Tips to Improve Your GRE Quant Section Score

Tips to Improve Your GRE Quant Section Score main image

We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to academia. Some of us have a greater understanding of qualitative study (the poets), while others thrive in a quantitative environment.

Although some candidates aren’t as confident in the quant reasoning section of the GRE test, it doesn’t mean it has to defeat you. But preparation is key and knowing exactly what you’re up against in the exam will help you get ready for it.

What you’re up against

Within the Quantitative Reasoning section there are two 35-minute sections, which each contain 20 questions.

This section of the GRE assesses your basic maths skills, understanding of elementary mathematical concepts, ability to reason quantitatively and to model and solve problems with quantitative methods.

Some questions incorporate real-life settings, whereas others are posed in mathematical settings. In fact, many of the questions are ‘word problems,’ which must be translated and modeled mathematically.

What does the GRE cover?

Students are tested on their skills, abilities and knowledge in:

  • Arithmetic topics: properties and types of integers; arithmetic operations, exponents and roots; and concepts such as estimation, percent, ratio etc
  • Algebra: operations with exponents; factoring and simplifying algebraic expressions; solving linear and quadratic equations and inequalities; setting up equations to solve word problems; and coordinate geometry
  • Geometry: parallel and perpendicular lines; circles; triangles; quadrilaterals; congruent and similar figures; 3D figures; area; perimeter; the Pythagorean theorem and angle measurement in degrees
  • Data analysis: basic descriptive statistics; interpretation of data in tables and graphs; conditional probability; random variables and probability distributions; counting methods.

Luckily for the more poetic candidates, the GRE doesn’t include calculus, trigonometry, or high-level mathematics.

GRE quant section

Students taking the GRE will face four types of questions in the Quantitative Reasoning section:

  1. Quantitative comparison questions
  2. Multiple-choice questions – one answer choice
  3. Multiple-choice questions – select one or more answers
  4. Numeric entry questions

Each question appears either independently as a discrete question or as part of a set of questions called a data interpretation set. All questions in a set are based on the same data presented in tables, graphs or other displays of data. For the computer-based test, the calculator is provided on-screen.

The GRE quant section is scored on a 130-170-point scale in one-point increments. It’s also a section-adaptive test, which means your performance on the first 20-question subsection of Quant determines the difficulty of questions in the subsequent 20-question subsection. To earn a score close to 170, you’ll therefore need to access the more difficult second subsection.

Tips to nail quant reasoning section in GRE

Quantitative Comparison Questions

You’ll be asked to compare two quantities — Quantity A and Quantity B — and decide whether Quantity A is greater, Quantity B is greater, the two quantities are equal or if the relationship can’t be determined from the information.

Tips

  • Become familiar with the answer choices. Quantitative Comparison questions always have the same answer choices, so get to know them, especially the last choice, "The relationship can’t be determined from the information given". 
  • Avoid unnecessary computations. Don't waste time performing needless computations to compare the quantities. Simplify, transform or estimate one or both of the given quantities only as much as is necessary to compare them.
  • Remember geometric figures aren’t necessarily drawn to scale.
  • Plug in numbers. If one or both of the quantities are algebraic expressions, you can substitute easy numbers for the variables and compare the resulting quantities in your analysis.
  • Simplify the comparison.

Sample question

Quantity A: The least prime number greater than 24
Quantity B: The greatest prime number is less than 28

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

Explanation

For the integers greater than 24: 25, 26, 27, and 28 aren’t prime numbers, but 29 is a prime number, as is 31 and many others. Therefore, 29 is the least prime number greater than 24, and Quantity A is 29.

For the integers less than 28: 27, 26, 25, and 24 aren’t prime numbers, but 23 is a prime number, as is 19 and other lesser integers. Therefore, 23 is the greatest prime number less than 28, and Quantity B is 23.

The correct answer is Choice A, Quantity A is greater.

Multiple-choice Questions — Select One Answer Choice

Tips

Remember the answer is there. If your answer isn’t included in the five answer choices, you should assume your answer is incorrect and do the following:

  • Reread the question carefully – you may have missed an important detail or misinterpreted some information.
  • Check your computations – you may have made a mistake, such as mis-keying a number on the calculator.
  • Revaluate your solution method – you may have a flaw in your reasoning.
  • Examine the answer choices. For example, in some questions you’re asked which choice has a certain property. You may have to consider each choice separately or you may be able to see a relationship between the choices that will help you find the answer more quickly.

Sample questions

1) If 5x + 32 = 4 – 2x what is the value of x?

  • A. – 4
  • B. – 3
  • C. 4
  • D. 7
  • E. 12

Explanation

Solving the equation for x, you get 7 x = -28, and so x = - 4. The correct answer is Choice A, - 4.

2) Which of the following numbers is farthest from the number 1 on the number line?

  • A. – 10
  • B. – 5
  • C. 0
  • D. 5
  • E. 10

Explanation

Circling each of the choices in a number line sketch shows that - 10 is the greatest distance from 1.

Another way to answer the question is to remember that the distance between two numbers on the number line is equal to the absolute value of the difference of the two numbers. For example, the distance between -10 and 1 is 11 and the distance between 10 and 1 is nine. The correct answer is Choice A, - 10. 

Multiple-choice Questions — Select One or More Answer Choices

Tips

  • Note whether you’re asked to indicate a specific number of answer choices or all choices that apply. Remember – there may be only one correct choice.
  • Some questions involve conditions limiting possible values of numerical answer choices; it may be efficient to determine the least and/or greatest possible value as it may enable you to quickly determine all correct choices.
  • Avoid lengthy calculations by recognizing and continuing numerical patterns.

Sample question

Which of the following integers are multiples of both 2 and 3?

Indicate all such integers:

  1. 8
  2. 9
  3. 12
  4. 18
  5. 21
  6. 36

Explanation

You can first identify the multiples of two, which are eight, 12, 18 and 36, and then among the multiples of two identify the multiples of three, which are 12, 18 and 36. If you realize every number that’s a multiple of two and three is also a multiple of six, you can identify the choices that are multiples of six. The correct answer includes choices C (12), D (18) and F (36).

Numeric Entry Questions

Tips

  • Make sure you answer the question that is asked. Pay special attention to units, orders of magnitude, and percentages as compared with decimals.
  • If you’re asked to round your answer, make sure you round to the required degree of accuracy.
  • Examine your answer to see if it’s reasonable with respect to the information given. You may want to use estimation or another solution path to double-check your answer.

Sample questions

1) One pen costs $0.25 and one marker costs $0.35. At those prices, what is the total cost of 18 pens and 100 markers?

$

Explanation

Multiplying $0.25 by 18 yields $4.50, which is the cost of the 18 pens. Multiplying $0.35 by 100 yields $35.00, which is the cost of the 100 markers. The total cost is therefore $4.50 + $35.00 = $39.50.

Equivalent decimals, such as $39.5 or $39.500, are considered correct. The correct answer is $39.50 (or equivalent).

Rectangle R has length 30 and width 10, and square S has length 5. The perimeter of S is what fraction of the perimeter of R?

Explanation

The perimeter of R is 30 + 10 + 30 + 10 = 80, and the perimeter of S is (4)(5) = 20. Therefore, the perimeter of S is 20/80 of the perimeter of R. Because the fraction doesn’t need to be reduced to lowest terms, any fraction equivalent to 20/80 is also considered correct. For example, both the fractions 2/8 and 1/4 are considered correct. The correct answer is 20/80 (or any equivalent fraction).

Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Assistant Editor of TopMBA.com, creating and editing content for an international MBA student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of the business world.  

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