Recent GMAT Problems

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One of the questions I get most frequently is how the actual GMAT differs from the various available practice materials.

The Official Guides and the GMATPrep practice tests are pretty close to the real thing, but especially the Official Guide isn't exactly cutting edge. The GMAC is constantly mixing in new problems into the GMAT question pool, and some of them are a little different from what you may have seen.

Quantitative Topics

Of course, I haven't seen every actual GMAT question. (And if I had, I'd be forbidden to tell you about them.) I have, however, spoken to many recent test-takers and read dozens if not hundreds of post-test debriefs. Also, I've spent a fair amount of time lately digging out as many questions from GMATPrep as I possibly can.

There are three types of questions that I think merit more attention that you may be giving them:

  • Overlapping Sets
  • Remainders
  • Multiple Rates / "In excess of"

Overlapping Sets

You've probably seen a handful of questions like this:

There are 30 children in a class. 16 are boys, 8 have blonde hair, and 3 boys have blonde hair. How many girls do not have blonde hair?

There are dozens of twists on that simple concept. It doesn't require very much computation, but it does require clear thinking and a practiced approach. I haven't covered overlapping sets on this site yet, but there is a full chapter on the topic in Total GMAT Math.


These are tricky. Unlike overlapping sets, there are a wide variety of remainders questions that are not closely related. You can review some of the key concepts in this article of mine, but that doesn't cover everything.

If you're aiming for a 50+ Quantitative scaled score, expect to see a remainder question or two.

Multiple Rates / "In excess of"

There are a surprising number of questions like this in the GMATPrep question pool:

Kevin earns a 15% commission on his first $50,000 in sales each year, and a 20% commission on sales in excess of $50,000. If Kevin's total commission last year was $12,500, what was the total amount of his sales?

That's relatively simple compared to some of the examples I've seen lately. This question type isn't as difficult as either of the previous two, but it's the sort of thing that may catch you off-guard if you're not prepared.

You won't get a 700 just by acing every "in excess of" question, but you certainly won't get a 700 if you miss very many of these.

Verbal Topics

The biggest difference I've noticed lately in the increase in science content, especially biology. I've written about that before; it doesn't have to be challenging, but many people get overwhelmed by it.

Also, if you read very many post-test debriefings, you'll see repeated references to bold-face Critical Reasoning questions. I'll address that question type in an upcoming article, but in the meantime, don't let it worry you too much.

Bold-face CRs are still fairly rare. Like combinations and permutations on the math, you can expect to see one or two if you're doing well, but it won't make or break your score. And also like most combinations problems, they aren't as tough as some people make them out to be.

Adjusting Your Strategy (Or Not)

This article is geared toward people who have mastered the basics and are looking for that last edge. When I mention remainders, I certainly don't think it's a good idea to prioritize that topic over, say, rates. The most common question types are still the most common question types.

That said, these are the concepts that might surprise you on test day. Nobody likes a surprise under stressful testing conditions, so spend a study session or two on problems like these and increase your odds of staying calm when you sit for 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 Verbal

The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Verbal section. Recognize, dissect, and master every question type you'll face on the test. Everything you need, all in one place, including 100+ realistic practice questions.
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