5 Quick Tips to Improve Your GRE Quant Score

October 28, 2016

GRE Quant math problems may seem complex, but the skills you need for Quant are surprisingly basic. Here are 5 quick skill-oriented tips for improving your GRE Quant score.

Tip # 1: Develop number sense

Having good number sense means having intuitive ability to “notice” numerical properties and relationships. Developing number sense helps you complete GRE Quant problems more efficiently and accurately.

Suppose a step in a GRE Quant problem requires you to calculate 13% of 250. You could complete the operation with scrap paper or by calculator. But with number sense, you can also do this operation in your head.

How can number sense and “noticing” number relationships help you here? Well, you might notice that 13% is 10% + 3%, or 10% + 1% + 1% + 1%. From there, you can see that 10% of 250 is 25. If 10% of 250 is 25, then 1% of 250 must be one-tenth of that: 2.5. So you can get the answer by adding 25 + 2.5 + 2.5 + 2.5, more simply expressed as 25 + (2.5*3). You can calculate 2.5*3 in your head: 7.5. So 13% of 250 is 25+7.5, or 32.5.   The “number sense” method is the best approach for most math operations on the GRE. On nearly any GRE Quant problem, recognizing number properties is faster than using scrap paper, and can be as fast as using a calculator. Moreover, with a calculator, there’s a real risk of keying in a wrong number. It’s much harder to think the wrong number.

Tip # 2: Develop Mental Math Skills

Next up is a skill that’s related to number sense: mental math. To avoid calculator mis-keys, use mental math whenever you can. Number sense helps you find the “low hanging fruit” in mental math; the “easy” math problems hidden within the steps of a sophisticated GRE Quant question.

All of the operations described in Tip # 1 above are very simple. But the same combination of mental math and number sense can be applied to much more complex numbers.

Suppose you’re calculating 13.5% of 253 instead of 13% of 250. That’s a little trickieryou’re no longer dealing with whole numbers. But you can still mentally complete most or all of the steps in this operation. 13.5% = 10% + (1%*3) + 0.5%. 10% of 253 is 25.3, 1% of 253 is 2.53, and 0.5% must be half of that, approximately 1.25. This gets you a near-accurate estimate of 25.3 + (2.53*3) + 1.25 for 13.5% of 253. With estimation in the final step, 13.5% of 253 is a number very close to 34.14.

Tip # 3: Get good at estimation

Let’s look again at the operation we just discussed in Tip # 2. Even with our 1.25 estimate for half of 2.53, this problem is pretty difficult to complete mentally. On many GRE problems, there’s actually a much easier way to approach this kind of equation: estimate by rounding the initial numbers so they’re easier to work with. 13.5% of 253 is roughly 13% of 250. As we saw Tip # 1, his gives you an approximate answer of 32.5 easily.

At this point, you might ask “Don’t my calculations need to be fully accurate?” For the small handful of numeric entry questions in GRE Quant, the answer is yes. But for multiple choice questions, which take up the majority of the Quant section, accuracy down to the exact number is not necessary at all. Which brings me to my next tip…

Tip # 4: Understand Multiple Choice Strategy

In GRE Quant, multiple choice strategy is all about estimating an answer and then eliminating answers that don’t match your estimate.  Now, let’s say that finding 13.5% of 253 is the final step in a multiple choice GRE Quant problem, the step that gets you the answer. Next, let’s imagine that the answer choices are 29.08, 32, 34.16, and 42.13.

You can use number sense to rule out 32 immediately. 3 is the last digit of 253, and 13.5% of 3 clearly won’t be a whole number. From there, you can look at your rounded-down estimate from Tip # 3: 13% of 250, or 32.5. The real answer will be slightly above 32.5, since 13.5% is a little bigger than 13%, and 253 is just slightly higher than 250. This eliminates 29.08. You can assume 42.13 is also incorrect as it’s too high.

This leaves you with 34.16 as the right answer. And that is the right answer, rounded to the nearest hundredth. (Bonus tip: the GRE itself uses rounding and light estimation!)

Tip # 5: Use Materials that Help You Practice GRE Quant Skills

In summary, the best skills you can develop to improve your GRE quant score are: intuitive number sense, refined mental math, and heightened multiple choice strategy. Interestingly enough, the GRE Quant discourages the use of a calculator. Instead of relying on the tools you’ve always used, try out some new GRE books for practice, leave the calculator by the wayside, and put faith in your brain’s newly-refined math skills. Good luck!


About The Author

David Recine, Guest Blogger
David Recine, Guest Blogger

David Recine is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007.

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