How to Improve Your GRE Math Score

Learn the Fundamentals

This may seem obvious – but you need to have a strong grasp of basics such as exponents, triangle properties, and integers before even attempting to take the test. But even a shaky grasp of the fundamentals can slow you down. Make sure you are confident with the basics (check out our post on the best GRE math tips for a place to start). However, there is a paradox here: on the GRE if you focus only on the fundamentals you will jeopardize your score.

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Know the GRE

Fundamentals are only half of the battle, if that. Consider this – even some math majors struggle with the GRE quant. The reason is the GRE quant section tests how you think/solve problems just as much as it tests math concepts.

To learn the “tricks of the trade” practice with official material – whether it is the current GRE book or even the old Big Book. Nobody quite tricks you like the folks at the ETS (the organization that writes the test).

Pay attention to your mistakes, i.e. how you got trapped in the first place. For instance, if it is a percent problem that seemed so easy, what twist did ETS throw in there? Deconstructing questions in this manner will help you greatly.

Finally, learn effective techniques such as approximation and plugging in – techniques math majors never learned. Remember, obsessing over fundamentals will prevent you from doing well on the test.

 

Be a Specialist

Focusing on a given area so that you can become better is important. So if you are encountering compound interest for the first time, make sure you get the basic concept. Make sure you can also answer easy and medium-level questions successfully.

However, do not fixate on one section – let go and move on to other concepts. Remember, the more you focus in one area, the more other areas will languish.

 

Be a Generalist

Think of your GRE prep as a garden. You do not want to overwater plants (see “be a specialist” above”), nor do you want to flit from flower to flower, plant to plant, tree to tree, never stopping longer than to give a dollop of water.

To constantly water your garden, remember do practice questions at random. For instance in math, practice some quantitative comparison with variables, throw in some coordinate geometry and a rate problem for good measure.

This variety of problems is not only helpful from the standpoint of “watering” – the randomness of mirrors the actual test.

So what are you waiting for? Open up to a random practice set in your prep book and see how you do!

 

Awaken your calculator brain

Yes, I know  – the GRE allows you to use a calculator. But relying on a calculator for every single problem will only slow you down. Instead, awaken your calculator brain.

You should know how to convert fractions into percents/decimals with ease. Know the square of every number up to 20; the cubes for every number up to ten. Be able to approximate calculations like 27 x 14 in a matter of seconds. Doing so will help immensely test day. And when you see 2.45^6…it’s time to use the calculator.

 

The Right Material

Don’t waste time and material that is too easy, vaguely worded, or simply unlike the actual material on the test. How to know the difference? Pick up the ETS Official Guide to the GRE General Test. Here you have the problems written by ETS.

For other great material, check out Manhattan GRE and Magoosh. Yep, the latter is us. We not only have a range of questions testing all the concepts on the test, we have lesson videos that will help you drill the fundamentals, and question types that pertain to each fundamental.

Talking about watering your garden – with Magoosh will quickly become both a specialist and a generalist.

 

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Author

  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!