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The Best GRE Math Tips to Get Your Dream Score

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Scoring high on the GRE is an important part of getting into the graduate program of your choice. In fact, many business schools require the GRE test as part of their admission process for an MBA degree. The Quantitative Reasoning section (a.k.a. GRE Quantitative Section or just GRE Math) is perhaps the one section that causes the most anxiety for students. But you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to do well on the GRE Math section! In this post, we outline a number of GRE math tips and resources that will help you in your GRE preparation.

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Get a sneak peek at Magoosh’s online GRE prep by watching the Intro to GRE Math lesson video!

Table of Contents

GRE Math Tips for Beginners
GRE Math Tips for Advanced Students
Quick GRE Math Tips for All Test-Takers
GRE Math Tips for Time Management
GRE Math Tips for Each Question Type
GRE Math Tips by Concept Areas

GRE Math Tips for Beginners

If you believe you are “bad” or rusty at math, then these two tips will help you get closer to your goal score.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The single best way to improve your GRE scores is to practice, practice, practice! Overcome gaps in your knowledge by trying out many different kinds of problems and work on full practice tests. Make use of the best test-prep websites (like Magoosh GRE Math 😉 ), where you can solve problems and study the solutions carefully. That way, you can better understand what your strengths and weaknesses are.

Here are some GRE practice questions and a GRE practice test to get you started.

Managing Math Anxiety

Sometimes just the thought of taking a major test may be overwhelming—especially if math has never been your strong suit and/or if it’s been years since you’ve done math. Timed tests with high-stakes outcomes like the GRE Math section can cause your mind to race, and it’s hard to focus when you’re so worried about it! So here are a few tips to help alleviate your math anxiety.

First, adopt a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the idea that you can always increase your knowledge and skills by practicing and reviewing. Many students get stuck in a fixed mindset, in which they fool themselves into believing that they are “terrible at math” and cannot improve beyond a certain threshold, or that they are just naturally not math people.

With enough practice, you can solve questions that you couldn’t solve before!

How to put a growth mindset into practice

Start by developing a routine. Set an hour each day that will be your “math hour.” You don’t need to spend the whole time working out problems or delving deep into the content, but instead just use the time to clear your mind of other things.

Improve your GRE score with Magoosh.

Then, when you study, find ways to make the math more relevant to you. Don’t like geometry? Well, what if you can imagine all those lines, circles, and triangles as part of a fantastic landscaping project? The more that you can enjoy your math studies, the easier the problems will become, which in turn reduces your math anxiety come test day!

Finally, make sure that you are prepared for test day. Here is what to expect, according to the test-makers themselves!

GRE Math Tips for Advanced Students

If you’re aiming for a top score, then this section is for you!

High Achievers Avoid “Silly Mistakes”

What separates the high scorers from the average scorers? It’s not just mathematical ability and content knowledge. The high achievers also know a few tricks of the trade. Here are some tips to get you closer to that perfect score.

Check your work! When you finish a problem, don’t just select the answer and move on. Try to make sure your answer makes sense in the problem. If there is a way to plug your answer back into the problem to verify it, do that. If the answer can be found a different way, try it to double-check if you have enough time.

When you go too quickly, you might find yourself making silly mistakes. These include:

  • Improper “distributions”—for example, don’t split a radical over the plus or minus. √A+B ≠ √A+√B
  • Adding when you should have multiplied. This happens when you do mental math a little too fast. You might see (2)(3) on your page and your mind jumps to 5, when it should be 6.

Training and Mindset

It’s also a mind game! The top scorers get their heads completely into the game. In fact, the way that you can advance from middle-of-the-road to absolutely stellar is to have a growth mindset, which we discussed in the previous section.

So, what steps can you take to improve? Start with How to Study GRE Math. No matter what level you are, if you practice using the best test-prep materials, then you’ll see the results!

Quick GRE Math Tips for All Test-Takers

Using (and Not Using) the Calculator on the GRE

The GRE is unique in that it is given entirely online. You are not allowed to use your own calculator. Instead, there will be a calculator provided on the computer. For more details, check out our GRE Calculator guide.

One big piece of advice: Don’t immediately jump to the calculator for every problem! For one thing, the ETS Calculator (provided on the GRE) is a bit cumbersome to use if you’re used to working with a physical calculator. Pointing and clicking on the calculator is time-consuming. Make good use of your scratch paper instead.

Secondly, it will be a much better use of your time to think about the concepts within the problems rather than the computations involved. Often, problems are set up in a way to make the calculations easy, but if you approach them wrong you might waste time doing unnecessary button-pushing. Generally, you should avoid calculator use unless working out big multiplications, divisions, etc.

GRE Math Tips for Time Management

Pacing Yourself

Pacing is key on the GRE Math section. According to ETS, each quantitative reasoning section contains 20 questions to be done in 35 minutes. So, that works out to a bit more than a minute and a half per question. If you find yourself taking more than 2 minutes on a given problem, consider moving on. The online test has a way for you to mark questions for later review.

The QR sections are also adaptive. The difficulty of the second set of questions depends on how you did on the first set. So be very careful with the first set of questions! And don’t be discouraged if you start seeing really hard problems on the second set, because that means you’ve already done pretty well on the first set!

For more about leveraging your brainpower to help your pacing on GRE Math problems, check out our post on how to do GRE math faster.

GRE Math Tips for Each Question Type

Multiple Choice

magoosh GRE math tips video lesson icon with purple figure One great thing about single-answer multiple-choice problems is that the correct answer is sitting right there in the list of answer choices! Check out our video on when and how to use Backsolving and process of elimination to locate the correct answer.

It’s also important to realize that some multiple-choice problems have multiple answers! In other words, you will be asked to mark all choices that are correct. These problems can be especially tricky and require a lot of thought.

Quantitative comparison

Quantitative Comparison questions are probably the most unique question types that you will encounter on the Math GRE. Instead of solving for a specific value, you are asked to reason about the relationships of mathematical expressions, using concepts and properties of numbers. Sometimes, the correct answer may even be “relationship cannot be determined!”

These problems tend to be more about concepts than computations. If there are variables, plug in a lot of different values while sticking to the restrictions of the problem. Try to think of as many cases as possible before choosing an answer.

magoosh GRE video lesson icon with purple figure Here are a few more resources that will help you get started: our videos on Quantitative Comparison and QC Strategies – Picking Numbers.

Numerical entry

Approximately 10% of the problems in the GRE Math section will be numerical entry. These are similar (in spirit) to the grid-in problems on the SAT. Rather than choosing from a list of answer choices, you’ll have to provide the answer yourself. Be careful not to make arithmetic mistakes (“silly errors”), and always check your work!

More tips and more information can be found on our post about GRE numerical entry and here’s a set of numerical entry problems to test your skills.

GRE Math Tips by Concept Areas

Now that you know what the format of questions will be, let’s talk about the content of the GRE Math Section. I will even break down each content area further into its various quant concepts.

The four main content areas are Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and Data Analysis. Let’s look at each of them in more detail.

Arithmetic

Topics in Arithmetic include basic number properties, operations, estimation, proportional relations, percents, and sequences. These are your basic math essentials. Be careful though! While the content is not really advanced stuff, the problems in this area can still be quite tricky. You have to really know your numbers to succeed! Check out our GRE Arithmetic: Overview and Practice to try your hand at some practice questions.

Algebra

Algebra encompasses all the various techniques that ask you to solve for an unknown. Simplifying expressions, solving equations, factoring polynomials, and even graphing functions fall under this category. You will also see questions that ask you to set up algebraic equations to solve word problems. Our GRE Algebra: Overview and Practice post goes over everything you’ll need to know regarding this topic.

Geometry

Geometry is the visual side of mathematics. You’ll need to be familiar with the properties of lines, angles, circles, triangles, quadrilaterals, and other polygons. There will be questions about area and perimeter, as well as proportional thinking in similar figures and the proper use of the Pythagorean Theorem, as well as a light sprinkling of three-dimensional figures (aka, solid geometry).

magoosh GRE math tips video lesson icon with purple figure To make sure you’re up to speed on key GRE geometry formulas and concepts, check out our video lessons on Geometry Strategies and Angles in Circles.

Data Analysis

Topics covered under Data Analysis include basic statistics (mean, median, mode, range, etc.), as well as interpretation of data displayed in graphs, charts, and tables. Further topics delve into probability, random variables, and the normal distribution. If you are good at real-world applications of mathematics, then data analysis is your area! In any case, make sure to check out our GRE data interpretation practice and our post on the GRE math trick of the Dash Method to brush up your skills for this concept area.

magoosh GRE math tips video lesson icon with purple figure If Data Analysis isn’t your forte, our video lessons on Standard Deviation, Introduction to Probability, Introduction to Counting, and Venn Diagrams can help you out.

Conclusion

Through a combination of a positive mindset, lots of practice, and access to the best of the best prep materials, you can get the GRE math score you need to pursue your goals!

P.S. Ready to improve your GRE score? Get started today.

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