Overview of the Quantitative

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Overview of the Quantitative Reasoning Section of the GRE

Congratulations on your decision to go to graduate school! However, before you can be admitted, chances are you have to take the GRE. In this lesson, we'll review the basic facts about the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE.

Overview of the Quantitative Section

The Graduate Record Examination, better known as the GRE, tests aptitude in the types of subjects that students usually encounter in graduate school. Each section of the exam tests your skills in different subjects. The Quantitative Reasoning section assesses basic mathematical skills, understanding of elementary math concepts, and the ability to reason quantitatively. First things first, don't worry, unless you are taking the GRE exam especially for math or physics, you probably won't see much college-level math. For business and economics students who are using the GRE, instead of a more specialized exam like the GMAT, that's a big relief. Of course, for some of us, high school might have been the last time we excelled in math. In that case, the GRE Quantitative Reasoning section could feel intimidating. Will this lesson put all those fears to rest and provide a thorough review of all the subject matter? Absolutely not. We've only got about five minutes. However, it will give you a good introduction to the material on the exam, allowing you to start your own study plan that will help you best address your weaknesses.


The most basic sub-section of the GRE Quantitative Reasoning section is comprised of questions that deal with only arithmetic. This should be a strong suit. After all, you've been performing arithmetic since the first days of school. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are all covered here. However, there are more advanced topics too that could be enough to cause the need for at least a cursory review. Roots and exponents fall under the arithmetic section and so do questions regarding number sequences and absolute values. Finally, expect to find some questions regarding number lines, estimation, decimals, and fractions.


On the GRE, algebra questions draw from both Algebra I and Algebra II. That means that you'll definitely be asked questions on, not only the relatively friendly linear systems of Algebra I, but also topics as complex as quadratic inequalities. Expect, too, to have to do some factoring as well as simultaneous equations. For all of these topics, there is a chance of word problems sneaking their way onto the exam, so if the idea of two trains leaving Cleveland and Pittsburgh at the same time makes you nervous, you'll want to be sure to review how to perform those problems. There will also be questions about the most basic parts of coordinate algebra, such as how to find the slopes and intercepts of lines. One piece of good news is that there are no matrices on the exam.


There is, however, plenty of geometry. Expect the full range of your geometric knowledge to be tested, with the exception of writing formal proofs. That means plenty of lines, including parallel and perpendicular lines, as well as polygons, from triangles to elaborate multi-sided shapes like pyramids and prisms. Basic knowledge of three-dimensional shapes are tested, specifically formulas for volume and surface area. As for triangles, you won't have to become reacquainted with SOH-CAH-TOA, as there is no formal trigonometry on the exam. Instead, make sure that you are comfortable using triangles to help you solve for other polygons and circles.

Data Analysis

The data analysis sub-section of the GRE Quantitative Reasoning section focuses mainly on statistics, graph interpretation, and data manipulation. The ability to tackle these topics varies by student. Again, this largely boils down to how you focused your undergraduate studies. English and foreign language majors may struggle here, while political science majors may finally find the old statistical methods that they have been comfortable with since their second semester. You will need to be familiar with basic statistics, including how to calculate the standard deviation of both a sample and of an entire population, to do well on this section of the exam. Data grouping methods, like Venn Diagrams, as well as probability knowledge are also tested here.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, we took a look at the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE. This section assesses basic mathematical skills, understanding of elementary math concepts, and the ability to reason quantitatively. Lucky for many of us, the GRE Quantitative Reasoning section doesn't require any more advanced math than is routinely studied in high school. Instead, it draws its questions from arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. However, within each of those fields are sub-fields that test takers are not likely to have remembered in the years since high school. Most learners need to review various formulas for geometry, in addition to the basics of statistics, such as grouping methods and standard deviation calculations.

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