GMAT Math Shortcuts

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Every time you learn a shortcut on a specific GMAT math question, you should ask yourself: Is this something I'll be able to apply again, on similar questions?

If the answer is "no," that shortcut isn't worth studying. I suspect you'll find that the answer is "no" much more frequently than you might think.

Many test-takers focus on shortcuts and tricks to the detriment of learning the actual content. To be most effective on the test, though, you need the content first and foremost, with a few tricks to close the gaps. For examples of "shortcuts" that will be broadly applicable, check out my various mental math articles, or this tip about combined work problems.

When I'm helping my students through GMAT math questions, my focus is always on the most universal possible method of solving the problem. There may be some spectacular shortcut, but the point of studying any GMAT practice question isn't to learn that question inside and out, it's to develop skills that will work on other questions--specifically, the ones you'll see on test day.

Whether you're working with a tutor, in a class, or on your own, the same thought process should apply. Look for the most universal approach possible. That's what I tried to do in Total GMAT Math, explaining broad concepts in such a way that, when you learn the framework, you can answer dozens of questions in that area.

Some of those general math skills might look like shortcuts. (Certainly, mental math feels that way.) It doesn't matter what you call it: a shortcut, a trick, a tip, or something else. What matters is whether it's likely to come in handy when you take the GMAT.



About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

Total GMAT Math

The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Quant section. It's "far and away the best study material available," including over 300 realistic practice questions and more than 500 exercises!
Click to read more.