Skip to Main Content
This is a free sample lesson. Sign up for Magoosh to get access to over 200 video lessons.

Intro to GRE Math


Now it's time for us to start discussing the math section of the GRE. Now some of you might be excited, you have a strong background in math and you're ready to go, but I know that many of us don't feel that same way. Maybe we haven't done much math in years, or perhaps you struggled with math when you were in school. But if that's the case, don't worry.

We're going to walk you through all the different pieces of knowledge, the skills, the strategies and the practice you need to become more comfortable working with math on the GRE, so that you can be successful whether you have ever come to really love math or not. You can do a great job anyway. One important piece of general information we need is we need to understand the role of the calculator on the math section.

Now the GRE does provide an on-screen calculator, and you are allowed to use it anywhere you want throughout the exam. However, many students can cause problems for themselves by trying to make too much use of the calculator. You should not plan to use it on the majority of problems that you work on. Here are a couple of reasons why that's true.

Number 1, use of the calculator can be time consuming. You either have to type with the keyboard or click through with your mouse and put in all the information. If it's a quick calculation that you should be able to do in you head or by hand on your scratch paper, then it might take more time to use the calculator. And number 2, an important reason here, calculators leave room for mistakes.

Any time you type in a number or an operation it's possible that you might make a typo, you could make an error. And the number that you get out, you're likely to trust, because we think of calculators as being perfect and infallible. When in reality you might come up with the wrong answer, because you didn't carefully type or enter the correct information.

Instead of opportunities for time wasting and mistakes, we want to base our strategy around what the GRE is really looking for. The GRE does not care about your ability to make complicated calculations. One reason we know that's true is because it gives you a calculator to use. Instead, the GRE is testing your ability to use logic and problem solving skills. And in the quant section, the problems that are given to you are opportunities for you to show that you have the mathematical knowledge that allows you to do exactly this.

So the real secret to GRE Quant is this. Many problems may appear to need difficult, complicated calculations, and that can feel very overwhelming. But in reality, most of these problems can be solved with very little calculation when you analyze the logic behind the problem. The logical, simple, elegant solution is going to be the fastest and easiest.

And as you learn to find these refined solutions, then your score will definitely increase. And you'll see that the test is not so much about calculations as it is about logic and strategy. So when we find this type of solution, the number of calculations we need to make is decreased.

And so that saves us time and it helps us minimize the chance of making numerical mistakes, whether we're calculating by hand or using our on-screen calculator. Of course you will have to make some calculations on the exam, but learning to become comfortable using mental math and doing some of the math without the assistance of a calculator is a big key to success. The knowledge and the skills you have mathematically are going to be tools that allow you to prove your problem-solving ability for the different questions that you're given.

And to help you with that it's important that you start doing some mental math in your everyday life, especially if you're not used to doing so. That can sound intimidating at first, but it's important to start to try. Look for the different math that occurs in your life. If you go to the store, try to estimate how much money you'll spend for all the items in your basket.

If you're going to pay sales tax, figure out what the price of the item will be after tax. If you are splitting up a meal into different portions, divide the size of that meal into portions. Look for opportunities to perform basic math calculations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and estimating in your daily life.

And if you want, you can use a calculator or have a friend use a calculator to test what you're doing. This will help you become a lot more comfortable. Throughout our lessons, we're also going to give you some basic strategies that can help you feel more comfortable working with numbers overall. So in summary, of course math is important, but the basic, simple math skills are really a tool to help you prove your mathematical logic.

And making elaborate calculations, working with big, ugly, fancy numbers is not so much an important skill for the quant section. Your problem solving and logic are more important and can minimize the amount of calculating that you have to do throughout the math sections. So it's important that you try to learn to identify the simple, elegant solution and perform only necessary calculations when you work on your questions.

A great way to help that is to look out for the elegant solutions that you find in practice problems and in their explanations, as well as in the additional lessons that you'll be seeing within our math modules.

Read full transcript