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GRE Quantitative Reasoning — Tips for Solving Math Problems

Here you'll find a list of useful tips for handling the following GRE Quantitative Reasoning question formats:

  • Multiple choice—select one answer choice
  • Multiple choice—select one or more answer choices
  • Numeric Entry (enter a number as your answer)
Except as noted, the tips here apply to all three formats listed above. (Different tips apply to the Quantitative Comparison format.)
  1. Start with a "ballpark" estimate. If a multiple-choice problem's solution is a specific numerical value, first try to roughly estimate the size of the number the question asks for. If you come up with a solution that's far off the mark, your ballpark estimate can serve as an alert. A good estimate can also help you eliminate outliers among the wrong answer choices.

  2. Take the shortest route to the answer. Always look for a shortcut to crunching numbers — a more intuitive way of determining the correct answer. Many GRE math problems are designed so that you can find the solution by taking either a long way or a shorter, more efficient way. So if you find yourself doing a lot of pencil work, there's probably an easier way.

  3. Don't rely on visual measurements. Figures are intended to provide useful information for answering the questions, but a figure will not necessarily be drawn proportionately unless accompanied by a "Note" stating that it is drawn to scale. So don't rely on your eye to measure angle sizes, line-segment lengths, areas, and so forth. Instead, answer the questions using the numbers provided and your knowledge of mathematics. The test makers are careful to ensure that no geometry question can be answered merely by visual measurement or estimation.

  4. Try reverse-engineering the answer. In handling multiple-choice questions, you might be able to solve some problems by working backwards from the answer choices to the problem — in other words, by assuming hypothetically that each answer choice in turn is the correct one and then testing it by "plugging it in."

  5. Use the on-screen calculator for all but the simplest calculations. And double-check those calculations before confirming your response. Keep ion mind: in multiple-choice problems, incorrect choices often anticipate commonly made computational errors — for example, using addition where subtraction would be correct.

  6. Don't split hairs in analyzing story problems. Make reasonable real-world assumptions when handling so-called "story" problems (math problems cast in a real-life setting). Don't split hairs by looking for subtle meanings or ambiguous language. The test is not designed to trick you in this way.