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Do you remember, when you took exams in high school or college, being allowed to bring a one-page ‘cheat sheet’? I always spent days putting those cheat sheets together in my tiniest handwriting, summarizing an entire semester’s notes on a single page. The funny thing is, by the time I took the exam, I almost never needed to look at the cheat sheet I’d created. After spending all of that time creating it, I had practically memorized my notes. So, even if you can’t bring a GRE Quant Cheat Sheet to the test, you can still benefit from creating one. Synthesizing your notes and thoughts on a single page will give you the ‘big picture’ view of a topic—and will teach you what you do and don’t know. Pick a topic that’s broad, but not too broad.
Look at the chapter titles of the 5lb. Book for some ideas: Exponents and Roots would make a good GRE Quant cheat sheet, or Inequalities and Absolute Values, or Rates and Work. Choose something you’ve already studied, rather than a brand new topic. The idea here is to summarize what you know and identify anything that you should know, but don’t.
Don’t go straight to the Strategy Guide.
Instead, start by summarizing your own knowledge—and, if you have them, your notes. Focus on the most critical facts and equations to remember, processes for solving problems, and things to look out for. If you were creating a GRE Quant cheat sheet for Rates and Work, you’d definitely include the equation work = rate * time. But you’d also want to include an example of how to draw a work/rate/time chart, and maybe some notes on when to use estimation versus algebra.
Find a good source of problems.
Ideally, you should review problems you’ve already done, as well as trying new problems. Did you do something while solving a Rates and Work problem that you hadn’t already mentioned on your GRE Quant cheat sheet? Add it. Did you fall for a particularly clever trap? Add that to the sheet too. If a problem confuses you the first time, but you later come to understand it, figure out how you could avoid being confused again and write it down. What would you want to recognize or look out for if you saw a similar problem on test day?
Spend some time identifying similarities and differences among various problems you might see. When I recently did this exercise with a student, we decided to categorize Rates and Work problems by what information the problem provided: does it give you the rate and work, and ask you to calculate time? Or does it give you work and time, and ask you to calculate rate? These two situations require slightly different approaches. We also identified a whole category of similar Rates and Work problems, where you’re given information about two people or machines working alone, and asked to figure out what would happen if they worked together. These problems always require the same basic approach, so my student included an outline of that approach on her GRE Quant cheat sheet.
Review and revise.
If this exercise works for you, don’t just do it once and move on. If you miss a Rates and Work problem that you should’ve gotten right, take another look at your GRE Quant cheat sheet: was there something you missed? Periodically review the cheat sheets you’ve created, and add more information or detail as necessary. As you study and learn more, your understanding of a given topic will become more nuanced, and you’ll recognize elements of problems that you didn’t notice before. 📝
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Chelsey Cooley is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170Q/170V on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GRE prep offerings here.