GMAT Problem Solving questions make up roughly half of the 37 questions in the GMAT's Quantitative section. That means you’ll typically see 18 or 19 Problem Solving questions. Perfecting your approach and pacing on these questions can go a long way toward improving your score on the Quantitative section of the GMAT.

GMAT problem solving questions

Problem Solving the GMAC Way

In Problem Solving questions, you need to solve a math problem and pick the correct answer from among five answer choices. Let’s review what GMAC says about Problem Solving questions.

The Quantitative section tests three broad content areas:

  • Arithmetic
  • Algebra
  • Geometry

All of the rules and concepts from these areas that are tested are generally covered in high school mathematics classes. The Problem Solving format is designed to test basic mathematical skill and understanding of elementary concepts from the three content areas. Moreover, Problem Solving also tests the ability to reason quantitatively, solve quantitative problems, and interpret data presented in the form of graphs. In other words, some GMAT Problem Solving questions are really just testing your ability to follow the rules. Other GMAT Problem Solving questions, the ones that test your ability to reason quantitatively, are testing your ability to determine which rules apply before you start solving. 

GMAT Problem Solving Tips

1. Remember what the GMAT tests.

Some GMAT questions entice you to use math that is actually more sophisticated than you really need for the GMAT. It’s not that you can’t solve the questions using sophisticated math. It’s just that doing so may take more time than you really have. However, there’s often a simpler—and faster—approach that involves little more than some basic math. Keeping that in mind can be a clue to look for a more straightforward approach. That’s particularly true of the problems that aim to test your quantitative reasoning ability.

2. Practice working with different forms of numbers.

The GMAT really doesn’t care that much about testing your raw calculating ability. As a result, the test-writers tend to use numbers in the problems that make the math work out nicely. But, you still need to think about the easiest way to do the calculation. For example, if you needed to find 75% of a number, would you multiply by 0.75 or by ¾? If you’re solving a GMAT question, you probably want to choose the fraction because it’s much more likely that you are finding 75% of 400 than 423. 

3. Use the answer choices for help.

When you solved math problems in school, you probably didn’t have answer choices from which to choose. Teachers tend to care more about the work that you do to solve a problem than the actual answer that you get. The GMAT, of course, cares only that you select the correct answer. By providing answer choices, the GMAT actually gives you more ways to solve the problem. In many cases, you may be able to just test out the answers until you find the one that works.  In other cases, you may realize that there are only one or two answers that even make sense. This kind of question may require no calculations at all if you pay attention to the answer choices!

4. Study the wrong answers.

Remember that the GMAT test-writers study the way that test-takers make mistakes. The GMAT test-writers use that knowledge to come up with wrong answers. In fact, they can increase the difficulty of a problem simply by including more wrong answers that are based on the common mistakes test-takers make when solving a particular problem. So, study the wrong answers! If you can determine what sort of mistake would lead to an included wrong answer, you can use that knowledge to learn to avoid making those sorts of mistakes.


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