Ten Important GMAT Math Topics You Must Master

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Every once in a while, a student asks me what topics she should really focus on. I usually start my answer by saying that there are a wide range of subjects that the GMAT could test, and all of them are important. For instance, you probably won't see more than one interest problem on the test, but that's nearly 3% of your math score, so can you really say it's not important?

So let's grant the fact that every topic is important. (Of course, some math books teach you content that isn't on the GMAT--that's why I put together Total GMAT Math, which exhaustively covers GMAT math without covering any math that isn't on the test.)

With that out of the way, I can admit that there are some topics that are more crucial than others. Here they are, in order of importance.

  • Ratios
  • Factors and Multiples
  • Systems of Equations
  • Rates
  • Overlapping Sets
  • Right Triangles
  • Inequalities
  • Exponents
  • Percents and Percent Change
  • Coordinate Geometry

It should be said that this list will differ a bit depending on your score goal. If you need a 550, you might not see as much in the Overlapping Sets and Factors and Multiples categories (though you'll still see some). If you're shooting for a 720, Factors and Multiples probably move up to the #1 spot, with Inequalities close on its heels.

Regardless of your skill level, though, the list is about the same. What may be most important to your study plan is what is not on the list. No combinations, probability, standard deviation, or absolute value. No surface area of a cylinder, compound interest formula, or functions.

To reiterate the point I made before, I'm not saying those other things don't arise on the test--they most certainly do--but in any of those categories, you're unlikely to see more than one, maybe two, questions out of the 37 on your GMAT. For any of the questions in the top 5 of the list above, you are likely to see 3 or 4. (Some of those questions will overlap: rates and ratios are very similar; overlapping sets can involve percents; systems of equations can involve exponents and inequalities, etc.)

In a perfect world, you'd learn all the content you're likely to encounter on the GMAT. But if you can't do that, start with this list.



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.