Week 2- Quantitative Section Studying: Where’s the Calculator?

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Last week, I kicked off my 8 week GMAT journey with some tips on registering for the test and getting your study schedule planned out. For Week 2, it was time to dig in and start studying full force!

I began with a quick glance through the my prep book and then took one of the in-book practice tests. If you need a hit to your confidence, this is the way to start! Besides being perplexed and wrong on many answers throughout the test, jumping right into a practice round was a great introduction. Rather than reading about the format of the questions and the content of the test, I could see for myself what a typical test included. The practice run gave me a good idea of my strengths and weaknesses, and thus gave me a road map for my study strategy.

From the initial practice test, I found that my weakest area was the Quantitative portion of the test. I decided to focus my initial attention for the next 2-3 weeks on this part of the test, adding more time if needed. calculator

In talking with applicants about the Quant section, I try to warn people that they are not able to use a calculator on this portion of the test. That point never quite hit home until I started doing the math myself. Though the test writers keep the numbers fairly small and manageable without a calculator, I never quite realized how much I rely on mine for basic math. My speed calculations are going to have to improve over the next few weeks, as well as my memorization of formulas and arithmetic rules. It’s amazing how fast those skills go when you’re not using them every day!

As I’m working through the prep book and example questions for the math section, there are a few tools that have been pretty helpful:

  • Error Log: What do the following have in common? Nested functions, Rules of Radicals, Combinations and Probability, Combined Work Formula, Mixture Problems…?  They’re all topics that have tricked me thus far on the GMAT. I keep a fairly detailed record of the questions I miss in the practice problems, or the topics that I can’t even remember learning about (did I miss a whole month of math in high school?) This is called an “Error Log” and it’s a recommended tool to refer to as you study and prepare. Some people keep a detailed spreadsheet with analysis of every question they get wrong. For me, I simply keep a running list in the back of my prep book, with page numbers and what I did wrong for each problem. I plan to look back on this, especially in the final “crunch time” days, to make sure I don’t repeat errors on my test day. Always remember to learn from your mistakes!
  • Daily GMAT Problem: Yes, there are some days where I might not get to my studying until late at night, or maybe not even at all that day (I’ll make it up- promise!) But every day, the least I can do is answer one GMAT question. I signed up for Beat the GMAT’s Daily Math Question (Verbal Questions are also available for my later studying) that gets e-mailed to me every morning. Whether it’s staying an extra 5 minutes after work or completing the question on my lunch break, I make sure I answer the question every day. Some days it’s a confidence boost to know the answer, but other days, I learn something new. Either way, it’s a good way to fit the GMAT into your day.
  • Quantitative Formula Sheets: Quick- what’s the equation for the area of a trapezoid? 2 weeks ago, I couldn’t even begin to tell you. Now, it’s one more formula that I’ve started to memorize. And there’s no way around it… you have to memorize them. For me, seeing all the formulas in one condensed place is more convenient than hunting through a giant book. Also, this way, I can slip a sheet into my purse and memorize when I have 5 minutes free. While you can certainly make your own “cheat sheet” or buy a pre-made version, there are plenty of free online versions also. One of my favorites comes from PlatinumGMAT, but there are also many options on the GMATClub Forums if you look around.

I’m going to keep chipping away at these math problems, but let me know if you have another tip for the Quant section!

And PS- the area of a trapezoid is area_trapezoid2, in case you needed to know.