In my decade of teaching the GMAT, perhaps no single group has found the quant section on the test more exasperating than math nerds. Yep, math nerds. Engineers, financial analysts, Physics majors, etc.

This may seem somewhat paradoxical, but the quant section on the GMAT isn’t testing your math ability. The skills that allowed the quantitatively-inclined to ace their tests in high school and college not only have limited value on the GMAT, but actually undermine test-takers, prompting them to grind through calculations when the question is really about how to avoid those very calculations.

Take this * GMATPrep® question, for example.

*Last month 15 homes were sold in Town X. The average (arithmetic mean) sale price of the homes was $150,000 and the median sale price was $130,000. Which of the following statements must be true?*

*I. At least one of the homes was sold for more than $165,000.*

*II. At least one of the homes was sold for more than $130,0000 and less than $150,000*

*III. At least one of the homes was sold for less than $130,000.*

*A. I only*

*B. II only*

*C. III only*

*D. I and II*

*E. I and III*

Perhaps you were tempted to do it algebraically. Maybe you thought you had to evaluate every scenario independently. If that was the case, you’re in good company. Most of the students I’ve taught over the years have had the same instinctive response. But we need to keep reminding ourselves about the aforementioned axiom: the GMAT isn’t testing math ability. It’s testing fluid thinking ability under pressure. So let’s take a deep breath and think about this for a moment.

How can I make this easier? What if I could construct a very simple scenario that violates two of the three statements?

The simplest possible scenario I can think of involves a set where the first 14 terms are equal to 130,000 exactly. (Clearly, in this case, the middle term, or median will be 130,000.) Then the last member will have to be enormous in order to increase the average to 150,000. (If you were so inclined, you could do 14*130,000 + x = 15*150,000 and solve for x. x would be 430,000. But there’s no need to actually do this. It’s enough to see that x will be way more than 165,000.)

Well, this set {130, 130, 130, …430} proves that we don’t HAVE to have anything below 130,000. Kill Statement III. And it also proves that we don’t HAVE to have anything between 130,000 and 150,000. Kill II. We’re done. Only I has to be true, and there’s no need to test another scenario, because we’ve already logically disproved the other statements. The answer must be A, I only. All we needed was one simple scenario.

Now let’s look at a second GMATPrep® problem that, on the surface, appears to have absolutely nothing to do with the previous one.

*Which of the following lists the number of points at which a circle can intersect a triangle?*

*1) 2 and 6 only *

*2) 2,4 and 6 only *

*3) 1,2,3 and 6 only *

*4) 1,2,3,4 and 6 only *

*5) 1,2,3,4,5 and 6*

Again, the default response is to just start grinding through scenarios with the hope that, eventually, you’ll hit all of them. But that’s not a very efficient approach. Let’s slow down and think strategically. How can we save time? Well, look at the statements. Notice that there’s plenty of overlap, but only choice E has ‘5’ as a possibility. So if we can draw a triangle that intersects a circle at 5 points, I’ll know that’s the answer.

So, I’ll draw a circle:

Now I’ll draw 5 points on the circle, and try to draw a triangle through those points.

Looks like I can do it. I’m done. E is the answer.

(Interesting Parenthetical Note: if you were the question writer and were trying to concoct a question/answer that would that would be most difficult and time consuming for a test-taker, wouldn’t you have the correct answer contain the greatest number of possibilities? That’s another clue that E is where we want to start.)

The big takeaway here is that it’s good if we can keep reminding ourselves that the GMAT isn’t interested in our raw computational ability. What the GMAT is interested in is our ability to make good decisions under pressure. So when you see a tough question, slow down. Look at the answers. Then think of the simplest possible scenarios that will allow you to test those answers in the fewest number of steps.

* GMATPrep® questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

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*By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston.*