What are the secrets to scoring high on the GMAT Quantitative? Check out essential concepts to ace the GMAT in one go

“Math gives me a stomachache. I have a fear of math since elementary school and I gave it up in college. Now, I have to study math again to go abroad? Are you kidding me?” You probably hear students say that a lot.

Of course, some students have always excelled in math. However, after the GMAT Quantitative exam, they realized that it is not that easy. They may wonder, “How come I got a bad score? What’s wrong?”

Candice has more than 10 years of teaching experience and has come across many students who got bad scores despite studying hard. We will help you find blind spots and turn them into strengths. By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll know exactly what GMAT Quantitative is and get an idea of what sort of strategies you should be practicing while working through practice problems. We will walk you step by step through the GMAT preparation journey so that you can ace the GMAT Quantitative.

1. What is the GMAT Quantitative?

GMAT accepting universities and the objectives of the GMAT:

Basically, top 50 business schools in Europe and the United States require the GMAT. A few schools accept GRE, too. Schools use GMAT scores to gauge whether prospective MBA students have the skills necessary to excel in rigorous courses.

Total number of questions: 31 multiple-choice questions with five answer choice options

Test time: 62 minutes

The GMAT Quantitative is a part of the GMAT exam. The GMAT Quantitative measures your ability to reason mathematically, solve quantitative problems, and interpret graphic data. Generally, the questions you’ll encounter on the GMAT do not test you above a high school level. In fact, the GMAT Quantitative topics don’t get much more advanced than high school sophomore level. GMAT Quantitative won’t involve trigonometry or calculus. But it often has questions involving concepts of probability and combinatorics.

The GMAT Quantitative is divided into two main types of questions: Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency.

Problem Solving (PS):

Each Problem Solving question includes a question section and five possible answers to choose from. The questions are designed to assess your use of logic and analytical reasoning to answer quantitative problems. You will need to turn the problems into equations and solve them.

Data Sufficiency (DS):

Data sufficiency is a question type that is unique to the GMAT. You won’t find a Data Sufficiency problem anywhere else in the world. This means that if you’ve never taken the GMAT, you probably do not know how to prepare for Data Sufficiency questions. Data Sufficiency questions ask you a question, usually but not always accompanied by some initial information, followed by two statements labeled (1) and (2) which contain additional information. Your objective is to determine whether statements (1) and/or (2) separately or combined provide enough (i.e. sufficient) information to derive one definitive answer to the question.

You’ll have 62 minutes to complete the 31 questions, which works out to 2 minutes per question. You have to be fast and accurate. This applies in the workplace, too. Managers and supervisors expect staff to know what to focus on. GMAT Data Sufficiency questions essentially force you to go beyond pure math and apply reasoning skills. In addition to numerical ability and logical reasoning, Data Sufficiency questions can also test the ability to respond in a short time. Essentially, they are built to test you on a variety of skills – far more than just your math skills. 

Here’s an article about how to ace Data Sufficiency. “Crack GMAT Quantitative – How to solve DS questions?”

The main difference between Problem Solving (PS) and Data Sufficiency (DS)

What is the main difference between Problem Solving (PS) and Data Sufficiency (DS) questions? PS questions give you some information and then allow you to solve the answer, while DS questions provide two statements, and you need to decide whether one, both or none of them are sufficient to answer the given problem. What is unique about DS questions is that the test-taker does not have to solve the actual equations.

For the math questions we solved in junior and senior high schools, we have to write down the process and get a correct answer. However, DS problems are not meant to be solved. You don’t actually have to solve the equations. Merely knowing that you could solve them and derive a unique answer is all that matters. We only have one to two minutes for each question. As soon as you know you could solve the equations, you can stop. You don’t have to solve them, just to realize that you could solve them if you had to. Simply put, the DS section of the GMAT is very different.

Common Data Sufficiency (DS) blind spots

Most test-takers find themselves taking an inordinate amount of time solving the equations. Once test-takers become aware of the ticking of the timer, panic sets in. Even if they do manage to solve it, test-takers are still unsure of their answer. In other words, they overspend time on early questions. Therefore, they miss a bunch of doable questions later because they’ve run out of time. Therefore, proper time management is key to earning your target GMAT score.

2. How to prepare for the GMAT Quantitative?

As mentioned earlier, GMAT Quantitative is divided into Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency. Now, let’s talk about how to prepare for these two types of questions.

How to prepare for Problem Solving problems:

In the GMAT Quantitative section, the Problem Solving questions are just the five-choice multiple-choice math problems you have seen on every standardized test since junior high school. You must familiarize yourself with basic format and concepts. The key to GMAT Problem Solving lies in mastering the fundamentals. Thoroughly understanding the material covered on the GMAT will save you time and boost your score on test day.

How to prepare for Data Sufficiency problems:

DS questions test your ability to use logic and decision-making skills in a mathematical setting. Therefore, the best way to prepare for DS is to find a professional teacher and use “rhetorical questions” to improve your logic skills. A professional teacher can point out your blind spots easily and correct them in a short time. Asking and answering questions can improve your logic skills. GMAT DS questions may be unique, but they aren’t impossible to beat.

3. What are GWD, PP and OG? Are there other materials? People talk about GMAT pacing a lot. What is it?


The GWD is a testbank of GMAT. In the latest GMAT exams, GWD questions appear quite often. Now, there are three versions with different question sets (31 sets, 24 sets and 13 sets). We will focus on the version with 24 sets of questions.

The GMAT Prep (PP):

GMAT Prep is a GMAT simulator software provided by General Management Admissions Council (GMAC). There are a total of six sets. The first two are free, and you can buy four more from GMAC.

There are cracked versions for GMAT Prep. With cracked versions, you will have access to complete test banks. These are definitely good resources to prepare for the GMAT.

Prep07: Cracked version (May 2007). A total of 9 sets

Prep08: Cracked version (July 2007). A total of 6 sets

Prep12: Cracked version (2012). 1 set

The GMAT Official Guide (OG):

The GMAT Official Guide (OG) is the official GMAT textbook. The questions in each section are organized by difficulty level: easy, medium and hard. If you are confident, you can start backward. You can also skip the first 100 questions if they are not challenging for you.

If you need a lot of practice to get familiar with the GMAT, it is recommended that you do the questions from the beginning to the end. GMAT Official Guide is a great starting point for your GMAT journey. After finishing the questions in GMAT Official Guide, you can practice the questions in GWD and the GMAT Prep (PP).

Candice’s self-made handouts:

Based on more than ten years of GMAT teaching experience, Candice has compiled materials in the order of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and word problems. The handouts contain the most concise math fundamentals and questions. By studying Candice’s self-made materials, you will have a solid foundation for tackling tough problems.

GMAT pacing:

Simply put, pace is the speed for test-takers to solve problems during the exam. In the GMAT quantitative section, you have 62 minutes to answer 31 questions. That’s an average of two minutes per question. This is a really fast pace, and as such practicing your time management should be an important part of your study process.

GMAT preparation is like training for a marathon, you need to learn how to pace. During the practice, you may encounter the following problems.


1. You have set up check points, but they make no difference.

2. You can’t finish the questions in time despite having lots of mock exams.

3. You don’t know how to set the stop loss point.

4. You spend extra time solving difficult questions.


To solve the above problems, please read “GMAT pacing strategy: Is it hard to master GMAT timing? (Analysis + Summary).”

4. Common GMAT challenges and how to overcome them

Many students encounter serious challenges that prevent them from acing the GMAT. Here are the 4 most common challenges faced by students and some suggestions on how to overcome them.

Test-day anxiety:

The GMAT can be a pressure cooker of stress. Test-day anxiety is a real issue. It makes the students’ minds go blank in the exam. If you’re stuck with a mind blank in an exam, pushing yourself to force your way through that mental blank isn’t going to work. In fact, it’s going to have the opposite effect and make it even harder. The GMAT is a time-critical exam. Some students have no problem finishing practice exams on time. But once they are in the exam room, they may blank out.

Try to make your test preparation as similar to your testing experience as possible. You can do this by finding out what your test will look like and then creating and taking a practice test. You can also prepare in an environment that is similar to your testing environment. This could create relief as opposed to anxiety at seeing the actual exam on test day.

The other tip is to use positive self-talk before the exam. Your self-talk is that little voice in your head and what it’s telling you. What’s a constructive and useful voice in self-talk that you can use? It may be saying: “Hey, the GMAT is hard, but I’m up for the challenge. It is not a one-shot deal. I can retake the GMAT to earn a higher score. Just relax.”


Pacing is the most important part of the GMAT exam. If you have built a solid foundation but haven’t practiced how to maintain a steady pace before the exam, it is very difficult to reveal your true strength in the exam. Skills and pacing mutually reinforce each other.

Some people can finish mock exams in time at home. However, if they get stuck with one hard question on the real test day, they will find that when there are only a few minutes left on the countdown timer, they still have many questions left to be answered. Like running a marathon, the GMAT requires you to maintain a constant pace. The more you practice your pacing strategy heading into test day, the better you’ll be able to know when to move on from a question. This will improve your odds of hitting your target score!

GMAT shared questions:

Test-takers who have taken the GMAT test share the questions they have seen on the internet. Some students rely too much on these shared questions. GMAT test administrators change their bank of questions once in a while. Do not assume that you will encounter known questions. If you do, you are lucky; if you don’t, it’s perfectly normal.

Having problems understanding long questions:

Problems in math often pose a challenge because they require students to read and comprehend the text of the problem, and identify the question that needs to be answered. Students can struggle with word problems in math even if they’re good at math. Lengthy word problems are often an issue. We suggest you memorize the common words used in questions, and then break down the sentence structure.

5. How does Candice help students who scored poorly in first and second attempts?

80% of the students who turned to Candice had attended cram schools. However, they couldn’t get the desired GMAT score. Cram schools cover a wide range of areas. But if students want to achieve a GMAT score of 700 or higher, they must study the GMAT in depth. Therefore, if you are seeking admission to a top-level business school, a GMAT tutor is ideal for you.

For more details, please read “Which way is better to prepare for the GMAT, going to a cram school or having a tutor if you want to study business abroad?”

6. Conclusion:

After reading this article, you should have a clear understanding of the GMAT and its preparation tips. Finally, let’s talk about the blind spots that most students have in preparing for the GMAT.

GMAT Quantitative is easy so I can prepare it by myself?

Some students feel bad when they do not do well on the GMAT because they think that the GMAT Quantitative test the skills in high school-level math. Indeed, the concepts tested on GMAT Quantitative are of high school level difficulty. Typically, getting 40 on the GMAT Quantitative is not hard. But scoring high is tough. Most top MBA programs prefer to see a GMAT Quantitative score of at least 49 or even 51. A high score requires hard work.

For students who are good in science or math, they can get high scores easily. But most of the students with a liberal arts degree need to spend a lot of time. GMAT Quantitative is a skill-based test. That’s why so many students need a professional one-on-one GMAT tutor to strengthen their skills.

Take a student who studied education as an example. He got 39 in GMAT Quantitative in the first attempt. Then, he tried the second time. Guess what? He got 39 again. He was panicked and didn’t know what went wrong with his study plan. After reading Candice’s self-made handouts, a solid foundation is built. Then little by little, he found out his blind spots. Finally, after one and a half months, he got 47 in the GMAT Quantitative.

For more details, please read “Student’s feedback: GMAT Quantitative is not as easy as you think.”

Another student from language-related department scored 27 in GMAT Quantitative in the first attempt. The problem is he spent too much time on problem solving process. After working on the concepts, he can solve the questions quickly and accurately.

For more details, please read “How to go from 27 to 46 in the GMAT Quantitative.”

Is more better? How many mock exams should I do? 

Many hard-working students do mock exams every day. But this is not necessary. When you spend your time brushing up on the questions without reviewing mistakes, you can’t improve significantly.

What is the purpose of mock exams? Mock exams aim to let you know whether your pace is stable, whether you can finish within time, and whether you can exert your potential. So, doing more mock exams doesn’t mean you will get a better score.  Reviewing the mistakes is what really matters. You have to go to the questions you got wrong, read the correct answer, either understand the mistake made, or go back into the material and work on it. By doing this, the same mistakes are then not replicated in the real exam.

Please keep a record when reviewing the mistakes. You can list all mistakes in an Excel file. Why you got it wrong? Carelessness? Calculation error? The more details you give the better. 

Reviewing really helps students to improve. Candice has a student who had scored 0 in high school math test and hadn’t been exposed to math in college. In the beginning, he studied Candice’s self-made handouts to lay a solid foundation. Then, he reviewed his mistakes and blind spots using an Excel file. Finally, he got 50 in the GMAT Quantitative.

For more details, please read “Student’s feedback: Scoring 0 in high school doesn’t mean you can’t score 50 in the GMAT Quantitative.”

Check out “Student’s feedback: Scoring 6 in college entrance exam’s math section doesn’t mean you can’t ace the GMAT Quantitative” to see another inspiring story.

People love and hate the GMAT. They love it because you can improve your GMAT score in a short time through practice. They hate it because you can’t improve the scores just by doing mock exams. Hope these tips will help you if you are going for GMAT in one go.

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