A little while ago in this space, we published a review of our findings from the verbal section of the newly-released Official Guide for GMAT Review, 12th edition. At the end of that post, we promised a similar review of the quantitative questions. If you have been patiently waiting for that installment, then an explanation is certainly in order. Why the delay: Well, quite simply, we didn’t follow our own advice.
GMAT quantitative questions are quite a bit like snowflakes, in that, if you look hard enough, no two are alike; one may blend algebra with a statistics definition (solve for the variable in order to find the median of a set…), while another may involve a geometry formula used to solve for a variable. So, one might be classified as a statistics problem while the other is noted as a geometry one.
When you break them down to their essence, however, snowflakes are just pieces of somewhat-melted ice, and their practical value can be summarized relatively quickly: is it powder worth skiing, wet snow that will be difficult to shovel, or icy enough to cause traffic problems? Similarly, with GMAT problems, while you can designate each problem as unique, you’ll find that the majority of questions are rooted either in arithmetic or algebra principles, tested through the lens of a problem solving or data sufficiency format.
In our attempt to comprehensively deconstruct the findings of the latest publication by the Graduate Management Admissions Council, our initial attempts broke from the more-useful “practical usage” strategy and tended toward the “unique snowflake” approach. (Note: your blogger uses collective pronouns like “we” and “our” in an attempt to spread the blame; in fact, it’s his fault entirely) While comprehensive research is a noble pursuit, practical strategy is crucial on the GMAT, and a second (but not necessarily “closer”) look at the 12th edition revealed some quite-useful practical points:
- The prevailing categories associated with each question tend dramatically toward Arithmetic and Algebra questions; put simply, the vast majority of questions primarily test Arithmetic and Algebra skills and knowledge.
- The most commonly-occurring “subtype” of question is Algebra – Linear Equations, followed somewhat closely by Algebra-Exponents/Roots. For your study purposes, a thorough and confident understanding of Algebra principles will be paramount.
- Furthermore, Word Problems, categorized separately from pure Algebra problems, constituted the highest tally among questions not labeled as Algebra or Arithmetic – and keep in mind that Word Problems extensively test your ability to convert descriptions of situations in to algebraic terms.
- Geometry questions comprise just over 10% of the quantitative questions in the 12th edition.
The Official Guide books display questions in ascending order of difficulty, so the books provide some insight in to the ways in which the GMAT derives its difficulty. A few findings include:
- On Data Sufficiency questions, questions that ask for a value far outnumber those that ask for a yes-or-no answer. However, the majority of yes/no questions appear in the last third of questions – presumably the most difficult third. This points to the GMAT’s ability to disguise the ability of finding absolute certainty in a question, and encourages the test taker to consider his assumptions regarding the numbers in play (will a number with a different property provide a different result?)
- Probability and Statistics questions only constitute a small percentage of questions (combined, about 10%), but the majority of them appear in the most-difficult third of questions, suggesting that the GMAT derives difficulty from the presence and application of these “advanced” concepts.
Overall, our findings are consistent with the evolution of the Veritas Prep course materials and syllabus:
- With our new Math Essentials lesson, we emphasize thorough understanding of fundamental Arithmetic and Algebra concepts, which are crucial for success on a majority of GMAT problems.
- As the test has grown to feature more advanced applications of Statistics and especially Probability, we have expanded and better-featured our coverage of each discipline.
- Our addition of the Advanced Word Problems section of our final lesson is consistent with the evolution of Word Problems on the GMAT.
- The “logical certainty” emphasis of difficult Data Sufficiency problems reflects a focus on those problems as a test of logic as much as of mathematics, and logic has been a recurring theme in the Veritas Prep curriculum since its inception.
Overall, as your blogger humbly learned when initially attempting to deconstruct the 12th edition in to useful categories and recommendations, the GMAT quantitative section seeks to lull test takers in to the classic problem of “paralysis by analysis,” getting you to think of each question as a challenge unique unto itself. In actuality, the GMAT tests a finite set of skills in a smaller-than-you’d-think series of standard formats. When you break down unique snowflakes, they’re just water; when you break down the GMAT in to its basic composition, it becomes a much more beatable exam.