Breaking Down the Quantitative Section of the GMAT

Breaking Down the Quantitative Section of the GMAT

Math on the GMAT can be very challenging, but we can take comfort in the fact that it tests the same concepts over and over again. By familiarizing yourself with that content, you can face the GMAT Quantitative section confidently.

In very broad terms, the GMAT Quantitative section tests algebra, geometry, arithmetic, and a small amount of statistics. More specifically, it tests: equation solving, properties of integers, exponents and roots, mean, median, mode, ratios, systems of equations, sets and groups, probability, percentages and percent change, standard deviation, coordinate geometry, properties of: triangles, circles, quadrilaterals, regular polygons, cubes, and cylinders. It can be quite a lot to take in!

Be sure to acquire the GMAT Official Guide, which GMAC updates every year. This book contains hundreds of quantitative (and verbal) questions that were former questions on the test. While doing prep from a test prep company can help, your best resources are those directly released by GMAC. There are also two practice tests available online at

Remember that there is no calculator on the GMAT. When you are studying for the test, do not use a calculator. You will not have one on test day. Get comfortable writing out your calculations.

Just like the verbal section of the test, the quantitative section of the GMAT is a computer adaptive test (CAT). On any given question, if you get it right, then the next question will be harder, and if you get it wrong, it will be easier. However, this is only generally true, not universally true; somewhere between 20-25% of the questions are experimental. It can be devilishly tempting to analyze whether the question you are working on is easier or harder than the last one you saw, but resist this temptation! First, you get no points for knowing how well you’re doing – it’s entirely wasted brain power. And second, more importantly, either or both of those two questions could have been experimental. Focus on each question in isolation; try not to think about the questions you’ve already faced.

Types of Questions

GMAT Quantitative tests your skills using two question formats. One of them, problem solving, you will probably recognize as the “standard” format of math questions on tests: a problem solving question gives you a task and provides you with five possible answers. Remember that the answer choices in the quantitative section can be a big help: if you find yourself stuck on a question, try working backwards

The second question type, data sufficiency, is a much stranger question type and is unique to the GMAT. Data sufficiency questions always ask you the same question – is the information provided in the two statements sufficient to answer the question – and has the same answers. Because the answer choices never change, be sure to memorize them. You don’t want to spend any time on the actual GMAT reading the answer choices in data sufficiency; instead, you want to know them ahead of time.

While data sufficiency is often regarded as strange and challenging by many test takers, some consider them to be easier than problem solving. Consider the two questions to be different types of puzzles. Problem solving asks you what the puzzle will look like when it’s finished, and provide you with five different final solutions. Data Sufficiency starts by giving you a few puzzle pieces, then asks you about two more: can you solve the puzzle with either or both of those two pieces? You don’t actually need to solve it, you only need to know if someone could.

Be sure to do a diagnostic examination when you begin studying for the GMAT quantitative. As a rule, the longer you have been out of high school, the more difficult you will find the GMAT quantitative section. Most of the concepts you haven’t used since about 10th grade, and you’ll remember how to do some of the math. However, you can easily improve by figuring out the areas in which you are weak, and learning how to solve those problems.

Zack Baldwin is a GMAT expert and senior tutor at Next Step Test Prep.


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