What’s covered in the GRE math section is no secret, but that doesn’t make it easier to tackle. Many students looking to go into graduate programs haven’t taken a math class in a while. In fact, unless you’re going to school for math, it’s probably been years. On the other hand, if you are going to school for math, you probably haven’t touched the math topics covered in this test for years, either! The material covered in the GRE math section is a strange blend of algebra, geometry, number theory, and advanced counting (yes, that’s real). In this post, we’ll cover what’s on the test, what to study, and how to prep.
GRE Math Topics and Types
What’s covered in the GRE math section is split into three distinct groups: number properties, algebra, and geometry. There are also several different question types covered on the GRE math section, but we’ll go over those below. Here’s what you can expect. If these topics aren’t familiar to you, take note! It might be worth a review, even before you take a practice or diagnostic test.
- Number Properties: this topic covers arithmetic, fractions/rates/percentages, divisibility and primes, mean/median/mode, probability, combinatorics, and some statistics. Many people find the easy questions on this section very easy and the hard questions extremely difficult–sometimes the most difficult on the test. If you aren’t confident in your combinatorics and prime number theory, that’s worth a review.
- Algebra: this topic covers algebraic properties, functions, rates and ratios, single- and double-variable word problems, and sequences. Most students are familiar with the basics of this section, but might need a refresher on the advanced content. Students who are out of practice transforming word problems into equations will struggle here.
- Geometry: this topic covers two- and three-dimensional geometry, coordinate geometry, and mixed geometry. It focuses primarily on triangles, then circles, then other polygons. Questions in this topic are more likely to include algebra as a secondary topic. Most students learned this material early in high school, so it might be a challenge to recall all of it.
- One notable topic that is NOT covered is mathematical proofs. However, a knowledge of some common or famous proofs is often helpful.
Take a moment to go through the list above and make a list of topics you think you might need review in. Many of them are easy to refresh using online or free resources, such as Khan Academy or Youtube. For more in-depth instruction, our excellent GRE tutors can help.
GRE Math Question Types
Each of the math topics mentioned above can be covered in several ways. The GRE math section has three primary question types that testers should be aware of:
- Multiple Choice: These questions are the most varied. Students will choose from five options on a question that could cover any of the above topics. The test occasionally includes a series of multiple choice questions about a single figure or chart. Standard elimination and plugin tactics work well here. These questions will also occasionally allow for more than one answer selection. This subtype feels scarier, but don’t worry–most of the usual approaches work just fine!
- Fill in the box: These questions have no answer choices. Instead, students will fill in an answer they have calculated in a blank box. These questions can be tough, as your options for checking your answer are limited. You’ll need to be confident in your calculation or find a clever way to check your answer to be sure.
- Quantitative Comparison: These are the strangest questions on the test. Instead of posing a direct calculation or elimination question, these questions ask which of two quantities are greater. This is a question type that most student are the least familiar with, so we spend a good deal of time on these questions in session. A few simple elimination techniques can help a great deal here.
The question types shown above have a number of techniques in common. In order to ace the test, GRE math section testers need to know not only what’s covered in the GRE math section, but how to tackle each problem.
Learn Techniques, Not Math
In our 35+ years of tutoring, we’ve found that a strategy-first approach works best. The GRE is no exception. While our Premier Prep GRE tutoring programs do teach content, we focus mostly on testing strategies. Your tutor will help you figure out which math topics and question types need the most work, then teach you ways to overcome those questions. This is a very learnable test, so all it takes is some time and determination! If you haven’t started working with us yet, browse our tutors and get started today.