What Kind of Math is on the GRE?

Updated: March 2018

If you want to go to graduate school (not counting business or law school), chances are you will have to take the GRE or Graduate Records Exam. This test is designed to measure how much you have managed to absorb in four years of college but in reality, the math portion tests heavily on high school level math. The only difference between GRE math questions and the type you saw in high school is the level of trickiness or problem solving you are expected to do. From the GRE’s website:

The content in these areas includes high school mathematics and statistics at a level that is generally no higher than a second course in algebra; it does not include trigonometry, calculus or other higher-level mathematics

Alright, so no calculus or trig – then what can you expect?

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GRE Math Topic 1: Arithmetic

Can you find percentages? add fractions? know how to work with absolute value and a number line? Can you simplify radical expressions (roots)?
Specifically you should be familiar with:

  • the properties of integers: divisibility, prime numbers, prime factorizations; types of integers: even and odd, prime and composite; basic arithmetic (though you will have a calculator) exponents; radicals (roots); ratios and percents; using absolute value; the number line; sequences of numbers; and decimal representation.

GRE Math Topic 2: Algebra

You find the usual stuff here such as simplifying expression and solving linear equations but also a couple of surprises as well.

  • rules of exponents, factoring and simplifying, relations and functions, solving both linear and quadratic equations and inequalities, solving systems of equations and inequalities, word problems (big – many problems will be word problems), and graphing functions and inequalities (be familiar with the graphs of linear equations specifically – think things like slope and intercepts of lines).

GRE Math Topic 3: Geometry

There are quite a few geometry questions on the GRE and since most people take this in high school, you should really take the time to brush up on this topic. However, you will NOT have to worry about constructing proofs – only problems such as:

  • congruence, similarity, special triangles, properties of parallel and perpendicular lines, polygons and quadrilaterals, area, perimeter, volume, surface area, the Pythagorean theorem, and angles (measured in degrees).

GRE Math Topic 4: Statistics and Data Analysis

If you recently took statistics, don’t worry. There is no hypothesis testing or linear regression on the GRE. But, there are a wide variety of stats topics covered such as:

  • mean, median, mode, range, standard deviation (not calculating it – only the idea and intepretation), quartiles and interquartile range, percentiles, reading from graphs and tables of all types including scatterplots and frequency distributions, probabilities including compound events (like “or”, “and”), independent events, random variables, probability distributions (including normal distributions), counting methods including combinations and permutations, and Venn Diagrams.

Calculators on the GRE

When taking the computer based test, you will have a simple calculator available to you. But, complex calculations are not the point of the GRE and you should be careful about wasting time using the calculator too much. Instead try to focus on your mathematical knowledge to help you solve problems. You can read more about this here: https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/quantitative_reasoning/calculator/

GRE Math Review

ETS offers a free math review for the GRE quantitative reasoning section. You can download this here: https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_math_review.pdf

Summary

A high score on the quantitative section of the GRE can mean the difference between getting into graduate school and making other plans – even if you are planning on majoring in a non-quantitative field. Don’t neglect this section, and start studying early. You can get a great score even if you aren’t a math whiz!

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