GMAT Unlocked: Mastering The Quant


Many of the top MBA programs are unapologetically quant driven. Wharton, Booth, Columbia, and MIT Sloan have built their reputations in financial services on their numbers focus, and the likes of Haas, Yale and Kellogg recognize that whether you are pursuing a career in consulting or marketing, a world of big data and analytics requires solid quant skills.

Thus, competitive MBA applicants must show their ability with numbers, and the most obvious demonstration is a strong quant score on the GMAT. Wharton is not alone in looking for percentile rankings in the quant section of the test that are above the 85th percentile, and you can assume that, with a GMAT average of 733, Stanford GSB is similarly demanding. However, many U.S. students struggle with the GMAT’s quantitative section. The mean quantitative score of all students globally is around the 40th percentile. But for U.S. students, the mean is a dismal 29th percentile – a considerable difference.

U.S. students lag behind their global counterparts in quantitative skills for many reasons. The good news is that students who are willing to prepare differently from their peers can significantly improve both their skills and their scores. In this third installment of “GMAT Unlocked,” I’ll share some simple tips that will help you considerably in your quest for a competitive quantitative score. As you read this article, I want one message to be clear: you can learn this material, and you can earn an impressive GMAT quant score.

Let’s begin by examining why GMAT quantitative questions are unique.

1. Understand what makes GMAT quant questions different

All students have solved math problems in high school or college. However, math questions on the GMAT are different. Your first opportunity is to understand what makes these questions unique.

GMAT math questions are difficult because of the reasoning skills they demand: They are cognitively tricky. Think back to the “Bat and Ball Problem” in the last article. The problem is simple. Yet, many answer it incorrectly because it has a tricky element.

Many GMAT quantitative questions have one or two pivotal, logical barriers students must defeat, at which point, the questions become simple. When solving questions, ask yourself what the key logical steps are that you must take. Then, look for elegant solutions. Don’t merely “muscle through” problems with heavy calculation. Always be vigilant as you proceed. Many questions will allow you to make poor executive decisions, if you’re not careful.

For example, try the following:

The price of a particular stock has fallen by 50%. By what percent must the price of the stock increase to return to the original price?

A. 50%     B.  75%     C.  100%     D.  150%     E.  200%

If you picked A, you fell into a trap answer choice that only looks logical. If you’re not careful, you may conclude that, if something decreases by 50%, and then increases by 50%, it will be back at its original value.

Unfortunately, this logic is incorrect. A simple way to solve this problem is to pick a convenient number to use for the original price of the stock, like $100. After the 50% decrease, its value becomes $50. Thus, the price of the stock must increase by $50, or increase 100% in value, in order to return to its original price. Answer choice C, 100%, is the correct answer.

Here are 10 additional sample GMAT questions, each with a video solution, to use for practice. As you review each one, don’t just passively read the question and then watch the video; instead, engage your brain. Give these your best effort. By giving your best effort, you will start firing those neurons that will help you get your target score!

Notice that these questions are tricky due to the logic and ingenuity they require. In addition, some questions involve more than one skill. For example, question No. 7 requires a strong understanding of both rate-time-distance problems and solving quadratic equations. Question No. 6 requires a strong understanding of both number properties and prime factorization.

When you practice, try to aggressively identify each problem’s key steps and logical barriers. Pretend you’re solving a puzzle. Soon, you’ll have a sound understanding of what the test maker intended. Correctly solving these problems can actually begin to be fun (or at least empowering)!