GMAT Quantitative Section

The quantitative section of the GMAT is a 37-question examination of your prowess in algebra, geometry, and general numerical analysis, with the occasional foray into probability and statistics. While these core subjects are somewhat elementary math concepts, the questions presented on the GMAT can be quite challenging. Since calculators are prohibited, more emphasis is placed on deep understanding rather than rote operations. Though the numbers provided are usually friendly (integers and simple fractions), doing a large number of complex calculations can be difficult, especially within the 75-minute time limit. Even for those with strong math backgrounds, the quantitative section can be a challenge.

There are two types of questions in the quantitative section: problem solving and data sufficiency, both of which are multiple choice.

Problem Solving

Problem solving questions are fairly traditional math problems, ones you may remember from other standardized tests. For example: A typical question might provide some information about a triangle, then ask for its area; or an equation is given with the task of solving for x. Word problems are also prevalent, usually requiring the test-taker to translate a situation into one or more equations, then solve for a variable. An example of such a problem might ask for the time it takes two objects moving towards each other at different rates to meet.

As mentioned earlier, the GMAT aims to test concepts more so than mechanics. One of the main ways the exam likes to do this is by replacing some, even all, of the numbers in a particular question with variables. This is especially common in word problems. Overall, problem solving questions are less logic based (as opposed to data sufficiency questions), but they require strong algebra skills, including the memorization and application of various formulae.

Data Sufficiency

Data sufficiency questions are unique to the GMAT. They make up roughly one-third of the quantitative section as 12 questions interspersed throughout the section. These questions are different than the problem solving questions in that they do not look for the test-taker to actually reach an answer to whatever question is being asked; the task is to decide if the question could be answered based on the information given. In other words: Is the data sufficient to answer the question?

Within data sufficiency, two types of questions are posed: ones asking for a specific value (e.g. “What does x equal?”) and ones asking for a yes or no (e.g. “Is x greater than 7?”). It is important to make a distinction between the two because they require different types of information to answer. If it cannot be concluded that the answer is always yes or always no, then the data is insufficient. Because actually answering the question asked on a data sufficiency problem is unimportant, you need to emphasize reasoning over performing. The logical aspect of these problems means an understanding of the properties of numbers is vital.

Ultimately, the quantitative section of the GMAT is a rigorous examination due to the concepts being in-depth as well as comprehensive. For anyone hoping to score exceptionally well, multiple weeks of substantive preparation is needed, studying both core mathematical ideas and plenty of practice problems. Because the core concepts are more important than complex calculations, the learning curve is steep at first. However, once you get a strong understanding of those concepts, you will start getting more questions right and getting through them faster.

The HowToMBA Guide to the specific sections of the GMAT was prepared by MBA House, a boutique GMAT prep and admissions consulting program based in New York City.