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Pacing on the GRE Math Sections

The GRE math sections each contain 20 questions. You are given 35 minutes for each section, which works out to 1:45 seconds per question. Below are some helpful tips to help you wisely use these 35 minutes.


Go for the low-hanging fruit

Each question in the GRE quantitative section is worth the same number of points. That is such an important point that I am going to repeat it again (in caps): EACH QUESTION ON THE GRE SECTION IS WORTH THE SAME NUMBER OF POINTS.

That’s right folks. If ETS sits there and devised a question such as the following:

{(100! - 99!)^100 - (99! - 98!)^100}/{(98! - 97!) ^100} =

The five minutes you’d take to (maybe) answer the question correctly will yield the exact same number of points as this question:

If 2^x = 4^2, what is the value of x?

So what’s the takeaway from this? (Besides factorials scare the living <expletive> out of me!)

Well, why waste time on a very difficult question when you can simply scroll to an easier question. Think of it this way: in 35 minutes you want to score as many points as you can, and each question is worth the same.

If I paid you 1,000 dollars for every apple you picked from a tree in 35 minutes, what would you do? You would go for the low hanging fruit. You would not waste your time climbing to the very top of the tree to pluck an apple that is worth the same number as an apple that you can simply reach out and grab with both your feet planted on the ground.

Of course after a certain point—that is to get a high score—you must grab the fruit up on high, and go for the difficult questions. But make you’ve answered the easy ones first.


How much time should I budget per question?

The answer differs depending on how difficult the question is. Think of it this way. There are easy questions, medium questions, and difficult questions. Easy questions should take between 45 seconds and 1 minute. Medium questions should take between 1:00 – 2:00. And difficult questions should not take longer than 3 minutes. The ratio of easy, medium, and difficult questions vary per section but in general you can expect to see a smattering of each. On the easy section the ratio will skew towards easy; in the difficult section that ratio will skew towards difficult.


Learning to let a question go

If you are staring at a question and have been unable to devise a solution after a minute, you should seriously consider moving on to the next question. Again, keep the low-hanging fruit metaphor in mind.

If, however, you are dealing with a difficult math question (and it is clear that it is difficult), then take a couple of minutes, as some questions will clearly take that much time. That is do not freak out on a question that is clearly convoluted just because you’ve taken 2 minutes. As long as you are headed toward the solution, persevere.


Do not be sloppy but do not obsess over easy questions

Using the time schematic above, we can see that easy questions can take less than a minute. It is important to answer these questions confidently and move on. If you dither, then that is time that could be spent on a more difficult question. However, do not race through an easy question, because than it defeats my whole low-hanging fruit sermon—missing a question that you could easily have answered correctly had you spent that extra second does not make sense (especially if you are racing towards difficult questions that you may not even answer correctly in the first place).


Make sure you guess

You do not even have to approach every question, especially the difficult ones, as I mentioned above. But make sure at the very end that you guess, because there is no penalty for guessing.  So randomly give yourself enough time at the end to bubble in every question. A little bit of luck can go a long way! (- assuming you know how to study for the math section!)


By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

36 Responses to Pacing on the GRE Math Sections

  1. Rahel August 31, 2016 at 6:46 am #

    I sat for a GRE exam 3 weeks back. Unfortunately my actual score came lower than the score I got in my Powerprep tests. It was only 304(Q:159, V: 146) which was heartbreaking for me. Expected at least 162-165 in quant and around 150 in verbal, but I failed miserably both to get my desired numbers in both the sections miserably.

    Now I have registered again for the test which would be 4 weeks from now on. I am struggling mostly on RC section(in verbal) and in inequality type maths. Would u give me some tips about how to develop my scores in these topics. Thank u.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 2, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

      Hi Rahel,

      You will find a lot of advice on our blog about how to improve in these areas! Specifically, you may find the reading comprehension section helpful. The absolute best way to improve in reading comprehension is to read as much as possible. The verbal section is testing your overall ability to comprehend complex texts, which is a skill that takes time and effort to improve. We recommend that our students read for at least an hour a day outside of other GRE studies. And you can’t just read–you have to practice focused, active reading. You can see these blog posts for some reading suggestions. Reading is the best way to improve your verbal score, I promise!

      As for improving in the math section, I recommend the following blog posts: GRE Math Inequalities, and Learning from Math Practice. And if you explore the math section of our blog, you will find plenty of extra practice and tips for how to improve!

  2. meshari July 27, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

    I’ve already taken the GRE test three times, each time I get 130 on the verbal section meaning that I got ZERO, but after checking the diagnostic results of my exam I found that I’ve answered 3 questions correct in each exam for the first, the second and the third exams.

    does anyone has explain about what happens to me ?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 2, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

      Sorry to hear you’ve been getting such disappointing scores in GRE Verbal. 🙁

      In theory, your should be a 133– as a raw score at least. However, the GRE makes adjustments to the point weight of each answer, based on their relative difficulty. It’s possible that the questions you got right are the easier questions in the set. In this case, your collective points for the three questions you got right could amount to less than 1 and be rounded down to 0.

      Having said that, this is just one theory. ETS is a bit secretive about how it adjusts raw scores and converts them to official score.s Other unknown factors and measurements could be at play here too.

  3. Gayatri June 17, 2016 at 1:07 am #

    Could you please tell me the weight age of topic ‘Profit and Loss’ in GRE?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 19, 2016 at 9:02 am #

      Hi Gayatri 🙂

      Profit and Loss questions fall under the concept of percents and percent change. You’ll see about 9 questions on these and related topics, such as fractions, on the exam.

      Hope this helps 🙂

  4. tiffany April 13, 2016 at 10:27 am #

    When I reviewed my GRE test diagnostic for the quantitative section there was only a total of 37 questions. Why would this be? I emailed ETS for an answer and no response but I thought there was supposed to be a total of 40 questions?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 14, 2016 at 12:50 am #

      Hi Tiffany,

      That’s a strange situation. I would definitely try to contact ETS again and find out what is going on. I have never heard of this happening, but there must be a good explanation the people at ETS can give you.

      Good luck! 🙂

  5. Sanvika April 3, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    What is the weightage for each topic in quant? Which topics are mostly asked and which are less asked. For example probability has less weightage. I want to know what is the weightage for other topics in quant in detail.
    Please reply that would be a great help
    Thanks in advance 🙂

  6. Kshittiz October 11, 2015 at 9:32 am #

    Hi chris,
    I always tend to solve quant starting from 1st question till last, in this strategy i sometimes get stuck on inequality QC questions where you might have to use hit and trial method,thus consuming lot of time.
    Now i am planning to start from last question because these questions (inequality…) Comes at start,so i will encounter them at last if i start from end.Is it a good strategy?
    I want to score 165+ but generally get 160-164,can you tell me best strategy for quant?
    My exam is next week!

    • Dani Lichliter
      Dani Lichliter October 12, 2015 at 9:49 am #

      Hi Kshittiz,
      Thanks for reaching out! Since you are a premium member, I went ahead and forwarded your question on to our remote tutors. Someone from that team will reach out to you via email.
      Good luck on your exam next week!

  7. Kaley June 28, 2015 at 3:06 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    What is the ratio of easy:medium:hard questions on the GRE? I know that every question is worth the same amount of points, but does there seem to be a skew of the amount of difficult questions to easy?


  8. Karishma May 26, 2014 at 10:57 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I am able to solve math Sections without any hindrances. But my timing is little poor. DI questions especially take a lot of time as I keep on going back and forth bewteen qs and graph. Particularly, questions in which answer choices have the problem statement and u need to find max etc.
    Are there any tips for me??
    My GRE is in 2 weeks!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 28, 2014 at 10:52 am #

      Hi Karishma,

      A good strategy is to get a better sense of the graphs before diving into the question. This might seem counterintuitive because you want to speed up, not slow down; however, by getting a better sense of the layout of the graph, you’ll save yourself time frantically going back and forth between the graph and the questions.

      As for the second part of your question, I’m not exactly sure what you mean (“the problem statement…you need to find the max”).

      • Karishma May 28, 2014 at 11:31 am #

        Hi Chris,
        Thanks for the advice. I meanyna question like this
        Which of the following statements must be true?
        (A) Of the four stores, Store X had the greatest percent increase in revenue from 2011 to 2012.
        (B) Per customer revenue increased at Store Z from 2011 to 2012.
        (C) Of the four stores, Store W had the greatest increase in total costs from 2011 to 2012.
        (D) Of the four stores, Store Y had the highest percent of repeat customers.

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele May 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

          Hi Karishma,

          Ahh…those. Well, a good thing is you’ll know right away that these are time consuming questions, and you can–and should–move on to other parts of the quant section. As for general strategies, try to “guestimate” based on looking at the graphs. You’ll also want to round up numbers to allow for easier calculations, e.g. 172/511 = 170/500 = 34%.

          Hope that helps!

  9. Sri April 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    Btw, what is the answer for the factorial problem? How can we simplify it?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 28, 2014 at 10:45 am #

      Hi Sri,

      The question is more of joke. I don’t think there is really a way to “simplify” it. Sorry to cause you anxiety with this problem!

  10. lawal June 19, 2012 at 1:40 am #

    hi chris,
    I am a magoosh premium user.
    what do you think of this routine for studying maths.
    1. First watching magoosh videos on a particular topic
    2. Reading the same topic from barons and doing the practice at the end of the chapter
    3. Study the same topic from Nova gre prep and do the practice questions

    Am tryna save magoosh practice questions for later especially when my GRE is about 1month so i can customise and practice full length timed questions to simulate the real exam.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

      Hi Lawal,

      Your strategy sounds like an efficacious one. Use the Barron’s for a warm-up, once you’ve watched the Magoosh lessons, and save the Magoosh questions for last. As for studying the same topic in Nova, I would just stick to the practice questions in the book (explanations aren’t that great).

      And don’t forget to use official material as well 🙂

  11. Gaia June 14, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    First of all, Magoosh is AMAZING. It’s been so incredibly helpful and it’s really keeping my studying on track, and, dare I say it, enjoyable.

    I recently got my hands on a huge GRE book (published in 1998) with 27 practice tests. Although the problems are not the same format as the Revised GRE, would they still be good practice?


    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

      Hi Gaia,

      That book is known as the BIG BOOK. It’s a prized black market commodity (okay, maybe not black market, but definitely prized). Of course it is nowhere nearly as prized as it was during the old GRE’s stint. Nonetheless, you should still get some mileage out of it. Plenty of vocab words, many of which you’ll end up seeing test day. You also have a pretty massive bank of quantitative comparison questions (that should come to 740). Most of the math is a little easier than that found on the test today. Nonetheless, it should be good practice. The RC is also helpful (the scope of the RC today has changed though in terms of the tone of the passage). All in all, it’s still a prized commodity :).

  12. bebo June 12, 2012 at 8:13 am #

    Thanks for the wonderful tips.
    Could you please tell the solution to the factorial question you mentioned in the beginning. I am kinda losing sleep over it 🙁

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 12, 2012 at 11:47 am #

      Sorry for doing that to you Bebo :).

      But no need to lose sleep over it – I made the question almost impossible to solve on purpose. You would never get something like this on the actual GRE (or any test for that matter :).

  13. Sri Harsha June 9, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Hey Chris,
    Thanks for ebook.. Your efforts are laudable …
    I am thinking of taking a premium membership if you could help me with my preparation…
    Can u devise some 2 month study plan… Fit for me
    I have gre booked on sep 5
    Regarding my preparation :-

    I did Kaplan 500 flash cards and half of your vocab ebook and somewhat comfortable with vocab..
    And reg Maths… I am somewhat comfortable … Didn’t give any practice tests though..
    I seem directionless in my prep…

    • Dinesh June 11, 2012 at 1:59 am #

      I’m a premium user, and i’ll advise anyone in doubt to buy Magoosh’s material. I’ve practiced from various sources like ETS, Magoosh, Manhattan and Princeton till now. And i should say ETS and Magoosh provide the best content in the market 🙂 Manhattan tests are good. And Princeton the worst.

      • Chris Lele
        Chris June 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

        Thanks for the kudos 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 11, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

      Hi Sri Hasha,

      Yes, we have a 2-3 month study guide. Following it will definitely give you direction (you won’t feel as though your studying is desultory :).

      Let me know if you have questions 🙂

      • SriHarsha June 11, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

        Thanks Chris,
        I bought premium package….:)

        • Chris Lele
          Chris June 12, 2012 at 11:45 am #

          Great :)!

          I hope you find it helpful. And any step along the way, don’t hesitate to ask any questions.

  14. ALI SOHAIL June 9, 2012 at 6:17 am # a particular section of maths. lets say its a easy section.we will have majority of easy questions..ryt?…and does the weightage(pointS) of easy ,medium and hard questions same that is 1 mark??? i m really confused over this….

  15. Harshith Mishra June 8, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    Wow!! I just love the subtle points you make in your blogs ! I have just registered for GRE and have a naive question in my mind. Is there any negative marking in GRE? Would n’t it be a good idea to attempt all Questions in the last minute if time runs out ?

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