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How to Study for the GREs – Part 2: Quantitative/Math

Back in November, I took the GRE (GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination, though the test’s longer name is almost never used) tests in preparation to go to graduate school next Fall. According to the results given immediately after the test, I scored a 780 on Verbal and a 790 on Quantitative.

Since my method of studying worked, at least it worked for me, I thought I’d share it in a three part series about studying for the three sections of the GRE: Writing, Quantitative (Math), and Verbal. Today’s subject is Quantitative. Yesterday was Writing.

What is the Quantitative Section on the GRE?

The Quantitative section is the math section. It involves everything from basic math skills through high school algebra and geometry. Fortunately, it does not involve trigonometry, calculus, or linear algebra.

How Do You Study for the Quantitative Section on the GRE?

Step 1: Buy a GRE Math Workbook or (more frugal option) check one out from your local library. If you get one used or from the library, just make sure it doesn’t have the answers in it. I tried using one of those and a guarantee you it’s distracting (I did manage to get an unmarked used one).

Step 2: Do Every Problem in the Book!

Really. Do every single problem in the book. That’s what I did, I started a month in advance to be sure I had time. Why? Because you don’t know what you’re going to run into and what will and won’t stick with you.

But you don’t have to read everything. Do read how to answer problems in the math section. And do read their strategy suggestions. But you can skip over the instructions about doing the actual math.

At the end of each problem set, I’d identify all the problems I got wrong, go back, and read up on how to do the problems right. Then I’d redo it step by step following the instructions.

It’s a method that saves time but also makes sure that you get a chance to study up on everything you don’t still remember.

Keeping Your Head While Taking the Quantitative Test

Even though I got 790 on it and studied for weeks, I did not have an easy time taking the Quantitative section of the GRE. Why? Because the GRE is computer-adaptive. This means that the computer bases the next question it gives you on how well you did on the last question. So when you answer a question, you get an equal or harder question.

This means that, if you’re doing well, the test may get progressively harder. Don’t let this psych you out. I admit that I completely forgot about that factor and at one point I nearly cried over the difficulty of a math problem. Remember that it’s ok and that it just means you’re doing well. Don’t let it psych you out if the test stays easy, you could be doing so well that the problems don’t feel hard.

Just keep going. There is always a right answer and sometimes it’s that there is no answer (comparative sections where you can answer that the answer can’t be determined with the numbers given).

And remember, the test is random enough that you really might have to answer C 5 times in a row or that the answer can’t be determined 5 times in a row. The latter happened to me, and judging by my score I was right every time (on those, anyway).

Stay tuned for a post on studying for the Verbal section


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

SP December 9, 2009 at 10:48 am

Good job on your awesome scores!
.-= SP´s last blog ..December and January Goals =-.

Thirtysomething Finance December 9, 2009 at 3:00 pm

I completely agree re doing every practice problem you can — there’s definitely a formula and rhythm to the problems, and though the test makers are constantly innovating, you’re likely to see a lot of similar problems. When I took the LSAT, it was very comforting to look at a problem and think to myself, “Oh, this is just like the one about the different colored dogs at the racetrack” 🙂
.-= Thirtysomething Finance´s last blog ..How I Unfroze My HELOC — OR I Fought the Bank and the…Bank Lost! =-.

Her Every Cent Counts December 10, 2009 at 11:39 pm

Great advice! I did not study enough… which is partially why I ended up with 470 Verbal, 580 Quant. The only thing I did decent on was the writing as I got a 5 on that. Your scores are awesome. Congrats! I don’t think I’m going to take the GRE again but I’d like to take the GMAT. If I ever get around to registering for the GMAT I know I will have to study a lot, especially on the math, since it’s even harder than the GRE.
.-= Her Every Cent Counts´s last blog ..Career Counseling, Psychiatry, Group Counseling, $$$ =-.

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