Chapter 4

Introduction to GRE Quantitative Section

Format of the Math Section

The math section consists of three types of questions: Quantitative Comparisons, Standard Multiple-Choice, and Graphs. They are designed to test your ability to solve problems, not your mathematical knowledge.

There are 2 math sections on the GRE, each 35 minutes long, and each containing about 20 questions. The questions can appear in any order.

Question Types:

There are 5 types of questions on the Quantitative Sections:

  • Quantitative Comparisons
  • Single-Answer Multiple-Choice
  • Multiple-Answer Multiple-Choice
  • Numeric Entry
  • Data Interpretation

How difficult is GRE Quant?

GRE math is very similar to GMAT or SAT math, but on the easier side. The mathematical skills tested are very basic: meaning, anybody who went to high school, will not find the GRE tedious. The medium and the difficulty of basic mathematics is chosen so that everyone taking the test will be on a fairly even playing field. This way, students who majored in a variety of degrees, such as math, engineering, or science don’t have an unfair advantage over students who majored in a non-math background like humanities.

Quantitative comparisons are the most common math questions that you will see on the GRE. This is good news since they are mostly intuitive and require little math. They are also the easiest part of math on the GRE, which can be easily solved using certain techniques such as substitution.

more than the technique, the GRE tests how fast you can solve a question.

So, it doesn’t matter if you are very fond of math or if you hate it. There is no time for love or hatred on the GRE, because when the clock is ticking, all you need are a bunch of techniques that will take you past each question as soon as possible.

Question Types

Multiple-Choice Questions (select one or more choices)

In addition to the classic multiple-choice question with only one correct answer, some multiple-choice questions ask you to select one or more answers. These multiple answer type questions can be tricky sometimes, not because they are very difficult, but because you aren’t well versed with this new type. While discussing solving techniques for this type of questions is beyond the scope of this book, here are the directions that will help you get a basic understanding of the approach to solve such questions.

Directions: Select one or more answer choices according to the specific question directions.

If the question does not specify how many answer choices to select, select all that apply.

  • The correct answer may be just one of the choices or may be as many as all of the choices, depending on the question.
  • No credit is given unless you select all of the correct choices and none of the incorrect ones.

If the question specifies how many answer choices to select, select exactly that number of choices.

Numeric Entry Questions

This type of question requires you to solve a question, and then manually enter the obtained answer as an integer or a decimal into the space provided. If the answer is a fraction, then there will be two answer boxes—one for the numerator and one for the denominator. Here are some other directions for this type of questions.

Directions: Enter your answer as an integer or a decimal if there is a single answer box OR as a fraction if there are two separate boxes—one for the numerator and one for the denominator.

To enter an integer or a decimal, either type the number in the answer box using the keyboard or use the Transfer Display button on the calculator.

  • To remove a negative sign, type the hyphen again and it will disappear; the number will remain.
  • The Transfer Display button on the calculator will transfer the calculator display to the answer box. This will save you time, as you don’t have to manually type the answer again.
  • Equivalent forms of the correct answer, are all correct. So, if the answer is 4.5, then 4.5, 4.50000, 9/2, 45/10, etc., all such equivalent answers are correct.
  • Enter the exact answer unless the question asks you to round your answer.
  • To enter a fraction, type the numerator and the denominator in the respective boxes using the keyboard.
  • The Transfer Display button on the calculator cannot be used for a fraction.
  • Fractions do not need to be reduced to lowest terms, though you may need to reduce your fraction to fit in the boxes. So, if you get an answer like 1234/4, you don’t have to waste time simplifying it. Type the same number in the box.

How can you get better scores in Math?

Most test takers usually don’t have a problem with the Math section on the GRE. It is the Verbal section that keeps them wake at night. But this is because a significant percentage of GRE test takers are engineers, who have a really solid math background. But then, there are some test-takers who are really good at Verbal, but find math tough.

Having said that, compared to any other competitive exam in the word, the GRE math is somewhat easier. If you compare the difficulty levels of math sections on other popular tests like GMAT, CAT, and SAT, the GRE Math would seem like a breeze. But even then, some students who do not have a strong background in Math might find it difficult to get started with the quant section on the GRE. So, here are a bunch of strategies that might come to your rescue.

1. Easy questions first

If there is one thing you should remember throughout your GRE test, this is it: Every single question in a section carries the same weightage. So, you should prepare a strategy to answer the easy questions first. Skip off all those questions that you find hard to solve, mark them for review, and move on to easy questions to which you can get the answers right. This will help you save a lot of time, and you will be left with hard questions and a lot of time to cater to. Also, this will help avoid wasting too much time on one question.

remember this: every single question in a section carries the same weightage.

2. Change your mindset

Often times, it all boils down to the attitude of the test taker. Many students ‘feel’ Math difficult, without even trying hard, because their fright of math prohibits from being open minded about problems. Discard our fear, and be open to all questions. Do a lot of practice at home, and try solving those questions that give you nightmares. It is easy to master any math concept if you are ready to put in the effort and time. And it is definitely worth it in the end, because just a couple of weeks or so of practice can boost your Quant score by leaps and bounds. So, you should start being more accepting, and more open minded about math.

3. Learn multiplication tables

As silly as this may sound, many test takers don’t know the multiplication tables beyond 10. In order to score higher on the GRE, you would need to know multiplication tables up to 20 x 20. So, start learning right from today, and it won’t even take long. Just a few hours, or maybe a couple of days at worst, can help you learn all the basic multiplication tables, which will come in handy for you while solving tough questions. You’ll save ton of time if you are good at numbers, since you will not have to use the calculator every single time you see a number on the screen.

4. Answer Smartly

you don’t have to solve every single problem on the GRE in order to arrive at an answer.

There are several advanced but simple answering strategies that will help you get the answer faster and simpler. For example, you can approximate some numbers, plug in values in place of x in the given question, rearrange the question in your mind to make it easy to understand, and lastly, make an educated guess. Employing these subtle but important strategies will be crucial to boosting your quant score on the test day.

Calculator Strategies: How to effectively use the online calculator

Sometimes the computations you need to do in order to answer a question in the Quantitative Reasoning measure are somewhat time-consuming, like long division, or involve square roots. For such computations, you can use the on-screen calculator provided in the computer-based test.

Although the calculator can shorten the time it takes to perform computations, keep in mind that the calculator provides results that supplement, but do not replace, your knowledge of mathematics. You must use your mathematical knowledge to determine whether the calculator’s results are reasonable and how the results can be used to answer a question.

Here are some general guidelines for calculator use in the Quantitative Reasoning measure:

  • Most of the questions don’t require difficult computations, so don’t use the calculator just because it’s available.
  • Use it for calculations that you know are tedious, such as long division, square roots, and addition, subtraction, or multiplication of numbers that have several digits.
  • Avoid using it for simple computations that are quicker to do mentally, such as 10−490, (4)(70), 4,300, 25, and 302. 10
  • Avoid using it to introduce decimals if you are asked to give an answer as a fraction.
  • Some questions can be answered more quickly by reasoning and estimating than by using the calculator.
  • If you use the calculator, estimate the answer beforehand so that you can determine whether the calculator’s answer is “in the ballpark.” This may help you avoid key-entry errors.
  • When you use the computer mouse or the keyboard to operate the calculator, take care not to mis-key a number or operation.
  • Note all of the calculator’s buttons, including Transfer Display.
  • The Transfer Display button can be used on Numeric Entry questions with a single answer box. This button will transfer the calculator display to the answer box.
  • You should check that the transferred number has the correct form to answer the question. For example, if a question requires you to round your answer or convert your answer to a percent, make sure that you adjust the transferred number accordingly.
  • Take note that the calculator respects order of operations, as explained below.

Order of Operations

The onscreen calculator on the GRE uses a mathematical convention called order of operations. This establishes which operations are performed before others in a mathematical expression that has more than one operation. The order is as follows: parentheses, exponentiation (including square roots), multiplications and divisions (from left to right), additions and subtractions (from left to right). With respect to order of operations, the value of the expression 1+2 x 4 is 9 because the expression is evaluated by first multiplying 2 and 4 and then by adding 1 to the result.

This is how the on-screen calculator in the Quantitative Reasoning measure performs the operations. Many basic calculators follow a different convention, whereby they perform multiple operations in the order that they are entered into the calculator. So, be cautious when using the onscreen calculator.

Pacing Strategies

In order to establish an effective pacing strategy, you should employ these three strategies:

  • Learn how long you should be spending on each question type
  • Build your sense of timing by tracking your pace on practice questions
  • Use benchmarks to check your pacing on practice tests and the actual exam

These strategies take a little practice. We’ve broken down each and provided timing tables for you to consult below.

How long should you spend on each question?

Each question type has an ideal time range in which to answer it. Stay within this time range and you’ll have enough time to work on every question in the section. If you take longer than this time range, you’ll fall behind in your pacing and risk being in a pinch at the end of the section.

However, going faster than this range is also dangerous. Answering questions quickly (generally faster than 30 seconds), you’re more likely to make a careless errors.

faster is not always better on the GRE.

How do you practice pacing?

Keep track of how long it takes you to answer each question type when practicing questions. Begin by tracking your time on each question and noting which type of questions you spend a lot of time on and which you answer quickly. As you practice more questions and track your timing, you’ll begin to build a sense of timing and when you’re hitting the ideal time range or falling outside of it.

A stopwatch can help you track and build your since of timing. Also, CrunchPrep automatically tracks your pacing on each question you answer and provides timing feedback in its Analytics tool.

How do you monitor your pacing on a test?

After you begin to get a feel for timing and know how long you should be spending on each question type, you can apply these skills to a practice test. While taking the practice test, monitor your pacing by periodically comparing the question number you’re on with the amount of time you have left to complete the section. In other words, by a certain amount of time into a section, you should have completed a certain number of questions.

Scratch Paper Strategies

Most students underestimate the importance of the scratch paper on the GRE exam. It might seem unnecessary to worry about something as trivial as the scratch paper, especially when there are other important things to take care of during the test. But it turns out that, the scratch paper can be vital for you to score higher on the GRE, as it helps you calculate better, avoid or reduce mistakes, save precious time, and at the end of the day, do well on the test.

The Answer Grid Method:

Think about it. If you are writing a paper based test and you have multiple choice type questions on the test, how would you approach the answer? The easiest way is to follow the process of elimination. And what do you do when you eliminate the answer options? You strike them off one by one, and try to narrow down your choices, to make it less complicated. This process is fairly obvious and is also extremely effective.

But what if you are writing a computer based test, like the GRE? You cannot strike off options on the screen, and all you have is some scratch paper and a pencil. Make way for ‘The Answer Grid’, for it comes in handy in such a situation. By drawing a simple grid and labelling the rows with options A to E and the columns with question numbers, and by striking off the options you want to eliminate, you can easily keep track of the answer choices throughout the test.

This method has proven to be extremely useful to students, especially during the verbal section. Imagine you have just read a long RC passage, and the answer options to the questions are long sentences that take time reading and understanding. In such a situation, if you don’t have an answer grid, it becomes very difficult to remember which answer option is right. But, if you have an answer grid ready, you can strike off the options the moment you think they are unrelated or wrong. This way, you can narrow down your options and save time. The same technique can also be used for other Verbal and Quant questions as well.

Important Note:

You will be given scratch paper just before your exam begins, and you are not allowed to write anything on it until the clock starts ticking. Does that mean you will only be wasting precious exam time by preparing an answer grid? No. Preparing an answer grid won’t take more than a couple of minutes, and you can buy some time from the AWA section. This means, you will not lose out on previous exam time and at the same time, prepare yourself an answer grid as well. Practice doing this as many times as you can at home, and it will be a piece of cake during the real test.

Some other important Scratch paper tips:

  1. While practicing, use scratch papers only. Some students have the habit of using notebooks as scratch papers, but it is best to replicate the test environment as much as possible. So, using scratch papers during practice tests will only help you during the real exam.
  1. You will be given a pencil and an eraser during the real GRE, so it makes sense to practice in a similar manner. Instead of a pen, try using a pencil while attempting practice tests at home. Sometimes using the pencil can cause you a bit of discomfort, especially if you haven’t used it in a while, so it is better to avoid strange experiences on test day by practicing at home with a pencil and eraser.
  1. Try to avoid using the eraser as much as possible. Using an eraser can have a few drawbacks that you can easily avoid. First, it takes more time to erase and write again. Second, it sometimes may tear the paper if you erase hard, which is likely because you will be under stress. You can as well strike off whenever you make a mistake and write again, just as you would do with a pen. This not only saves you that extra five or ten seconds per mistake, but also saves you from asking a new paper because you’ve just torn the last one.
  1. When you are solving so many math questions on a single piece of paper, there obviously would be a lot of numbers, calculations and strike offs. And more often than not, when students solve around ten to fifteen questions on a paper, they get confused with the numbers on the sheet. But if you follow a systematic practice, there will never be a chance for confusion. As soon as you finish a question, draw border lines around it, and strike of the entire part twice (like an X). This gives you a clear distinction between questions, and you can always concentrate on your current question.
  1. Since you will anyway be drawing border lines for each question, write the question number inside the box and encircle it. This helps you when you mark a question and come back again at a later point. If your questions are numbered, it is easier to find the question you are looking for, so you won’t have to start the rough work from scratch again. You can as well continue from where you left off. This saves quite a few minutes of your time during the test.
  1. You will be given as many scratch papers as you need, no questions asked. So, don’t hesitate to ask for an extra paper every time you need. There are times when you should not be an environmentalist. This is one.
  1. Because you can have an unlimited supply of scratch papers, make full use of them. Do only a few problems per page, don’t overlap questions, and write bigger numbers so you won’t get confused.
  1. Sometimes, the proctor may ask you to return all your previous scratch papers before issuing you new ones. There is no fixed policy regarding this, and it may depend on the test center and the proctor. So, it is better to ask the proctor before the exam if there is any such policy.

Remembering all these points during the test is of course difficult, and it is possible that you may forget one or more of these techniques. And the best way to avoid that is; yes you’re right: Practice. Practice these techniques at home as many times as possible, whenever you are taking a practice test, or even when you are just solving problems for fun. This way, there won’t be any need to remember stuff. These techniques will soon be a part of your test taking style.

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