7 Easy Steps to Quant Success on the GMAT and GRE!


In a previous blog we talked about the only 3 reasons why you’ll ever miss a quant question:  1) misreading a question 2) blowing some arithmetic or algebra and 3) not being able to get to the next step in the questions.

Understanding why you miss questions is fine, but it really isn’t good enough to raise your score.  You need a strategy that minimizes each of those reasons – especially reasons 1 and 2!

So here it is – I hope you’re sitting down – the ULTIMATE method for getting quant questions right!  Use these 7 steps every time to minimize mistakes, maximize the number of questions you get right right, and RAISE YOUR SCORE!


Step 1:  Read

Don’t lift a pencil, don’t write down an equation, don’t assign variables.  Just read the question the entire way through.  You can glance at the answer choices as well.

Step 2: Panic

You’re allowed to panic exactly once in the process and this is it.  They are asking me for WHAT?!, as your stomach clinches and turns.

Step 3: What are you asked for?

On step 3 we start analyzing the question.  The very first thing I want you to WRITE DOWN is: what you are being asked for.  Did I mention –write it down!  You need to specific target to aim for.  If you can write it down in math, that’s best.  But if you can’t, write it down in English.

Steps 4:  Make it simple and easy.

This is the most misleading named step ever.  The GMAT and GRE job is to present you with information in the most confusing way it can.  You’re job is to get the confusing information you’re presented with into simple math equations and/or actionable math concepts you can actually get your head around.  You go slowly –  line by line, step by step.

Often that means translating GMAT and GRE English into math or realizing something like  > 0 means ‘a’ and ‘b’ have the same sign.

Step 5: Solve for x!

Everyone thinks this is what the GMAT and GRE is about. But the truth is, this is the easy part.  In step 4 you’ve done the hard work of making equations and spotting the inferences, now it’s just executing (usually pretty easy) algebra and arithmetic!

Step 6:  Compare

Now that you’ve solved for x, ask yourself:  what have I actually solve for and what was I actually asked to find?   Compare what you’ve found with what you WROTE DOWN in step 3.  See if what you’ve solved for matches what you were asked for.

Step 7:  Adjust

If what you’ve solved for doesn’t match with what you were asked for, make adjustments.  Maybe they want ‘1 – x’ or maybe x has to be a negative number, etc.

Why does this method work so well?

You read the question – a lot!

You’ll notice that the process has you read the important parts of the question multiple times.

Step 1:  read the entire question.

Step 3: pull out what the question is asking you for.

Step 4 : slowly read and analyze the question.

Step 6: go back to step 3 and re-read what you were asked for.

Following these steps tends to minimize misreading – simply because you read the question multiple times and you compare your work directly with the question.

You separate the conceptual from the executional

Human brains are terrible at analyzing and processing conceptual information while simultaneously trying to execute on the details.  If you look at the 7 steps, they separate the conceptual from the executional.  As much as possible we want to avoid having you think conceptually while at the same memorizing details or executing math equations.

The first four steps are largely conceptual.

  • read
  • panic
  • question is asking what?
  • make simple and easy

The last three steps are largely executional

  • solve for x
  • compare
  • adjust

Of course, it’s impossible to entirely separate the two worlds, but we want to try to as much as we can.

It’s also very important to note that as the questions become more difficult, the game is usually won or lost in steps 3 and 4.

When I’m working with private students I can usually tell if they will get the question right by

  • how precisely they can write down what the question is asking them for
  • how succinctly they can translate the confusing information there are given into simple math phrases.

Don’t be tempted

From time to time, you will be tempted not to use the process – or to short-cut some steps.   It will either be time pressure or maybe you are really confident that you ‘see’ how a particular question works.  Don’t do it!  Following the steps almost always leads to a more accurate and faster way through the question.

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