GMAT Primer – Part 2

Click to read Part 1.

GMAT strategy is not universal; what works for one individual learner’s style and background can make no sense at all for another’s.  I’ve been working with GMAT students since the civilized world failed to collapse at the end of 2000, and I’ve found that while every student is different, there are some general principles (aside from “study for the test”) that apply to large numbers of people.  This is the second of a three-part series; first was Verbal strategy, this one is Quantitative, then shall come the all-important Study Plan (I’ll give you a three-month one, but you can adapt it to your actual time frame).  If you’re not sure of a given technique, try it during some untimed practice!

GMAT Quantitative Strategy

General Advice
Use the official guide.  Still as obvious as it was on the Verbal section, but I can’t count on your having read the whole series in order.  The Official Guide is in its 12th edition and is your best source of information on what CAN appear on the test because it’s written by the makers of the test.  They chose those particular questions for a reason, and while the book cannot take into account question wordings and styles that have appeared since its publication, the questions provide invaluable insight into what you need to know to succeed.   With Quantitative, treat the book as both a list of things to learn and a reference guide — not only does it list topics, it explains what they want you to know about those topics.  You can always do more reading on those subjects later, should you need extra insight or practice, but you should start with the OG!

Eliminate.  It is worth your while to jot down a few simple rows of ABCDE — ABCDE for any questions that require you to use a process of elimination.  If you are the type of person who can keep everything in your head, it’s not as important; if not, take advantage of the situation and write things down!  Elimination is especially useful in Data Sufficiency, because determining that one statement is sufficient allows you to eliminate three answer choices immediately (Other statement alone is sufficient, Together they are sufficient, and Neither is sufficient), but in some Problem Solving you will have compound answers (such as coordinates or polynomials) that allow you to eliminate based on part of an answer.

Arithmetic, Fractions, Algebra, Geometry, Roots, Exponents.  These are your friends, and it is not worthwhile to move on to other topics until you’re very comfortable with these things.  Yes, you might have a question or two on Interest or Probability, but you will struggle with those topics anyway if your fundamentals are unsound.  Every question type and topic is easier if you can handle these operations.
Problem Solving
Use the answer choices.  Oftentimes the answer choices will suggest how to set up the problem. If all of the answer choices are fractions, set up your problem initially with fractions; if no answer features pi in a question about circles, expect to be able to factor it out.  By all means make allowances for your own skills — you may be much better at one than the other — but conversion out of the format used by the answer choices and then back into that format is time you could be spending getting another question right.

Answer splits.  Some answer choices may have obvious splits — three answers are positive and two are negative, for example — and you can use that to your advantage if the problem itself eludes you.  If you can eliminate several answers at once on the basis of a sign or the denominator of a fraction, your odds of guessing correctly improve very quickly.

Data sufficiency
Predict when possible.  Take a moment to predict what sorts of information could give you sufficiency. You may not always be able to do much — the prediction for “what is |x|?” would be “A sufficient statement would give me x or |x|” — but knowing that you need (for example) a third distinct linear equation for your three-variable problem will enable you to pick it out quickly.

Start with easier statement.  There’s no rule that says you need to tackle Statement (1) first.  The other statement may give you additional insight into the problem more quickly, and even if it doesn’t, evaluating one statement always allows you to cross off at least two answer choices.  That first statement will still be there when you’re done, and you can more confidently choose to tackle it, or to guess and move on.

These are just general tips; every one of them could be a post on its own, but I wanted to give you an overview.  In the next installment, we’ll cover a three-month study plan for the GMAT!


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