At the outset, be warned that this article on how to improve the GMAT Quant score may make sense only if you are already scoring at the 45 raw score level in GMAT Quant.
Did you know that many of the top MBA programs are unapologetically quant-driven? Whether you are pursuing a career in consulting, marketing, or finance, what you’re walking into is a world of big data and statistics. A world like that requires solid quant skills and that is why, knowing how to improve the GMAT Quant score is so important. The good news is that if you are willing to properly prepare for the quant section of the GMAT, using the best materials and following a strategic plan of study, you can earn an impressive GMAT quant score.
In this article, we will show you how to improve your GMAT Quant score to a 50-51 using these methods:
2. Learn to Use Numbers Effectively
5. Use Logic Over Math (Especially on Hard Questions)
6. Do Not Depend Only on the OG
7. Never be Rigid with Techniques
If you have not yet taken a full-length test, it might be a good idea to take the official GMAT prep test now.
Before we dive into how to improve the GMAT Quant score, let us first understand how the scores on the quant section have changed over time.
These GMAT score charts should give you an idea about the correlation between raw scores and percentiles on the GMAT quant section for July 2016 and December 2018. (Source: mba.com)
Sample Size: 761738
Standard Deviation: 10.53
Date Period: Dec 2018
Sample Size: 794601
Standard Deviation: 11.00
Date Period: July 2016
Notice that a scaled score of 49 now corresponds to a 74th percentile compared to the 79th percentile in 2016.
So, what exactly does this tell us?
The simple answer is this:
More people are getting perfect or near-perfect scores.
The way that the GMAT quant percentiles are now, there is no 99th percentile. You can only get to the 96th percentile at the most. This is because a full three percent of GMAT test-takers are ringing up a perfect quant score.
Why are people doing better?
For starters, it is no magic.
It has to do with the shifting demographics of GMAT test-takers. People from countries that tend to provide a better math education than the US have been taking the GMAT in much greater numbers, making the GMAT percentiles (on the Quant side) much more competitive.
Typically, Indians score anywhere between 45 and 51 in Quant. It is partly because most Indians who take the GMAT have an undergraduate engineering background and partly because the Indian education system does require better-than-global-average skills in mathematics.
However, this scale of 45 – 51 has a huge deviation in percentiles.
A 45 yields a measly 55 percentile while just six more raw points ahead, a 51 sits at a comfortable 96%ile (the maximum you can score on the quant section). Although the difference in raw scores is small, the real difference in terms of percentiles is huge.
So, if you are at a 46/47, don’t assume that scaling the 50 – 51 mountain is easy. If you are an Indian IT Engineer, there is a possibility that Quant could end up being a bigger problem for you than Verbal.
In any case, here are eight specific suggestions that you can start using to improve GMAT Quant scores.
1. Get Your Basics Sorted
The GMAT tests you on high-school math.
Yeah, you read that right.
The GMAT assumes that you understand certain concepts and use them as the basis of reasoning to solve the Quant questions. Since this is predominantly a reasoning-based test, a lot of emphasis needs to be laid on getting your basic understanding of concepts in place.
Way too many people fuss about learning advanced concepts without investing sufficient time into getting the basic concepts right.
Mastering math, especially the math tested on GMAT quant, requires that you take a linear, systematic approach towards developing your knowledge and skills. If you skip to the hard stuff, it will be challenging for you to develop a strong command of the material.
Try this GMAT sample question
- A set of 15 different integers has a median of 25 and a range of 25. What is the greatest possible integer that could be in this set?
If you caught yourself saying “Uh-oh, I forgot to brush up on my basic statistics concepts”, you are in trouble on the GMAT!
Ensure that you know the basics like Pythagorean triplets ((3,4,5); (5,12,13) ;(7,24,25)), Percentage to Proportion (1/8 = 12.5%), basics of numbers… you get the hint.
By the way, if you’re wondering what the answer is – it is 43.
2. Learn to Use Numbers Effectively
One thing you have to realize is this:
In GMAT Quant, the difference between the guy scoring 45 and the one scoring 51 is NOT that the latter know more formulae.
It’s just that the 51 scorer is better at “hacking” his way through the test.
Remember, the GMAT does not worry about ‘how’ you get to the answer, but ‘if’ you get to it.
Try this GMAT sample question:
The number 75 can be written as the sum of the squares of 3 different positive integers. What is the sum of these 3 integers?
Is there really any formula you can apply here?
It’s about how your brain will pick the right values and “hack” its way to the answer. The better you can prepare your brain to do that, the better your GMAT Quant scores will be!
So here’s how you hack your way through this one:
Begin by plugging in values on the number line (especially for inequalities).
The standard values are a large negative number, a large positive number, -1, +1, a negative fraction between 0 and -1, a positive fraction between 0 and +1, and the number 0 itself.
The question here is a classic case – the square of 9 is 81, so you know the numbers should be a number between 1 and 8.
Next, quickly write down the squares 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, and 64.
Now, start playing with the numbers. You know it has to be one large plus one small number, so keep adding any two values (1 and 64, 4 and 49, etc.) and subtract it from 75 to see if it fits any remaining value.
Soon enough, you’ll realize that the numbers are 1, 49, and 25, i.e., 1, 7, and 5 = 13.
While practicing, try to get the answer within two minutes. Then try it without time limits.
If you arrive at an answer, check the explanation to see if you are right. If you are wrong, then without looking at the solution, take a stab at solving the same question again – repeat the above loop.
Exercising your brain this way can be a lot of fun! No, seriously, just try it!
3. Do Not Jump to Conclusions
“How many questions can I afford to answer incorrectly if I am targeting a score of 50/51 in Quant?”
This has been and will be, a question that students toy at some stage of their quant prep.
Here’s why that is a bad idea altogether:
The quant section has a total of 31 questions, 3 of which are experimental and do not contribute to your overall quant score. You will not know which ones the experimental questions are. Your score depends on getting the remaining 28 right.
Check out this blog on the GMAT Enhanced Score Report to know how this scoring thing works.
If you go by the logic of allowing yourself to make mistakes, you will never know which side of the fence you’ll land upon.
If you get three questions wrong and none of them are experimental, you can kiss your perfect quant score goodbye.
To get a 51, a test taker can only afford a maximum of 1-2 errors and get a 50, a maximum of 3-4 errors. This means that careless errors are going to affect your score adversely.
Remember, the test maker is always trying to get one upon you. Questions (and answer choices) are explicitly designed to trip you up.
Here is an example of a relatively simple GMAT question. Try solving it.
The sales tax on an item is 8%. If sales tax had been only 5% Ben would have paid $12 less sales tax. What was the total amount that Ben paid for the purchase
Now, if on solving, you got an answer of 400 and picked C, then you fell into a very well-laid trap.
Notice that the question does not ask us for the item’s price (which is 400). It asks us for the TOTAL AMOUNT that Ben paid for the purchase. The total amount will be the price of the item plus the sales tax (8% of 400 = 32).
The correct answer here is E.
On an adaptive test like the GMAT, making silly mistakes on problems that you should get right can have a devastating effect on your score. Not only do you get that question wrong, but now you’re being served easier questions after that, with an even more heightened necessity of avoiding silly mistakes there.
So, make it a point to notice the mistakes you make on practice tests so that you’re careful not to make them again. Particularly under time pressure in a high-stress environment, we’re all susceptible to making mistakes.
4. Identify Simpler Solutions
Every GMAT quant question has a certain finesse to it, a finesse that is engineered by the test-maker.
So, when preparing for the GMAT quant section, you must learn to think like the test-maker. Even when you are correct, spend time trying to understand if you could have done a problem faster.
Let us start explaining this concept with a GMATPrep question.
Take around two minutes to solve this one
According to the directions on a can of frozen orange juice concentrate, one can concentrate to be mixed with three cans of water to make an orange juice. How many 12-ounce cans of concentrate are required to prepare 200 6-ounce servings of orange juice?
Take the ratio as 1:4 (concentrate: juice) and ask yourself how many 12-ounce cans of concentrate you need to make 100 12-ounce servings of the juice. The answer is 25!
However, the same question can be convoluted if you take a ratio of concentrate to water instead of concentrate to juice or start converting everything into a single unit (ounce). Be careful of overcomplicating solutions.
5. Use Logic Over Math (Especially on Hard Questions)
One of the themes we always stress is that the GMAT Quant section is not, primarily, a math test.
Though math is certainly involved – How could it not be? – logic and reasoning are far more important factors than the conventional mathematical facility.
This is particularly true on harder questions on the test. Learn to hone your reasoning skills and always be on the lookout of critical information that you can leverage to make your working simpler.
Try this hard GMAT sample question
In a certain class, 1/5th of the boys are shorter than the shortest girl in the class, and 1/3rd girls are taller than the tallest boy in the class. If there are 16 students in the class and no two people have the same height, what percent of the students are taller than the shortest girl and shorter than the tallest boy?
Many test-takers see this question, rub their hands together, and dive into algebra.
But here’s the thing:
Even if you were fortunate enough to possess the algebraic virtuosity to solve this question using algebra, you’d likely chew up 3 or 4 minutes.
The best way to solve this question, instead, is to leverage the information the question stem provides.
1/5th of the boys are shorter than the shortest girl. Now, common sense tells you that the number of boys must be a multiple of 5. So, the number of boys can be 5, 10, or 15.
1/3rd of the girls are taller than the tallest boy in the class, so the number of girls needs to be a multiple of 3. By that logic, the number of girls can be 3, 6, 9, 12, and 15.
Since there are 16 students in total, we can easily conclude that there must be 10 boys and 6 girls. Beyond this, the question just deals with a basic percentage concept.
If you are wondering about the answer to the question – it is 62.5%.
For those who answered 75%, you fell for the trap of not understanding what the question asks you. The question here reads, how many students are BETWEEN the shortest girl and the tallest boy. So, the number of students in between will be 10 and not 12.
6. Do Not Depend Only on the OG
Don’t rely only on the Official Guide.
As awesome a source as the OG is, it still caters to people in the middle of the bell curve, i.e., those who get around 40-44 as a GMAT quant raw score.
If you are gunning for a raw score of 51, you should be looking at GMATPrep questions available freely online from various sources. Try your hand at these threads on GMATClub for both PS and DS problems from the GMATPrep tests.
CrackVerbal students get a curated compilation of GMATPrep questions put together by our team (of course!)
Ensure that you take the GMATPrep tests a minimum of three to four times before you start practicing these questions; otherwise, you will get inflated and unreliable scores.
Another downside to relying on the official guide is this:
The explanations that accompany the questions tend to be biased towards algebraic solutions.
Before you begin to wonder what’s wrong with using algebra to solve an algebraic question, give us a moment to explain.
Quite often on the GMAT, using pure algebra takes longer than you have to solve a given question. In general, the GMAT is a test of your intelligence, not your knowledge. This means that the test evaluates how smart you are, not how much you know.
Thanks to this, although the given algebraic solutions are always technically correct, they present suboptimal ways to solve the question.
That’s why we offer this vital piece of advice:
Never take a formal solution to a problem at face value. All you’re seeing is one way to solve a given question, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only (or the best) way there is.
The best workaround in this situation is to review the questions on GMATClub and take notes about alternate approaches used to solve the question.
7. Never be Rigid with Techniques
The whole point of reviewing questions using GMATClub or the CrackVerbal forum is to bring to light new techniques that can help you solve questions faster.
Let’s take a sample question and review the various methods we can use to solve it
If |4x − 4| = |2x + 30|, which of the following could be a value of x?
As far as we can see, this question can be solved using 3 methods.
The first method is to use pure algebra: create 4 different equations and solve every one of them to get the solution.
Clearly, this method is tedious.
So we look for an easier way, which is to use the “plug-in” method. Here, you have the absolute value equation with the potential values of x given in the answer choices, but the values of x that are given are all fractional, making this method tedious.
A third, faster method is to be aware that |x| = √x^2.
The above equation can be written as √(4x – 4)^2 = √(2x + 30)^2. Squaring both sides gives us (4x – 4)^2 = (2x + 30)^2. If we take the term (2x + 30)^2 to the left-hand side, we have an equation of the form a^2 – b^2, which can easily be broken down to (a + b) (a – b). If we solve this, we get x = -13/3 and x = 17.
So, the answer to the question is option C, x = -13/3.
Make it a point to take notes of these techniques and try putting them to practice on different questions.
Here’s a great resource to similar techniques that can be used on Inequalities and Absolute Values.
8. Master Data Sufficiency
Data Sufficiency questions generally make up just under half of the questions in GMAT quant. Since there are 31 questions in the Quant section, about 14/15 of them will be data sufficiency questions.
Simply put, the DS section of the GMAT is different.
It’s different because you aren’t trying to solve for one answer. Instead, your goal is to test for sufficiency. That means you’re trying to determine whether you’ve been provided enough information to definitively answer the question stem.
Since you are not required to get down and dirty with the math, these questions are time savers.
But, on the flip side, since this question type relies heavily on reasoning, the chances of getting the logic wrong and falling for well-laid traps is high. It is important that you master this question type if you want to improve your GMAT quant score.
Here are a few points that will help you approach DS questions better:
- Write out all the important information in the question stem, whether it be certain constraints (integer, pos/neg etc.), equations, or the actual question. This helps avoid silly mistakes.
- Always break down and rephrase any equations, inequalities, fractions etc. For example, try to write expressions with exponents so that all the bases are the same, or whenever you see a sum with a root contained in it, try to multiply by its conjugate.
- Always translate word problems on DS into an algebraic equation. There will most likely be an opportunity to break this equation down further and rephrase the question. This skill is key as it saves time in computing the two statements.
- Never try to prove a statement to be sufficient. Always try to prove insufficiency. Being a contrarian on DS questions will help you avoid well-laid traps.
- Never make assumptions. On most questions where there aren’t any constraints given, people sometimes still assume some constraints and thus only test integer cases. By paying attention to what is given and what is NOT given, you can find the correct answer on a lot of questions.
- Never eliminate a statement just because you ‘feel’ the statement is insufficient. This is a very common DS trap. Especially with quadratic expressions, people assume the data is insufficient since they can’t find a single solution. This is a big mistake. Always finish your calculation, because you don’t want to spend a lot of time on a question and end up being wrong just because you skipped the last step(s) of the calculation.
- In questions where you are forced to work with numbers, always test numbers systematically. Test for 0, positive and negative integers, and positive and negative fractions. On some occasions, it’s also crucial to pick boundary values, e.g. if a question asks whether x is less than or equal to 1 and a statement gives you x² less than or equal to 1.3, you can pick x=1.1 to prove insufficiency.
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