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FAQ: Should I Study Probability?

I have 30 days to the test and am terrified about probability…what should I do?
There is perhaps no other topic on the GRE math that instills as much dread in students as does probability. Understandably, students will obsess over this topic more than they will other topics. However, such an approach won’t only lead to a poor night’s sleep, it will also be counterproductive to your GRE score. The reason is that instead of studying for topics in which you can make quick gains—topics that are likely to show up on a test—you will squander your precious time on a question that may not even show up test day. And even if it does, you’ll likely get only one probability question.

What also makes studying for probability frustrating is that it requires more intuition than most of the other question types. Studying formula after formula isn’t going to help you make progress. Doing practice questions will help, but doesn’t ensure you’ll correctly answer that one probability question that you end up getting.

Let me state clearly that I’m not implying that you should skip probability altogether. What I’m saying is that you should focus on number properties, data interpretation and quantitative comparison, the three areas that students tend to overlook—or at least under study—even though these question types, taken together, account for as much as half of the quant section.

It would be terrible for you to forget that ‘1’ is not a prime, or that the square root of a fraction between 0 and 1 increases that number, because you were burning the midnight oil on a probability question about the likelihood that three different students would sit together in a row of nine chairs. In other words, you focused not only on a very limited question type (probability) but also on a very specific aspect of probability, one that you’re very likely not to see on the actual test.

It is important to know your weaknesses; it also important to know the frequency of question types involving that weakness. So, study what is likely to show up on the test and figure out your weaknesses in that area. If you have diligently made your way through all the other concepts, and only probability is left, then study it. However, if you only have thirty days to study for the test, the probability of that happening is pretty low.

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