Preparing for the GRE Math Section
Exactly which math topics will come up in the GRE? Knowing what’s to come in the GRE Quantitative section should help you prepare better for what’s to come.
A lot of students preparing for the GRE are somewhat apprehensive about the upcoming math portion of the test. This is also known as the Quantitative Section of the test, and it’s not exactly easy.
You have 2 sections with about 20 questions each, and then you have 35 minutes to answer. That means you better hurry.
Using the Calculator
You can use a calculator, but you can’t just bring your own calculator with you. The test officials will provide you with a calculator you can use, and it only offers the most basic functions.
You can use it for some of the test questions, but you’ll find that in general, you won’t really need to use the calculator that often. That’s because the test questions in the Quant section usually test your logical reasoning using math, and not your actual computational skills.
- Don’t use the calculator for computations you can do mentally (like 20/5).
- Better use the calculator for tedious calculations, like square roots, and adding several numbers with lots of digits.
- With some questions, you’re better off quickly estimating the right answer than getting the precise answer using the calculator.
- If you’re asked for the answer in fractions, don’t use the calculator—you’ll just get the answer in decimals.
Scoring the Quant Section
Your answers for the 2 Quant sections will determine your score. This score will range from 130 to 170 points, and they go in 1-point increments.
There’s also often a 3rd section for the Quant portion, which is “Experimental”. It’s not scored, but the data that the ETS (the group behind the GRE) gets from the answers helps these officials in formulating future versions of the GRE.
Annoyingly, you don’t which of the questions are in the “experimental” or unscored category. That means you have to regard all the questions you get as the real deal.
For the first Quant section, the questions are in the medium difficulty level. The succeeding section will be harder or easier depending on how well (or badly) you did in the first section.
You will want to do well in the first section to encounter the more difficult questions in the 2nd section. That’s because the points are higher when the questions you face are more difficult.
Specific Math Topics
The math generally covers basic concepts that you’ve most likely taken in school before. Aside from fielding questions involving geometry, algebra, and arithmetic, you will also be tested for problem-solving and data analysis. Again, you’re most likely to be tested in how well you understand the math.
More specifically, these are the topics that may come up:
- Absolute value
- Arithmetic operations
- Decimal representation
- Even/odd properties
- Prime numbers
- Sequences of numbers
- The number line
- Coordinate geometry
- graphs of functions
- slopes of lines
- Factoring and simplifying algebraic expressions
- Operations with exponents
- Solving linear and quadratic equations
- Solving systems of equations
- Word problems
- 3-dimensional figures
- Angle measurement degrees
- congruent and similar figures
- Parallel and perpendicular lines
- Pythagorean theorem
- 30/60/90-degree triangles
- Basic descriptive statistics
- Standard deviation
- Interquartile range
- Interpretation of data in tables and graphs
- Line graphs
- Bar graphs
- Circle graphs
- Box plots
- Frequency distributions
- Elementary probability and distribution
- Venn diagrams
Obviously, part of your GRE preparation will involve memorizing mathematical formulas. But you can’t just memorize them. You have to understand them too.
That way, you will then be able to implement these formulas in various ways. Quite a few of the GRE math questions won’t let you use the exact formula as you’ve memorized it. You may have to tweak the formula a bit to make it work for a particular math question. You won’t be able to do this if you don’t fully understand the formula in the first place.
Types of GRE Math Questions
It’s true that you’ll find plenty of straightforward math questions that you can easily understand and solve. But others may require a certain change in perspective, which may let you solve the math problem a lot more quickly.
The GRE math section generally involves these types of questions:
In this type of question, you’re given 2 quantities (Quantity A and Quantity B). You’re then asked to compare them and select which of the following statements are correct:
- Quantity A is greater.
- Quantity B is greater.
- The two quantities are equal.
- The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.
It’s best that you don’t waste time trying to compute the exact values of each quantity. You may just have to simplify or transform the mathematical expressions for the quantities to arrive at the answer.
If you’re asked to compare algebraic expressions, you may want to plug in numbers to get results for both quantities. Just keep in mind that you need to plug in both positive and negative integers, along with zero. If Quantity A is larger with positive integers but Quantity B is larger with negative integers, the right answer is: The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.
Also, keep in mind that if you’re given geometric figures to compare, they’re not necessarily drawn to scale.
The majority of the questions will be of this type, with possible answers A to E offered. A lot of students like this sort of question. After all, if they come up with an answer that doesn’t match any of the options, that’s surely a wrong answer. Also, you can use a process of elimination to come up with the right answer.
Just make sure that you give the current number of answers required. Some of the questions may explicitly state that you have to offer more than 1 correct answer.
This is also known in some circles as the “fill in the blank” question. Your answer may be an integer, a decimal, or a fraction. For fractions, you may have to enter the numerator and denominator in separate answer boxes.
You need to read the question carefully, so you can provide the correct type of answer required. You may have to include the right units for the answer, or to put the answer in percentage form instead of decimal form.
Sometimes you may be asked to round off your answer. If that’s the case, make sure you round off the to needed degree of accuracy. Just make sure you round off the final answer, and not the numbers you’re working with in your computations.
This is actually a set of questions pertaining to the same data presentation, such as a graph or table. You have to analyze the data presented, and then answer a series of questions regarding the particular set of data. These questions can then be multiple choice or numeric entry.
To save time, you may want to check out the questions first. That way, you can zero in on the information needed and not have to spend time gathering all the data presented in the graph or table.
Keep track of the units of measure used, and note that not all graphs start with zero.
Finally, the right answer will be based on the info you gather from the graph. If the graph shows you yearly car sales figures, you don’t answer based on a recent article you’ve read regarding the car sales figures in the real world.
There are 3 steps to doing this right.
- Understanding the problem. You have to read the statements carefully, and then understand exactly what you have to do to solve the problem.
- Once you understand the problem, you then have to devise a strategy to solve it. You have to find out which mathematical facts to use and then determine how to use them.
- Once that’s done, you can then compute for the answer. You then double-check the answer to make sure you’re actually providing the answer to what was being asked.
Studying for the GRE Math
Here are some tips to help you out in your GRE prep for the math section.
Take an Online Course
These days, most GRE experts acknowledge that online GRE prep courses are likely your best options. You can try the courses offered by Kaplan and Manhattan Prep, which are among the most highly regarded in the industry.
What you need are video lessons you can go through at your own pace, and then lots of practice questions for drills. Then you also need plenty of diagnostic practice exams to help you monitor your progress and identify your current weak spots.
As for private tutoring, it’s up to you. In this day of pandemics, it’s an iffy proposition. Not to mention the fact that it’s quite expensive.
Go Through the Lessons
The first thing you need to do is to cover the entire breadth of the GRE math coverage we’ve already listed. Read up on the particular topics that you may no longer be familiar with.
That also means memorizing formulas along the way. Make sure you memorize the formulas for areas and volumes of the most common geometric shapes.
Do the Drills
Drills force your mind to become more familiar with the various math concepts so that you’re also able to develop the math skills you need to get the right answer. Sure, it may seem tedious at first. But practice makes perfect—it’s a cliché because it’s generally true.
Keep at certain topics until you’re fully confident about it before you switch to another math topic. That may seem grueling, but don’t look at it like a thousand-mile journey. Think of it as a series of steps instead.
Take Practice Tests
The main value of practice tests is that they’re diagnostic. That is, they generally point out the areas where you need more work in your GRE math preparation. You may be doing well with the algebra part, but you may notice it if you get a lot of wrong answers to the geometry question.
Find Out Why You Got the Answer Wrong
This is easy enough if you’re asked about the area of a circle and somehow, you’ve forgotten the formula for the area of a circle.
But sometimes the reason for the wrong answer may not be that simple.
- Perhaps you misread the question, which means you need to read the question a lot more carefully. Sometimes you don’t check carefully and overlook the needed type of answer.
- Maybe you didn’t understand the question clearly. This may mean that you may need more work in translating word statements into mathematical expressions.
- You may have fallen into some common mental mistakes. For example, if the question stated that the variable n is an integer less than 5, you may have forgotten to consider zero and the negative integers.
- You may also have overshot the question and spent way more time than needed. For example, you may be asked if n is positive or negative, but then you spent too much actually solving for the exact value of n.
A lot of people take the GRE because they’re planning to go to business school. If you’re part of this group, then it stands to reason that you should already have a solid background in math to begin with. That means you’re already familiar with all the math topics we’ve listed, and you only need to review the topics.
Also, keep in mind that you’re competing with the other test-takers. It’s not just about how you do in the test, but also how you do in the test compared to how others perform.
In the end, preparing for the GRE math may be a challenge—but it’s a challenge you can certainly overcome.