Oh, the Quantitative section of the GMAT. It’s enough to make the most numbers-happy MBA cringe. But don’t throw away those business school dreams just yet!
While the concepts tested on the Quantitative section of the GMAT are not terribly difficult, the test-writers do their best to throw you off your game. The more you practice, the less likely you’ll be to fall for one of their tricks. With a little hard work, you can watch that Quant score skyrocket.
Review math basics
The main math concepts tested on the GMAT are relatively simple – arithmetic, algebra, geometry – but you probably haven’t studied them since high school. Your GMAT prep will get nowhere if you don’t first review basic concepts in these three areas.
All of your major GMAT study guides should include a section on review. Don’t rush through this section – take the time to really relearn the material. Although it’s been a while, you’ll likely refresh your memory quickly.
For those concepts that will take a little more time to solidify in your brain, create flashcards. Don’t be afraid to pull out those flashcards on the bus, in the grocery line, or whenever you have a few extra minutes.
Take the Quantitative section of a practice test
Taking a practice test will allow you to get an idea of where you are starting from and how much further you have to go. Follow the timing for the real test. Don’t worry too much about the score yet – that’s what the rest of the plan is for. Several online resources provide free practice content.
Analyze your practice test
Review the results of your practice test very carefully. Note the questions that you answered incorrectly and study the explanations of the correct answers. Make flashcards for the concepts tested on those questions. Create a spreadsheet indicating the questions that you answered incorrectly, as well as their respective topics and sub-topics.
In fact, creating a spreadsheet will do more to prepare you for business school than anything that the GMAT tests!
Identify your area of greatest weakness and attack it
If you are having trouble with geometry questions about angles, you need to practice geometry questions about angles. Work on as many questions like this as you can find.
Use your spreadsheet to go back to problems that you previously answered incorrectly and do them again. You can then move on to another weakness and do the same thing: lather, rinse, repeat.
Continue to take more practice tests and analyze them
Obviously, there are many mathematical topics that you need to understand in order to score well on the Quant section of the GMAT – but taking practice tests is just as important in order to achieve this.
So much of this test involves being familiar with the types of questions and also avoiding common pitfalls. You can only master this if you practice, practice, practice! You should plan on taking at least six practice tests before the exam, at a pace of at least one per week.
A note on Data Sufficiency questions
Many people agree that one of the most difficult things about the Quantitative section is the Data Sufficiency portion. You’ve likely never seen questions like these before. They take a little getting used to, but the more you practice them, the easier they become.
While your strategy for the problem-solving questions will be pretty straightforward and similar to strategies used on other standardized tests, Data Sufficiency questions are a different beast. There are several key points to remember when working on Data Sufficiency questions:
The answers are the same for every question: Memorize those answer choices! By the time test day comes around, they should be ingrained in your mind, and you won’t waste any precious time reading the answers.
Evaluate the statements one at a time: Check out the first statement, and cover up the second statement if you have to. If you determine that the first statement is sufficient, then you can knock off the second, third, and fifth answer choices.
If the first statement is not sufficient, you can eliminate the first and fourth choices. If this sounds confusing… well, it is at first – but you’ll catch on. And it will become second nature. Now, it’s time to evaluate the second statement.
Look for sufficiency, not the actual answer: Let’s say the question for a Data Sufficiency problem is: “What is the value of x?” You are just trying to find out if there’s enough information to answer the question, but you don’t actually have to find the answer.
This is hard to swallow, and probably goes against everything you thought you knew about test-taking. You need to learn to get over that instinct.
Maureen Spain is a professional GMAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Northwestern University and received her MBA from Duke University: The Fuqua School of Business.