# GRE and GMAT Math Strategies: The Full Tool Box

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Guest Post by: Julie Nelson, Test Prep Instructor

You may have heard the phrase, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Of course, it is much more effective to have a full toolbox than to have only a hammer.

The GRE and GMAT are tests of problem solving. That means the testmaker wants to know how good you are at figuring stuff out. Most people who are studying for these tests make the mistake of thinking that all they should do is practice math problems. But in fact, the high scores go to people who not only know their math, but can think of different ways to go about doing a problem.

Your GRE and GMAT toolbox should have several tools in it. On test day, at least one, but usually two or three of them will work on any given problem. Having a variety of tools makes it so that you can be more confident, more efficient, and more accurate. The tools available to you include the following:

1. Solve the Problem Forwards

This is the traditional way to solve the problem. It might involve writing an equation, multiplying fractions, or any other approach that is taught in a high school text book. It will always work. But it won’t always be the fastest or easiest, and it might be fraught with hazards like converting decimals to fractions — a pitfall where you can make a mistake even if you know how to do the problem.

2. Solve the Problem Backwards

On both the GMAT and the GRE, approximately half the math questions are multiple choice. By definition, in a multiple choice question, the answer is in front of you. One of those five answers is right! You can use that to your advantage: take the answer choices and plug them back into the problem. This is particularly handy if you are trying to solve for a variable.

3. Pick Numbers

When you pick numbers, you choose some numbers to sample and see how they work in the problem. This works well if there are a lot of variables and you need to find the relationship between them. It also is useful when you’re dealing with percentages or prices. Just choose some numbers for the variables and see what happens.

4. Draw a Picture

Always always always copy down a geometric figure that they give you. Always always always draw a geometric figure that the test describes but doesn’t draw. And – here’s the surprising part – a drawing might also be useful in more than just geometry. Any story problem can probably be graphically represented. If you are a visual person, feel free to draw as much as you need.

5. Round

Rounding almost always works. If the test gives you some obscure decimal, the question is probably designed to work just as easily with the next likely rounded number. Accuracy goes to the person who doesn’t round; accuracy *and speed *go to the person who does.

6. Use Common Sense and Estimate

Think about what the answer *probably *is. Is it a big number? Is it a small number? How many zeroes is it likely to have? An answer that doesn’t make any sense *isn’t the right answer*.

**Ready to take that next step and get started with Grad School? Visit our website and register today at prep.utah.edu or call at 801.581.5361.**