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There’s nothing wrong with making GRE math errors because the problem is too hard. That’s just the way that the test is designed—there are Quant questions on the GRE that will challenge even the mathematical geniuses among us. However, it’s much more frustrating to miss a problem that you could’ve gotten right, just because you made a silly mistake. Try out the following tips to cut down on careless GRE math errors.
1. Improve your handwriting.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve hardly written anything by hand since elementary school. But on the GRE, you’ll only be able to take notes by hand for three hours or more. Sloppy handwriting leads to careless mistakes and makes it harder to spot those mistakes once you’ve made them. When you practice for the GRE, make your handwriting large, neat, and clear. Practice by writing your grocery list by hand or taking notes by hand during meetings.
2. Never create one equation when two will do.
One of the most common sources of careless GRE math errors is trying to do too much at once. If you’re translating a word problem into math, you don’t have to translate the whole thing into a single, complex equation. It’s just as good to create two simpler equations, then combine them later.
3. Don’t lose the units.
If you’re solving a problem that involves units—such as a rates & work problem, or a unit conversion problem—always include the units in your work. It’s easy to mix up hours and miles per hour, or dollars and cents.
4. One step at a time.
When you simplify an equation, only make one change at a time. You could save a few seconds by combining steps, but you’re also much more likely to get the problem wrong. Can you spot the errors below?
(x – 2)(2x + 3) = 4
2x2 + x – 2 = 0
It should be much easier to spot them in this version, where each step has its own line:
(x – 2)(2x + 3) = 4
2x2 + 3x -4x – 6 = 4
2x2 + x – 6 = 4
2x2 + x- 2 = 0
5. Look out for double negatives!
One of the riskiest situations in a GRE Quant problem is having to handle multiple negatives at once. Every time you multiply, divide, add, or subtract two negative values, make sure you have the correct sign before you move on. It’s very easy to write something like “-10x -5 = -50” without noticing it.
6. Think through the math.
Check out this earlier article for some advice on how to think about GRE algebra problems. In short: you’ll avoid errors if you think about what mathematical steps you’re actually taking, instead of using shortcuts such as cross-multiplying or canceling.
7. Build your number sense.
The GRE provides you with a calculator, but only your own instincts can tell you whether what the calculator says is reasonable. After all, it’s easy to accidentally plug the wrong numbers into the calculator, copy something onto your paper incorrectly, or solve for the wrong value. So, don’t rely entirely on the calculator. Spend some time building your numerical instincts as well. Try searching for multiplication or division worksheets online, or playing the arithmetic game at arithmetic.zetamac.com.
You can’t avoid getting tough problems wrong, but you can avoid missing easy problems. However, you need to start working now! Keep track of your careless GRE math errors as you adopt these strategies, and watch your GRE Quant accuracy improve. ?
Want more guidance from our GRE gurus? You can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person GRE courses absolutely free! We’re not kidding. Check out our upcoming courses here.
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 170/170 on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GRE prep offerings here.