The quantitative (math) section of the GRE can be an intimidating roadblock for those trying to get into grad school. For many in the humanities and arts taking the GRE, it may have been several years or more since their last true math class, and it can be frustrating to be tested on material that is completely unconnected to your chosen subject area.
However, there’s reason for optimism, even for the last math-oriented GRE test-taker. With a few key strategies, you can navigate the quantitative section of the GRE with confidence.
Work backwards on all multiple choice problems
A large portion of the GRE quantitative section is multiple choice, which is a huge help to those who are less confident with their calculations. For algebra and simple arithmetic questions, plugging in answers and checking them can actually be easier and faster than doing the problem start-to-finish yourself.
Many answer options will reveal themselves as false the second you plug them into the equation or problem. Also, if you work backwards from the suggested answers, you are only opening yourself up to the possibility of three wrong answers, whereas there are infinite incorrect answers if you’re working from scratch.
Use your reading comprehension skills to break down word problems
Word problems can be among the most intimidating math challenges for those who don’t consider themselves “math people.” However, word problems are the best opportunities within the GRE quantitative section for more language-oriented test-takers to shine.
Instead of reading word problems as math questions, read them as narratives you’re assessing for logic. Use your understanding of language to help you determine which operation is taking place in the problem (addition, subtraction, division, etc.) and what kind of answer the question is looking for before you start. In this way, you can actually use your existing strengths to prop up your area of weakness on the test.
Don’t agonize over every single question
According to ETS (the Educational Testing Service, which owns and regulates the GRE), each question within the quantitative section should take test-takers about two minutes to answer. That means that if you’ve been staring at a question for more than 90 seconds, it’s time to pick an answer and move on. It can be difficult for many smart people to move on without finding a satisfactory answer, but given the time restrictions of the GRE, discretion is the better part of valor.
It’s also important to remember that your graduate program of choice will emphasize content that’s most closely related to your area of study. If you’re in the arts or humanities, they won’t be overly concerned with the minutia of your quantitative score. If you’re in a language-based field, focus your energy on hitting a home run on the verbal section! With that said, it’s crucial to put your best foot forward and show your adaptability and ability to thrive, even outside of your comfort zone!