It's Once, Twice, Three Times a Quant Problem...

GRE prep

How to Improve at Quant Comp

By Sarah from Brizzzzzle, UK (Disco ball in blue  Uploaded by TheCuriousGnome) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsHow to Improve at Quant Comp? This might be a rather audacious heading, but in this case it's accurate. As we've discussed in our GRE prep classes an in our Webinars, the GRE is not a "Math" test per se. Knowledge of core math principles and how and where to apply them is a crucial element of success on the GRE, but this knowledge is by no means sufficient to guarantee a great score. 

Instead, to take Quant scores to the next level, it is crucial that students practice and implement effective problem-solving, reasoning skills. Thus, one of the foundations of success on GRE Quant is to learn what these tools are and practice implementing them. 

However, even with this sage advice, it's possible that any given student's approach to Quant remain inchoate, mired in an admixture of test-taking ephemera. For this reason, in this post we will distill practice for Quant problems down to three key principles.

Three Approaches to Every Problem:

An axiom of test-preparation for "aptitude" tests such as the GRE is to value quality over quantity. From time to time, instructors will come across students who invest a lot of time into GRE preparation without achieving satisfactory results. One common issue is that these students may be spinning their wheels, doing problem after problem without deriving any useful principles or observations about either these problems or their personal strengths and weaknesses.

To create personal strategies for success at the GRE, it's necessary that students implement a diagnostic approach to their preparation. We encourage students to attempt problems multiple times, even problems (perhaps especially problems) that they might already understand. The following are three possible approaches to GRE Quant problems.

1: The Textbook Approach

While GRE problems often defy and confound routine arithmetic or algebraic solutions, such solutions are possible for practically every Quant problem. For instance, in a system of equations with two variables and two equations, it is possible to arrive at a solution using principles like substitution. Are such approaches advisable? Usually not! There usually is an easier way, but part of students' work should be to understand the conventional, core math concepts illustrated on problems. 

2: The Problem-Solving/Logic Approach

Much of structured test-preparation such as classes and self-study is directed towards instructing students how to escape the confines of these conventional approaches and implement faster and (when done correctly) more reliable and accurate approaches to Quant questions. For instance, in our PowerScore methodology, we instruct students to ANALYZE THE ANSWER CHOICES, SUPPLY NUMBERS, and TRANSLATE, etc. 

These are essential tools for success on Quantitative Reasoning. Even if such approaches place students somewhat outside their comfort zones, it is essential to practice and implement these approaches whenever possible. Since students are usually less familiar with these techniques, instructors and test-prep texts often devote a majority of instruction time or space to expounding upon such principles.

3: The "Educated Guess" Approach

Since every question within each Quantitative section is weighted equally and there is no penalty for guessing, it is essential that students answer every question, even if they have to make a blind guess. However, it's possible at a minimum to increase likelihood of guessing correctly or even occasionally choosing the correct answer confidently using no math whatsoever. 

In the "Educated Guess" approach we're now firmly outside both conventional math and students' comfort zones. In fact, many students are quite resistant to "letting go" of math entirely and simply reasoning through problems, eliminating answers that are likely wrong. In a well-rounded approach to test preparation, however, such informed guessing through analysis is an essential tool, effective both when short on time and on questions for which students may lack the knowledge necessary to solve the problem directly.

The Overarching Goal of the Three Approaches

By practicing these three approaches whenever possible, it is possible to build a "toolbox" of approaches to Quant problems. A core principle of success on Quant is to keep moving. Be a freight train barreling down the tracks, crushing through question after question. When facing a wall, grab a different approach and continue. Still not achieving the answer? Make an educated guess and move on. No one question is a hill to die on on the GRE.

Confidence with multiple approaches to Quant problems is possible if and only if students practice such approaches with regularity and throughout the course of their GRE preparation, but it's essential to remember that GRE Quant problems are almost always less than what meets the eye. ETS constructs Quant questions to appear impenetrable, but the math itself is often not as difficult as what students expect.

Please join us in our GRE forum to ask questions and seek advice about your preparation, and consider attending one of our free online seminars to enhance your understanding of key aspects of the GRE.

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