GMAT Problem Solving

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I hear from a lot of GMAT students on a regular basis, but I can't remember the last time someone told me they were focusing on Problem Solving. Data Sufficiency? All the time. Specific topics, like rates, or combinations and permutations? Every week. But not Problem Solving.

To some extent, that makes sense. Problem Solving on the GMAT encompasses a huge range of content, and it is in a familiar format to those experienced with standardized tests. However, ignoring the specifics of Problem Solving question type is a mistake.

Here are some things to focus on when studying Problem Solving:

  • Problem Solving questions cover multiple content areas. Don't try to identify which "bucket" or category a question falls into. Instead, determine which tools you need to answer the question.
  • The numbers usually work out. The GMAT knows you aren't a calculator, and it will generally give you numbers that you can easily handle with pen and paper.
  • The answer choices can help you. Not only do they rule out all but five possible answers, but they give you a hint as to the type of response the question is looking for.
  • The fundamentals are important. You can answer some Data Sufficiency questions with pure reasoning skills, but if you don't know how to solve a system of equations, apply a right triangle ratio, or calculate a dependent probability, you'll have a hard time with Problem Solving. (Hint: Total GMAT Math is a great resource for all of those things.)
  • Time is of the essence. A tricky Problem Solving question may look like something you can solve. But sometimes, five minutes later, you're back at square one. If you let that happen, you're almost guaranteeing yourself a disappointing score.

As with everything you study while preparing for the GMAT, look for patterns. All of these tips suggest issues that appear in a wide variety of Problem Solving questions. The more you see the commonalities, the easier it will be to reach your target score.



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.