Smart and Simple Strategies for Beating the Quantitative Reasoning Section of the GRE

With every standardized test, there are simple strategies you can use to do your best. It’s not merely about answering the questions correctly. It’s also knowing how to budget your time, when to guess and when to pass on a question, and how to generally approach the exam.

Here are some basic tips and ideas, created by the test makers at Educational Testing Service, to help you prep for the three sections of the Quantitative Reasoning portion of the forthcoming GRE revised General Test


Become familiar with the answer choices. Quantitative Comparison questions always have the same answer choices, so get to know them, especially the last answer choice, “The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.” Never select this last choice if it is clear that the values of the two quantities can be determined by computation. Also, if you determine that one quantity is greater than the other, make sure you carefully select the corresponding answer choice so as not to reverse the first two answer choices.

Avoid unnecessary computations. Don’t waste time performing needless computations in order to compare the two quantities. Simplify, transform or estimate one or both of the given quantities only as much as is necessary to compare them.

Remember that geometric figures are not necessarily drawn to scale. If any aspect of a given geometric figure is not fully determined, try to redraw the figure, keeping those aspects that are completely determined by the given information fixed but changing the aspects of the figure that are not determined. Examine the results. What variations are possible in the relative lengths of line segments or measures of angles?

Plug in numbers. If one or both of the quantities are algebraic expressions, you can substitute easy numbers for the variables and compare the resulting quantities in your analysis. Consider all kinds of appropriate numbers before you give an answer: e.g., zero, positive and negative numbers, small and large numbers, fractions and decimals. If you see that Quantity A is greater than Quantity B in one case and Quantity B is greater than Quantity A in another case, choose “The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.”

Simplify the comparison. If both quantities are algebraic or arithmetic expressions and you cannot easily see a relationship between them, you can try to simplify the comparison. Try a step-by-step simplification that is similar to the steps involved when you solve the equation for x, or that is similar to the steps involved when you determine that the inequality is equivalent to the simpler inequality Begin by setting up a comparison involving the two quantities, as follows:
where is a “placeholder” that could represent the relationship greater than (>), less than (<) or equal to (=) or could represent the fact that the relationship cannot be determined from the information given. Then try to simplify the comparison, step-by-step, until you can determine a relationship between simplified quantities. For example, you may conclude after the last step that represents equal to (=). Based on this conclusion, you may be able to compare Quantities A and B. To understand this strategy more fully, see sample questions 6–9.


Use the fact that the answer is there. If your answer is not one of the five answer choices given, you should assume that your answer is incorrect and do the following: Reread the question carefully – you may have missed an important detail or misinterpreted some information; check your computations – you may have made a mistake, such as mis-keying a number on the calculator, and reevaluate your solution method – you may have a flaw in your reasoning.

Examine the answer choices. In some questions you are asked explicitly which of the choices has a certain property. You may have to consider each choice separately or you may be able to see a relationship between the choices that will help you find the answer more quickly. In other questions, it may be helpful to work backward from the choices, say, by substituting the choices in an equation or inequality to see which one works. However, be careful, as that method may take more time than using reasoning.

For questions that require approximations, scan the answer choices to see how close an approximation is needed. In other questions, too, it may be helpful to scan the choices briefly before solving the problem to get a better sense of what the question is asking. If computations are involved in the solution, it may be necessary to carry out all computations exactly and round only your final answer in order to get the required degree of accuracy. In other questions, you may find that estimation is sufficient and will help you avoid spending time on long computations.


Make sure you answer the question that is asked. Since there are no answer choices to guide you, read the question carefully and make sure you provide the type of answer required. Sometimes there will be labels before or after the answer box to indicate the appropriate type of answer. Pay special attention to units such as feet or miles, to orders of magnitude such as millions or billions, and to percents as compared with decimals.

If you are asked to round your answer, make sure you round to the required degree of accuracy. For example, if an answer of 46.7 is to be rounded to the nearest integer, you need to enter the number 47. If your solution strategy involves intermediate computations, you should carry out all computations exactly and round only your final answer in order to get the required degree of accuracy. If no rounding instructions are given, enter the exact answer.

Examine your answer to see if it is reasonable with respect to the information given. You may want to use estimation or another solution path to double-check your answer.