GMAT & MBA Admissions Blog

Mastering GMAT Quant: Building a Foundation

Posted by Lisa Alvarado on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 @ 05:22 PM

Many of our GMAT students are very intimidated by the quantitative section of the GMAT.  But they really don’t need to be.

We are quick to explain that it can often be easier to make rapid improvement in your score on the quantitative section of the GMAT, as a significant portion of the facts and concepts you need to know are easy enough to learn or re-learn and then begin to apply to GMAT problems. The verbal section, on the other hand, has a stronger element of required “intuition” and general comfort with the nuances of the English language. This intuition and the associated vocabulary and reading comprehension skills take longer to build, and variances across students in these types of skills are generally the result of over a decade of relative differences in number and complexity of books read, reading and writing coursework, and general interest in reading and writing.

All that said, students continue to be intimidated by GMAT quant. Our society has a large cohort of individuals who simply believe they aren’t really “math people.”

This leads to high levels of stress around the quantitative section of the GMAT, and at a certain point, enough stress and anxiety can result in scores on the quantitative section of the exam that don’t even come close to your true level of competence.

So, what are some foundational steps you can take to begin the journey to mastering the GMAT quant section. 

Let me suggest a two-step process to building a foundation for success on GMAT quant.

First, fully embrace why the GMAT quant section seems so challenging (but really doesn’t have to be)…

The first step to solving many problems and beginning to design solutions is simply to recognize and fully embrace the situation.

Here are 7 reasons why performing well on GMAT quant seems so challenging:

  1. It’s been a really long time since many test takers studied math
  2. It’s 37 questions and you are allowed 75 minutes, so you have ~ 2 minutes per question. You must work at a fast pace under intense time pressure
  3. There is lots of math theory they could potentially test in any given question (i.e., algebra, probability, number theory, etc.)
  4. The GMAT is a little grueling, Quant is the third section, and you are likely dealing with fatigue
  5. There are lots of little traps meant to trick you in each question
  6. Though many of us rely on calculators and excel almost exclusively in everyday life to perform calculations, you can’t use one on the GMAT, and a minor calculation error will cost you
  7. Data sufficiency questions are different and unintuitive to most of us

All that said, GMAT students need to know that the actual math tested on the GMAT doesn’t really go beyond advanced algebra and some simple statistics you’d learn in high school. And the GMAT – quant section isn’t even a math test. It’s a series of puzzles and problems to which you need to find solutions. Each question can often, once you fully understand it and develop an approach, be solved using scratch paper and mental math. 

In fact, although the relationship can be hard to see at times, when you build the required skills to master the GMAT, you’ll be able to apply those skills to better navigate MBA school, and even to become a better business manager. This is because GMAT quant is all about using the available tools (i.e., high school level math theory, formulas, and concepts) to evaluate options and design solutions to the problems or puzzles thrown at you during the test. The test is structured this way because, well, this type of critical thinking is what it takes to succeed as a manager in the business world. You are faced with issues, opportunities, problems, etc., and you have certain assets, people, and approaches to consider in designing solutions to problems or strategies for capitalizing on opportunities.

Once you embrace and get comfortable with the situation you’re facing, you can design effective solutions. Self-studying alone can introduce/explain most of the math theory you need to know. When I first started studying for the GMAT, I didn’t remember any of the rules about triangles. For example, I didn’t remember that the three angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees. Any question related to that fact seemed extremely difficult in my first few days of studying. But once I remembered that rule, those types of questions became extremely easy.

And consider point #7 above about data sufficiency questions. After a few weeks of studying, they won’t seem so different, because you’ll have gotten used to dealing with them.

…next, learn to get way more comfortable than you are today with mental math

Point #6 above was about the ability to do quick calculations in your head. It’s important on the GMAT, and if you’ve had a few years of business experience, you may have noticed that it’s a skill that can prove useful in many business meetings where people are trying to consider whether a hypothesis makes sense in real time. If it costs $2,000 to run the truck from Chicago to Indianapolis and we sell another 10,000 lb truckload for $1 per lb at a 25% margin, will we make money? Yes, we will.

How do you build the ability to do calculations quickly in your head? 

If you aren’t comfortable doing quick calculations in your head today, if you are the type of person that freezes a little bit in the face of a math question in everyday life, don’t worry. There are some very simple steps you can take to begin to build your mental math skills. The ability to perform quick calculations is a skill just like any other; it is developed in large part through practice.


Topics: GMAT quant