Josh Anish is the Senior Editor at Knewton, where he helps students with the Verbal components of GMAT prep. Learn more about the company’s GMAT course.
During your entire educational career, teachers have probably told you the same, shopworn motto: Deep understanding is more important than memorizing facts. You always knew that this was silly—those teachers would invariably test you on facts, and if you didn’t know them, then a “deep understanding” of them was impossible. That’s as true on the GMAT Quantitative section as it was in high school history.
The Quantitative section primarily tests your ability to solve problems, read questions critically, and draw upon the fundamental concepts of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. But it’s also a race against the clock, and certain types of calculations will appear again and again. You will have to simplify radicals. You will need to know the properties of even and odd numbers. One or more questions will require you to know common squares, or higher powers of 2 or 3. And, inevitably and inexplicably, you will need to know the ratios of the side lengths in 45-45-90 and 30-60-90 right triangles.
These are not conceptually difficult calculations. That doesn’t stop them from being terrible time sinks for unprepared GMAT students. If you have to re-derive the properties of even and odd numbers on test day, you’ve lost a minute. If you have to multiply out 16 X 16 instead of just knowing it cold (256), you’ve lost thirty seconds. If your conceptual foundation is pretty solid but your knowledge of facts is weak, you’re going to spend between 5-10 additional minutes on easy questions with procedural quirks. That means less time on the difficult questions, where that time is more valuable.
To save precious seconds on test day, take some time and commit handy, basic rules and sets of facts to memory:
- Area and volume formulas
- Exponent rules for numbers less than -1, between -1 and 0, between 0 and 1, and greater than 1
- The prime numbers and the multiples of 4 up to 100
All of these have greatly helped our students on the GMAT. By making sure you have basic principles and formulas down cold, you’ll cruise through challenging problems in much less time.