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GRE Math Tips & Tricks for Acing the Test

Jordan Coleman
Published by Jordan Coleman
Last Updated On: August 29, 2021

Did you know that 88% of high school students stated they disliked math the most out of all subjects? The sad thing is that number doesn’t decrease as people begin preparing for graduate school testing.

In this guide to the math portion of the GRE, our expert teachers give insight into the GRE Quantitative section itself, the various question types, and tips for doing well and getting the GRE scores of your dreams.

What is the GRE Quantitative Section?

Student answering an exam

The GRE test covers a variety of skills, one being math.

The good news is that the GRE Quant doesn’t test college level math but rather topics you should have covered in high school.

However, the majority of students rate math as their least favorite subject [1]. The main point of this section is evaluating a test taker’s critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Let’s break down this test further.

Topics Tested on the GRE

Different equations on a blackboard

The GRE Quant covers four specific math topics: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis [2]. The actual test will have questions covering each area.

The arithmetic questions focus on number theory, basic operations, and other topics like percents and number sequences.

These questions are usually the easiest for many students as it relies on the math used since grade school,

Algebra steps up the degree of difficulty by having individuals manipulate expressions and solve inequalities with random variables.

These questions may require mental math or the use of a calculator.

The geometry portion is all about 2D and 3D figures and finding their volume and area. The last topic is data analysis. The GRE tests your ability to answer math questions relating to statistics, probability, and data interpretation.

Format

GRE math question

The GRE quant section consists of two subsections, each being 35 minutes long with twenty questions.

With our calculations, you need to solve questions in under two minutes to answer all twenty in the given timeframe.

Each subsection can be broken into the following number of question types:

  • 8-9 problem solving questions
  • 8-9 quantitative comparison questions
  • 3-4 data interpretation questions

Each of these question types can come in different formats, including numeric entry and multiple choice.

So you will need to pay attention to what the question is asking you to solve it correctly and save time.

Scoring

Passing score written in an answer sheet

The quantitative score is on a sliding scale of 130 to 170 in 1-point increments.

The entire GRE is a section adaptive test, which means that how you perform on the first section will determine the difficulty of the second.

So if you want a high score, you’ll need to do well on the first part to unlock the hardest GRE math questions.

The average student will score a 152 on the math portion of the GRE [3].

This score might work for a prospective graduate student looking to major in English, but a computer science student will need to score much higher to be considered for admission.

At the end of the day, the score you need depends on your goal education program.

4 Question Types for GRE Math Section

Math equations beside a math question

Now that we’ve broken down the GRE quant itself, let’s dive deeper into the question types you’ll be seeing on practice tests and the actual GRE test.

1. Quantitative Comparison

This question type asks you to compare two quantities typically labeled A and B. You will then take those quantities and determine which of four statements accurately describe the comparison. The correct answer will need to satisfy the comparison.

To do well on these questions, memorize the answer options because they are identical for everyone. This will save you time and help you focus on the quantities themselves. You should also simplify the comparisons by canceling terms.

One math tip for this question type is never to pick option D if there aren’t variables in the quantities. The math will show that those two quantities can always be compared and a correct answer selected.

2. Multiple Choice

A multiple choice exam

This is the most basic of questions because it simply asks you to select one answer from a total of five options.

By doing practice tests, you’ll get a good hang of how to answer these questions.

Some GRE math tips for multiple choice questions include focusing on the question being asked.

While it may seem obvious, you’ll want to pay close attention to words like “except” or “not” as these will switch up your answers. You don’t have room for error when you want to get a good GRE math score.

When doing a GRE prep, you’ll also learn to look for shortcuts and to plug in answers. These two strategies help you avoid intensive calculations and solve for values that might be hard to do.

3. Multiple Answers

This question type looks different than the one above because you can select more than one answer. It won’t specify how many are correct, so you will have to determine whether it's two or all five.

“Once the impossible is eliminated, whatever remains, however irrational, must therefore be the truth.” -- Arthur Conan Doyle, author.

These GRE questions are perfect for estimating. You can eliminate options if you know at least one of the correct answers. Answering this question type correctly requires that you look closely at the directions and you narrow down your choices by using good judgment.

4. Numeric Entry

A pen writing a blue question mark on a paper

This question type doesn’t give you answer choices but rather has you enter your answer into a given box.

You might put in an integer, a decimal, or even a fraction. For some, they found this type the hardest and needed to do as many practice tests as possible to feel comfortable with them.

An important GRE math tip for numeric entry questions is to double check your answer’s format.

The question is usually very specific with how it wants you to answer, so make sure you do just that.

Don’t waste points by putting the answer in inches instead of feet. Throughout the entire test, be careful transferring your answer from the calculator to the testing box.

For example, some questions might ask for a rounded answer which you will have to do without the help of the calculator. That is why we recommend you don’t try copy and pasting but rather typing the answer yourself.

5 GRE Math Tips & Tricks for Studying

Writing a solution to a math problem

While we’ve covered tips for each question type, here are some study tips to help you pass any mock tests and feel comfortable scheduling your GRE test day.

1. Learn the Question Types

The very first thing you need to do when you begin studying is to learn about the different question types you’ll be answering.

Once you know what the test format is, you’ll feel more confident in tackling the problems and finding the correct answer.

We’ve already covered the different question types in this article, but you can find more information at the official ETS website. Knowing the format of the GRE math means you won’t face any surprises when answering GRE practice questions or taking a mock test.

2. Set a Goal

Teaching someone how to do a math problem

After learning the format of the GRE, you’ll want to set a goal score to aim for.

To do this, you’ll need to take a mock test to see what your starting out score is. Once you know that, you can create a plan for improvement.

To establish your baseline, take a completed and times GRE Quantitative Reasoning section which can be found through various GRE prep programs or online platforms.

Now that you have that baseline data, look at your target graduate school program and see what their current students score on the GRE.

Combine those two numbers to come up with your target score.

3. Make A Plan

This is where a GRE prep program or book can come in handy: setting up a plan. Figure out how long it will take you to get from your baseline score to your target score and create a timeline around it.

GRE math is harder for some students, so they may require a longer period of study, which is where GRE math study guides come in super handy.

Here’s a breakdown of the timeline for improving a GRE math score using these GRE math tips:

  • 5 points - 40 hours of study
  • 10 points - 80 hours of study
  • 20 points - 160 hours of study
  • 30 points - 240 hours of study

While these numbers may seem intense, you’ll need this time to really get an improved score on the GRE math section.

4. Study, Study, Study

A woman studying math on a whiteboard as a learning method

If the numbers above didn’t communicate this point enough, you are going to need to study to get the most out of these GRE math tips.

It will take time to fill in the gaps of your knowledge and then be able to apply them accurately.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” -- Arthur Ashe, American tennis player

Take a look at the GRE math practice test you took and see which area was hardest for data analysis or geometry.  Once you find a consistent pattern of mistakes, you can then begin to address those areas.

5. Take a Practice Test

One of the most overlooked of our GRE math tips is this one: take a practice test. It seems long and boring, but you will be amazed by how helpful it is.

Taking a mock GRE quant section will give you the opportunity to try out strategies and test your knowledge.

You can find practice tests online, in prep books, or through the ETS official website. But we always recommend that you have a real calculator and stick to a time limit when doing these practices.

Taking the test in realistic conditions will help you with pacing and practice picking answer choices under time pressure.

6 Last Minute GRE Math Tips

Math notes written on a notebook

While most of your GRE math tricks should be tried out before test day, here are some helpful ways to get the GRE quant score of your dreams on the big day.

1. Easy Questions First

Some GRE quant questions are going to be easier than others like those with answer choices compared to word problems that are numeric entries.

Besides, all questions are worth the same amount of points, and there is no negative marking ,so answer the easy questions first.

Once you’ve done the questions you found easier, circle back to the harder GRE quantitative questions and try to come up with some possible answers before narrowing it down to the correct answer.

You can utilize this habit in test prep by solving questions that come easy to you first then doing the others. Skip algebraic expressions if you find that hard, then come back to it later.

2. Stay Calm

A calm woman in yellow sweater

If you want to improve your GRE score, you are going to be calm throughout the test on the big day.

Studying for the GRE has prepared you for this moment, so don’t begin to stress when you enter the test center.

Being calm is just as important as being confident. Even if you forget a formula or how to read certain algebraic equations, don’t panic.

You’ve prepared for this moment and you’ve got it. Skip those confusing questions and come back later to answer them.

Read More: The Most Important Math Formulas for GRE

3. Read Carefully

It’s really important that you read each question carefully, so you don’t make any silly mistakes or make a calculation error.

There is nothing worse than getting the final answer right but entering into the test in the wrong format.

These trick questions are testing your reading skills and how well you can follow directions.

They will try to trick you by adding information that would lead to wrong answers. Make sure you are answering what the question is asking in order to answer correctly. Use the given time to solve problems the right way.

4. Use the Scrap Paper

Writing the solution on a spare piece of paper

Take advantage of the scrap paper that the testing administration is giving you.

Don’t be afraid to work out the square root of a problem or to double check your math, these things could make a huge difference in your score.

Most test takers don’t use their scratch paper which is only there to help.

While you have an on screen calculator, write out your answer and make sure that it makes sense for what the question is asking.

In your GRE practice questions, use scratch paper and practice writing neatly even under time crunches.

While it is a useful tool when taking the Quantitative reasoning test, it can be detrimental if mismanaged.

Related Article: Can You Use Scratch Paper on the GRE?

5. Slow Down

Most GRE math tips focus on getting you quicker at finding the right answer choices and moving on.

But while being quick is important, it is more important to be accurate. So, don’t be afraid to take extra time on certain questions.

The general recommendation is a minute and forty-five seconds per question, but you’ll find that some take less time and others more. For a good GRE quantitative score, it is crucial to limit careless mistakes.

At the end of the test or a GRE practice, take the leftover time to do a math review and double check your answers.

 

6. Answer Everything

Answering all exam questions

Another GRE math tip is to answer every question from the multiple choice to the numerical entry.

Because there is no penalty for guessing on the GRE, it is in your best interest to mark an answer for each question.

You have good odds for guessing, especially on the multiple voice questions because of how the format of the question is.

You can increase your chances of getting the answer right if you can eliminate one or two of the options.

By eliminating just one option, you’ve increased chances by 33%, which is major when every point counts [4].

Read More: GRE Exam Format

The Bottom Line: Follow these GRE Math Tips & Tricks

If you follow the math tips we’ve laid out above, you are sure to rock the GRE which is governed by the Educational Testing Service.

Each GRE question tests your thinking skills and sees how you adapt to different types of questions.

While the GRE will be tough, focus on solving equations accurately and using deep breaths to stay calm during the test.

The GRE Quantitative section isn’t impossible. Just take your time to study beforehand and utilize the free resources that are available to you.

You can always learn new math skills which is why many test takers see big improvements after studying. With enough practice, you too can get a higher score on the GRE math.

About the author

Jordan Coleman

Jordan Coleman

Jordan is a teacher who is in love with English literature and quality content. He uses his teaching experience to help both his own students and others around the world to improve their knowledge and self-confidence.

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