. Second quarter
  3. First quarter/bakery sales 6% of total profit
  4. Second quarter/bakery sales x3

To ensure you get a good score, read the question several times and extract important numbers.

Creating your own visual representation of the data might be useful, as well. You’ll be able to find the right answer without any difficulty or second thoughts.

5. Numeric Entry

Numeric entry problems account for about 10% of the GRE quantitative reasoning section. In general, numeric entries have a somewhat lower level of difficulty compared to other questions.

Your task here is to solve a given problem and type in your answer in the blank space:

Numeric entry question example

Additional Resources to Use During Test Prep

You need to use three main types of resources:

  • Free practice tests. Before we get to the main—paid—resources, let’s not forget first that you can find many free resources online. Make sure you take at least one practice test before your test day.
  • Official exam guidelines. The ETS also gives an overview of what to expect on the test, from content to structure.
  • Get a test prep book. Good books will contain a high number of harder questions and problems that appeared on the previous GRE exams. We like these three:
  • The Official Guide to the GRE® General Test. This book comes straight from the ETS. When you buy it, you also get four "real" practice tests. There's no better way to dig up the hardest GRE questions than purchasing a book created by the official test-makers themselves.
  • Barron’s GRE prep book. This guide may make your math “problem” go away and also help you understand the entire exam to score better. See our full review.
  • Manhattan Prep GRE Set of 8 Strategy Guides. When I stumbled upon this set, I immediately got excited. It covers everything you need to know about the GRE, from verbal issues to mathematic ones. Even if math was your weak spot throughout high school, this set would help you get a solid score on the GRE.

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FAQs

A female student with a laptop shrugging

Is GRE math difficult?

Yes. While the GRE tests a lower level of math than SAT or ACT, it has trickier wording. Complicated instructions often confuse students and cause a low score, so test-takers usually say that the GRE math questions are more challenging than those on the SAT or ACT.

On the other hand, GRE math is easier than GMAT math, mostly because GMAT contains harder tasks and doesn’t allow using a calculator.

Is GRE Quant getting harder?

Probably not. For now, there’s no official statement from the ETS supporting this thesis, though some test-takers claim that the number of “hard” questions did increase when comparing the 2020 GRE to the previous exams.

What does the GRE math test?

The GRE tests the so-called Big Four, i.e. the big four areas of your high school math: Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and Data Analysis. Note that not all four are tested equally.

The Takeaway - Most Difficult GRE Math Questions

By now, you know that you should take math seriously. Many past students got low scores because the instructions are deliberately complicated. To ensure the questions don’t confuse you, prepare in advance. Focus on the Big Four subjects during your prep and solve the above problems.

Please feel free to share the solutions you got. You may also tell us how your prep went—this will motivate other students to solve difficult questions during their prep.

Reference:

  1. https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/quantitative_reasoning/comparison/sample_questions

About the author

William Cohen

William Cohen

William is an electrical engineer whose great passion is helping promising students achieve their goals and dreams. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise with aspiring learners from all over the world.

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