Cracking the GRE: Quantitative Reasoning

For some people, the quantitative reasoning portion of the GRE can be a daunting, but necessary aspect of the graduate school process. It’s something that provokes long-buried images of high school calculus classes and geometric proofs. But it doesn’t have to stay an intimidating nightmare. Armed with the right knowledge and skills, students—even those who find math challenging—can tackle the GRE quantitative reasoning section with confidence.


Know your basics

The skills tested won’t be incredibly complicated. The questions will focus on math and statistics skills up to the high school algebra level. The test is designed to check your basic math skills, understanding of basic math concepts, and quantitative reasoning. For this reason, you’ll only be allowed to use a basic calculator during the GRE, which will be provided for you at the test site.

The quantitative portion of the GRE can be divided into four main sections: data analysis, geometry, algebra, and arithmetic. Data analysis sections will require an understanding of concepts like mean, median, mode, percentiles, elementary probability, graphs, and range. Geometry, which won’t require any proofs, will cover shapes and angles, coordinate geometry, Pythagoras theorem, area, volume, and perimeter. Algebra problems may include algebraic expressions, equations, word problems, and exponents. Finally, the arithmetic section will cover basic operations, properties of numbers, factoring, estimation, and powers.

Test Smart

The questions will come in several forms including quantitative comparison, multiple choice (select one), multiple choice (select many), data interpretation sets, and numeric entry questions. Each question requires a different approach from the test taker. But remember, you’ll want to complete each question as quickly as possible, so take shortcuts when you can.

Quantitative comparisons will require you to figure out if quantity A is greater, if quantity B is greater, if the two quantities are equal, or if there isn’t enough information to answer the question. The key to these problems is to remember it isn’t necessary to solve for exact numbers, just estimate so a comparison is possible. If it’s an algebraic comparison, remember to simplify.

For expample:

Quantity A
x2 +1
Quantity B

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.

Answer: A

Some multiple-choice questions will require you to select one of the five given answers. Use the fact that they give you the right answer to your advantage. Try working backwards using the answers given, instead of performing the calculations yourself.

For example:

1. The figure above shows a circle with center C and radius 6. What is the sum of the areas of the two shaded regions?

E.   7.5π
F.   6π
G.   4.5π
H.  4π
I.   3π

Answer: D

Multiple-choice questions that require you to select one or more answers can be solved by looking for numerical patterns in the answers provided. Be sure to note if the question indicates a specific amount of answers required.

For example:

Each employee of a certain company is in either Department X or Department Y, and there are more than twice as many employees in Department X as in Department Y. The average (arithmetic mean) salary is $25,000 for the employees in Department X and $35,000 for the employees in Department Y. Which of the following amounts could be the average salary for all of the employees of the company?
Indicate all such amounts.

J.   $26,000
K.   $28,000
L.   $29,000
M.   $30,000
N.   $31,000
O.   $32,000
P.   $34,000

Answer: A and B

Numeric entry questions require you to enter the answer. Make sure you answer the question being asked and to the correct decibel. Quickly double-check your answer using estimated numbers.

For example:

Answer: 101

Data interpretation sets are a series of questions that require you to analyze a particular chart, graph, or other data. There will be a lot of information, but don’t waste time focusing on anything else except what’s required to answer the question. Remember, graphs are drawn to scale, so use them to estimate.

Memorize basic equations

To adequately prepare for the GRE quantitative reasoning portion of the test, it’s important that you memorize a few basic equations, particularly for the geometry section. Know how to calculate the area of basic shapes, including triangle, square, rectangle, and parallelogram. Also memorize equations for the area and circumference of a circle, and volume equations for basic shapes. Don’t forget to look at the side ratios of all triangles.

At the end of the day—or beginning of the test—it’s going to come down to preparation. Make sure you review all the applicable GRE material so you can enter the test room confident in your abilities and ready to take on the GRE quantitative challenge.

For more information on the GRE please see our post on GRE preparation, GRE Verbal Reasoning and GRE Analytical Writing.

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