GMAT: Problem Solving

If you understand this cartoon, you might be good at math.

The joke, however, may be on you because you don't need to know what a rational or a real number is to ace the GMAT. In fact, you don't need to know anything beyond basic high school math.

Let's Establish the Parameters

There is no calculus on the GMAT.  There is no trigonometry either.  In fact, there isn't even any advanced algebra.  The toughest algebra you'll ever have to solve is a quadratic equation.

The GMAT curriculum includes four-function math, basic geometry, percent changes, rate problems, proportionality, combinations, permutations and probability.   There is almost nothing in the GMAT problem solving section that isn't also on the SAT.  That's why SAT math problems are good study material.

I know that people freak out over combinations, permutations and probability, but the truth is that even in this arena the curriculum is very limited and can be learned completely.  (There is one formula for combinations and another for permutations.  Memorize them.)

The actual math functions required on the GMAT are incredibly simple—so simple that, unlike the SAT, test takers aren't allowed to use a calculator.

Then why is it so difficult?

Tricks!

The GMAT math is designed to trick test takers.  That's why very smart people who are un-coached on the exam often do poorly.  They didn't suddenly get dumb, they're just doing a kind of math that was never taught in high school.  GMAT math is not about orthodox mathematical manipulations; it's about reasoning your way through a logical mine field using basic mathematical tools as your guide.

Should I Take a Math Class to Improve My Performance?

Bad idea.  It's too broad.  Some math classes would help, but most of what you would learn would not be tested on the exam.  Because the GMAT curriculum is so narrow, it's better to stick to GMAT-prep material only.

What Can I Practice With Other than GMAT Material?

Do math problems from the SAT exam.  Buy the SAT Official Guide and do the math sections.  There are 10 full SAT exams in that book along with a math review section.  For less than \$13 you can get the book at Amazon. It's probably the best starting point for GMAT test takers looking to improve in math fundamentals, better even that the GMAT Official Guide.

GMAT Test Sections

75 minutes of math; 75 minutes of verbal; 2 essays
That's all that stands between you and 21 months in Palo Alto.