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How the MAT Tests Math, Part 1: Arithmetic

As I noted in a recent post comparing MAT to GRE, the MAT can’t test your math skills in the same way as a more traditional standardized test, such as the GRE or GMAT. Those two exams love charts (sometimes multiple charts per question!), diagrams (warning: not to scale!), and lengthy arithmetic. The MAT, in contrast, uses a concise and predictable question format that leaves no room for visual distractions or long calculations. Instead, MAT math emphasizes knowledge of terms, properties, and relationships. This is good news for the math-shy among us, as it means you can focus on recognizing mathematical facts when they’re presented, rather than applying them.

MAT Math: A Quick Non-Example

The most basic MAT math questions will present you with a series of four numbers. In these cases, there will be a single, specific relationship that joins the two pairs of numbers together in the same way. What you won’t see is a question like this:

 4: 16 :: 6 : _________

(A) 24
(B) 36
(C) 18
(D) 21

Why not? What’s wrong with this question? Simply put: there are too many potential right answers. If we start out by trying to express the relationship between 4 and 16, we might come up with the following possibilities:

Add 12. (4 + 12 = 16)
Multiply by 4. (4 × 4 = 16)
Square it. (42 = 16)

There’s nothing wrong with our approach: it’s actually a good idea to sketch out some possible relationships and “see what sticks.” The problem is that if we take any of the operations above and apply them to 6, we wind up with one of our answer choices:

6 × 4 = 24 (choice A)
62 = 36 (choice B)
12 + 6 = 18 (choice C)

So we’d be equally justified in picking any of the first three options. Again, this will never happen on the real MAT. I’ve included this problem just to illustrate two key points:

  1. There are many potential relationships at play, even in a seemingly simple math question.
  2. If you think you’ve found multiple correct answers, it’s time to revisit your calculations.

A More Realistic Example

Now let’s consider a more plausible version of the same problem:

5 : 25 :: 7 : _________

(A) 12
(B) 30
(C) 49
(D) 81

Just as in the previous question, we might try different strategies for expressing the relationship between 5 and 25, or the relationship between 5 and 7:

Add 20. (5 + 20 = 25)
Multiply by 5. (5 × 5 = 25)
Square it. (52 = 25)

This time, only one of the relationships allows us to complete the analogy. If we add 20 to 7, we get 27, which isn’t on our list. If we multiply 7 by 5, we get 35, which isn’t on the list either. Only squaring gives us an answer that shows up on the list: 72 = 49. Therefore, answer choice (C) is our winner.

Math Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Numbers

Some MAT math questions won’t involve numbers or equations at all. Instead, they’re a special kind of vocabulary question that checks your knowledge of mathematical terms. Consider this example:

factor : _________ :: product : sum

(A) multiple
(B) addend
(C) divisor
(D) quotient

In a sense, this is an arithmetic question, but it’s not asking you to perform arithmetic. It’s checking to see if you remember the names used for the numbers involved in different arithmetic operations.

So what’s the analogy here? There are a couple of ways to get at it. The most precise statement would be that two or more factors are multiplied together to yield a product; Two or more addends are multiplied together to yield a sum. Or, to put it even more succinctly, factors make products; addends make sums. Either way, the correct choice to complete the analogy is (B), addend.

By the way, if you’re feeling a little shaky on your math terms and properties, our GRE Math Formula eBook is an excellent resource. It covers the very basics of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and statistics, and despite being a GRE-targeted publication, it emphasizes exactly the kind of fine-grained facts and properties that make up MAT math questions.

Otherwise, stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll expand the MAT math discussion to basic number theory and units of measurement.

About Michael

A fan of logic games, classic RPGs, and espresso (in no particular order), Michael likes to think of standardized tests as puzzles to be pulled apart and analyzed. He delights in showing students the trapdoors, pitfalls, and shortcuts that lurk in even the simplest of questions. When he isn't helping students navigate the GRE, GMAT, or MAT, Michael enjoys writing poetry, tinkering with microcontrollers, and taking long, leisurely hikes in the woods.

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