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GRE Numeric Entry Questions

One of the most dread-inducing additions to the GRE—back when it changed in Aug. 2011—was the Numeric Entry question. The reason is apparent: instead of five answer choices to guide you, suddenly there is nothing more than a box, a big blank waiting for you to cough up one number out of millions (if not billions!).

But really speaking, the Numeric Entry question should not inspire such fear. Believe it or not, this question type may actually be far less diabolical than the seemingly innocuous five-answer multiple-choice question. To illustrate that this is indeed the case, let’s take a look at the following question:

Two stacks of ten cards each are numbered 1-10 and randomly shuffled. Sam has to pick the top card from each stack and guess the number on each card. What is the probability that Sam guesses both numbers correctly?

  1. .001
  2. .025
  3. .01
  4. .02
  5. .50

The math here is pretty straightforward. There is a one in ten chance that Sam picks correctly from one stack. Therefore to find the probability that he picks correctly from both stacks is 1/10 x 1/10, which equals 1/100.

In the high-pressure environment of the test, we are prone to diving right into the answer choices as soon as we have the answer. Doing so can result in unfortunate lapses of judgment.

In this question, it is very easy to jump at (A), thinking that 1/100 is equal to .001. Of course, if you think about it for a moment, you will realize that .001 is equal to 1/1000. The problem is we don’t take that moment. And just like that, instead of choosing (C) .01, we pick (A).

Now imagine I had asked the question in the following manner:

Two stacks of ten cards each are numbered 1-10 and randomly shuffled. Sam has to pick the top card from each stack and guess the number on each card. What is the probability that Sam guesses both numbers correctly?

[                                                           ] Write your answer in decimal form.

Now when you go to convert 1/100 to decimal form, you will take a moment to think about the conversion. The dreaded box has become your savior.


Helpful tips

That does not mean that all Numeric questions are this straightforward. Nevertheless, you no longer have to contend with the answer traps that the GRE so craftily lays.

A few useful strategies for the Numeric Entry questions are:

  • Don’t be overcome with dread.
  • Read the question with the confidence that you will find the correct answer.
  • If after one minute, you’ve made no discernible progress, let the question be. It is not worth spending more time hoping you will come up with the right answer. Unlike the multiple-choice, you do not have a 20% chance of randomly guessing correctly.
  • Likewise, do not hover over the blank, entering in a number, then erasing it, then entering another number, then erasing it, and so forth.


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10 Responses to GRE Numeric Entry Questions

  1. Arnold December 26, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    Hi Chris!

    I just wanted to ask you your mental process to get to the conclusion of 1/10*1/10 that fast. The way I see it is that the 1st one has this probability, 1/10, but then we get to the second. Here for me is not that straightforward, even though I reach the same result than you. There are 2 possible scenarios:

    1. 1st was right:
    then you have probability 2/19 for the second, and it will have in total a probability to occur of 1/10*2/19=2/190

    2. 1st was not right and was neither one of the cards you
    chose as the second choice (for example, if you said 2 for the
    1st an 5 for the second, the 1st was neither 5 nor 2):
    16/20 to occur, and the second card will have 2/19 possibilities, so the total
    likelihood to occur is 4/5*2/19= 16/190

    3rd. 1st was wrong and was one of the cards you said would appear
    in the second choice

    1/10, then for the second pick up prob. 1/19, total 1/190

    If we add all the up we have 2/190+16/190+1/190=1/10

    But clearly this process is a loser way to approach the problem, you would burn 5 min of the test for a calculation that you made instantly. Can you help me here?

  2. Anna October 19, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    I have the same question as Maggie. If the answer is 22/100 and we write 11/50 in numeric entry, why is it wrong?

    Thank you

  3. Maggie September 12, 2013 at 6:51 am #

    Dear Chris,

    Why, oh, why, oh, why was my simplified fraction marked as wrong on the ETS practice exam? The correct answer was 22/100 and I answered 11/50. The question asked, “The airline with the least sum was voted #1 by what fraction of travel agents?” I can see that we are dealing with humans in this question so that reducing the fraction makes it look like there were 50 travel agents instead of 100, but I thought I was being such a thoughtful test-taker when I reduced the fraction! Is there a rule for when to simplify and when to leave-be?

    Thanks so much,

    • Maggie September 12, 2013 at 6:53 am #

      PS I asked this question on this page because it was a numeric entry questions.

      • Chris Lele
        Chris Lele October 20, 2014 at 11:40 am #

        Hmm…can you let me know the exact page this question is on. I want to take a close look at the wording. Something seems amiss!

        • Anne Marie December 27, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

          It’s on the downloadable version 2.2 of the practice test.
          Practice 1, section 3 of 5, Question 14 of 20.


        • Adam May 19, 2015 at 5:08 am #

          I also would like an answer to this question. I got the same question wrong for putting 11/50!

          • Temi Laj November 13, 2016 at 8:36 am #

            I also got the same question wrong for simplifying my answer to 11/50

            • Mark G. January 20, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

              I got that one wrong when I reduced to 11/50 too!

              • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
                Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 20, 2017 at 7:27 pm #

                Hi Mark,

                When looking at this question, I will agree that this answer is debatable. Because the question is looking for the fraction of travel agents and there are 100 agents, this fraction is maintained at 22 out of 100 agents. That being said, the question asks for “what fraction of travel agents”, so I can agree with the case that “1/50” (e.g., the fraction) still works as well. I will agree that the wording of this question may be a little misleading, but I wouldn’t get too hung up on it. ETS does a good job trying to vet out such confusing questions, so it is not too likely that you’ll encounter such a question. Still, great question and good point!

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