What GRE math question types should you prepare for? And which are truly the most important GRE math concepts? In this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at GRE Quant concepts: how they are categorized and how frequently each major category appears on the test. Get ready to read about each type of question on the GRE that you should study.
The categorization and frequencies of the most important GRE math question types in this article are based on the 180 recently-released GRE Quant practice questions from ETS: the 80 Quant questions from the two PowerPrep Plus practice tests, and 100 Quant practice questions from the practice tests in the 3rd edition of the Official Guide to the GRE General Test.
These are among the newest and freshest GRE materials, so they really do give the most up-to-date picture of Quant GRE concepts. By the time you’re done reading about this range of math problems, you’ll truly understand what the word “quant” means when it comes to GRE prep. Then, test them out with these GRE math practice questions!
And for a look at the “big picture” of how these math topics fit into GRE concepts and GRE prep as a whole, see Magoosh’s free guide to the GRE test.
GRE Math Question Types
In terms of question formats, you’ll see four types of GRE math question types on the official exam:
- Quantitative Comparisons: In these questions, you’ll see two columns, A and B. Each one contains a value, which can be a formula, an expression, or an actual number. You have to determine the relationship between them: if one is greater, if they’re the same, or if it can’t be determined from the information provided.
- Multiple Choice Questions (Select One Answer Choice): The good old standby! You’ll see a problem and five answer choices.
- Multiple Choice Questions (Select One OR MORE Answer Choices): The standby…with a twist! One or more answers may be correct, and your job is to select any and all that are. There isn’t any partial credit.
- Numeric Entry: You’ll come up with your own answer (no choices are provided) and type it into a box.
For more info and practice with GRE question types, check out Magoosh’s GRE math guide!
What Are the Most Important GRE Math Concepts?
Here, in a nutshell, are the 14 GRE math question types:
- Word problems: interpreting the math in stories and descriptions
- Data interpretation: interpreting the math in charts and tables
- Algebra: includes both “pure algebra,” and algebra as applied to other GRE Quant concepts
- Coordinate geometry: shapes, lines, and angles on the coordinate plane
- Two-dimensional geometry: shapes, lines, and angles not on the coordinate plane
- Three-dimensional geometry: volume, surface area, etc…
- Statistics: mean, median, standard deviation, etc…
- Powers and roots
- Integer properties and aritmetic
The Most Important GRE Math Concepts Often Appear Together
The GRE often tests multiple Quant concepts in the same problem. While there are certainly many problems that focus on just one concept, it’s not uncommon to see a problem involving two or even three quant concepts. You’re unlikely to have to deal with more than three major concepts in a given GRE Quant question, although this may happen on exceptionally advanced math prompts.
Data Interpretation and Geometry
Still, certain concepts can overlap in surprising ways. Data interpretation problems, for instance, can double as geometry and statistics problems, when you are asked about the appropriate angles to put on statistical pie charts. Expect other interesting-but-challenging math concept mashups on the GRE as well.
Algebra in particular is one concept that overlaps massively with the other concepts listed in this article. You may encounter an algebra component in problems that deal with any other concept. This is why I’ve noted that the algebra category includes both problems that focus primarily on algebra and problems where algebra is a major secondary component. (In other words, there are regular algebra problems, but there are also algebra probability problems, algebra geometry problems, etc….)
Word Problems… and Everything Else!
Word problems of course also overlap with many concepts. Conceivably, any GRE Quant concept can be tested in a word problem. The word problem category also has an almost 100% overlap with data interpretation. Virtually any GRE Quant section question that involves chart or table reading also involves interpreting short associated word problems.
Common word problems involve mixtures, work rates, interest, and a number of other “staple” topics you’ve probably seen in other coursework and exams. But again, word problems really are pervasive on the test, and deal with math from many different angles; there are statistics word problems, arithmetic word problems, geometry word problems, and so much more. Arguably, word problems are in fact the most common GRE math problems.
In short, be especially prepared to use algebra or interpret word problems throughout the Quant section on test day! Word problems and algebra problems should be considered the most common GRE math question types.
With all that in mind, let’s now look at the whole table for GRE concept distribution: math problems!
GRE Quant Topic Breakdown by Frequency
In the table below, the different types of math problems are listed in order of most frequent to least frequent. And each concept is hyperlinked to an article that discusses the content in greater detail. Click the algebra link for an algebra breakdown, the statistics link for a stats breakdown, the geometry links for Magoosh geometry breakdowns, and so on. The link for Functions actually leads to a Magoosh GMAT Blog post, but that post is also relevant to the GRE.
|GRE Quant Concept||Percentage frequency on the test|
|Ratios, percents, and fractions||23.9%|
|Integer properties and arithmetic||16.7%|
|Powers and roots||7.8%|
|Probability and combinatronics||5.6%|
|Three dimensional geometry||2.2%|
Note: Some questions tested multiple concepts and were thus counted more than one time in more than one category. As a result, the percentages in the chart above add up to more than 100%.
GRE Math Question Types and Quant Concepts: The Takeaway
The table above, grouping math exam questions by topic, provides a good road map for your GRE Quant studies. It’s worth noting, for instance, that knowledge of percents, ratios and fractions is crucial; these are by far the most important GRE math concepts. In fact, percents/ratios/fractions are about as important as the ever-present algebra concepts that appear in so many questions.
Reading comprehension is obviously crucial as well: the ability to properly interpret story problems, charts and tables has clear importance.
Concepts related to geometry, arithmetic, and the properties of numbers can be seen as “runners up” in importance. These GRE math question types are of intermediate frequency. As such, these concepts aren’t quite as vital to your success compared to algebra, percents/ratios/fractions, and reading comprehension. But these types of math still show up often on the test.
On the other end of the table, sequences and functions should take the lowest priority in your studies. If sequence or function problems appear on your exam at all, you’ll likely have one or two questions at most in these two areas. The really are not the most important GRE math concepts.
And again, remember that these concepts overlap in many typical GRE math questions. Be prepared to deal with at least two of the concepts at the same time in the same problem, and seek out practice questions that allow you to multitask.
Last but certainly not least, make a good study plan to ensure that you’ll cover all the important concepts during your GRE prep. For example study plans, see Magoosh’s GRE study guides and plans.
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