Just studying math won’t always tell you the best method to answer a question. The strategies and techniques in this chapter, and throughout the Prep Guide, will give you tools to improve your reasoning skills. By gaining insight into GRE reasoning, you will be able to solve problems more efficiently and more accurately.

Test Design

To succeed on the GRE, you need to understand the design of the test.

The four types of questions in the GRE Quantitative Reasoning section don’t just test math skills, they also test critical thinking. Answering the questions depends as much on your reasoning ability as it does on your math knowledge. If you just work through GRE on autopilot, you will not be working efficiently and you will not maximize your score.

You need to know various approaches and strategies to problem solving and reasoning. The 800score GRE Prep Guide teaches you the methods for getting to the right answer for each of the four types of questions.

The four types of questions in the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE are:

Multiple Choice:
one answer

Select one answer from 3 to 5 answer choices.

Multiple Choice:
one or more answers

Select one or more answers from 5 to 10 answer choices. All of the correct choices must be selected to get credit.

Quantitative Comparison

Decide whether Quantity A is greater than, less than or equal to Quantity B, or if there is not enough information to determine the relationship.

Numeric Entry

Type in the numbers that answer the question.

The strategy for multiple-choice with multiple answers questions is somewhat different than for regular multiple choice questions, since all correct answers (but no others) must be marked to get credit for the question.

The quantitative comparison questions involve more reasoning than direct calculation. You don’t always need to find values; sometimes just boundaries are enough. There are 7 or 8 Quantitative reasoning questions in each section.

General problem solving questions can have any of the other three formats. There are 9 or 10 problem solving questions.

There are usually three data interpretation questions. All of the questions in a data interpretation set are based on the same data presented in tables, graphs or other displays formats. These questions are multiple-choice and may have just one answer or more than one answer.


The design of the GRE means you may need to modify your test-taking strategies from other tests you’ve taken.

The GRE has the option to mark and return to questions, but be careful how you use this option. Even though you can mark a question to return to it, you should never leave a question unanswered because you may not have time to return to it. Even a guess is better than no answer at all.

You should mark a question where you don’t know the math, don’t see a shortcut or know it could take too much time to answer. In these cases, mark the question, make a guess and move on. This will save more time for other questions that you know how to solve.

Multiple-choice questions with more than one answer may be questions you want to mark for review. Credit is only given if you select all of the correct answer choices, which means guessing can be more difficult.

As with all timed tests, you have to be aware of how much time you are spending on each question. Doing about 20 questions in 35 minutes means you have less than 2 minutes per question. You need to “watch the clock,” but don’t let it distract you from the answering the questions.

The GRE provides an on-screen calculator, but you should limit how much you use this tool. Using the calculator takes time, so often you can use methods to bypass calculations. This exemplifies the importance of having good reasoning skills in addition to math knowledge.


When you take the GRE, there will be at least two Quantitative sections. The first section is the same difficulty level for everyone. There are three difficulty levels for the second section. Your difficulty level varies based on your score on the first section. The difficulty level on the second section defines boundaries for your final score.

If your score is high on the first section, the second section will have the most difficulty. This means your score cannot go below a certain number and you can possibly go to the highest possible score level.

If you have a middle score on the first section, the second section will have moderate difficulty. Your final score will have upper and lower boundaries so you cannot get a higher or lower score than the middle range.

If your score on the first section is low, the second section will be at the easiest level, which will place a ceiling on your final score.

Getting to the Answer

Your goal when taking the GRE is to pick the right answers on a multiple-choice questions and enter the correct answer for fill-in questions. The more questions you answer correctly, the better your score.

You are not being graded on style. It doesn’t matter if you find the answer following the usual routine. In fact, the fastest way to an answer often does not involve using a traditional method, but rather a method geared specifically to the GRE.

Each question may have several possible approaches, so you need to develop an ability to recognize a fast and effective way to solve different question types. Because your objective is to find the correct answer choice as quickly as possible, choosing the right strategies is a very important part of doing well on the GRE.

Scratch Paper

You will be given scratch paper for the GRE. You will have to do the calculations in the Quant section and some students will diagram their reading comprehension questions.

Other Tips

  • Play with some of the math. Create tables of numbers. Just writing down the numbers is a good way to get ideas.
  • Sketch graphs or figures – seeing these can help you solve problems.
  • Staying physically relaxed during the test is very important. If you find yourself tensing up, put your marker down and take a couple of deep breaths. This will help you stay calm.
  • Don’t panic if you are suddenly stumped by a question. Stay calm and work through the techniques to either solve the problem or make an educated guess and move on.
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