A complete breakdown of GMAT Math question types and its history
Updated on Aug 20th, 2020What should you study more? Arithmetic? Geometry? Probability? All?When preparing for the GMAT, test-takers often ask about which math concepts are covered on the GMAT and about the most common question types that appear in the actual test. Therefore, in this article, I will not only delve into past trends but also the current trend of the GMAT Math test. Also, I will discuss the types of questions that appear on the test every month. You can also find our observations regarding the hardest question types that appear on the test here:
The Ultimate Q51 GuideThe scope of Math Tested on the GMAT
1. Topics that appear frequently on the GMAT - This is what you need to study and know:
- Integer: Questions in this section involve dividing an integer \(n\) by 5 or 10, solving the units digit for an integer \(n\), finding the remainder of an integer \(n\) after dividing it by 3 or 9, and solving for factors and prime factors.
- Geometry: Questions in this section involve Pythagorean Theorem, special angles (1:1:\(\sqrt{2}\), 1:\(\sqrt{3}\):2), and solving for the area of different figures.
- Statistics: Questions in this section involve finding the average, standard deviation, median, and range.
- Speed Rate: Questions in this section involve solving average speed rate problems.
- Inequality: Questions in this section involve inequality questions that ignore squares and DS questions related to the inclusion relation.
- Equation: Questions in this section involve calculations using \((a − b)(a + b) = a^2 − b^2.\)
- DS questions: Common Mistake Type questions that are determined and categorized by Math Revoluition
NOTE: Please refer to the table below for additional types of questions that appear on the test. However, remember that the types mentioned above are the most common types of questions.
Note: Max Lee, founder of Math Revolution has been analyzing these types of questions for decades.
2. Mathematical concepts that are partially covered
In the case of sequences, only fundamental concepts such as arithmetic and geometric sequences are included within the scope of the test. This means more complex concepts like difference sequences will not be tested.
There are also questions regarding probability and statistics, but these questions tend to be fairly simple. In other words, concepts like combinations with repetition, conditional probability, discriminating distributions, and average deviations will not be on the test. In the end, test-takers are not trying to go to a graduate program in mathematics!
3. Questions/Topics that Never Appear
The level of GMAT Math is generally what people learn in high school.
This means that the scope of GMAT Math does not include difficult concepts like trigonometrical functions, logarithms, differentiation, integration, or limits. Also, even though basic concepts such as calculating volume and areas of geometric figures and finding diagonal length appear in the test, more difficult concepts such as vectors or inner products do not appear.
During decades of experience in teaching GMAT Math, I have encountered only 2 matrix questions. Due to its infrequency, we can say matrixes are not included within the scope of GMAT Math. Additionally, questions regarding imaginary numbers - a complex number (\(\sqrt{-1} = i\)) - also are not included in GMAT Math.
NOTE: During my extensive experience teaching GMAT Math, I found some patterns on the GMAT test. It was that some questions, which were on the test in 2001, have reappeared recently. Even though I cannot give any assurance as to whether GMAC - the question bank of GMAT Math – reutilizes its questions, I believe that it occasionally uses some questions that appeared on previous exams along with new questions it creates every year.
History and Evolution of GMAT Math
In this part, I will analyze GMAT Math trends beginning from 2001, the year when I started teaching.
Evolution of Topics Tested Since 2001 |
Topics | 2001 - 2005 | 2006 - 2011 | 2011 - Today | NOTE |
Arithmetic | 40% | 40% | 30% | Consistent |
Algebra | 35% | 30% | 30% | Consistent |
Geometry | 10% | 10% | 15% | The number of questions is increasing, and the questions are becoming more difficult. |
Word Problems | 5% | 5% | 5% | The number of work rate questions is increasing. |
Data Interpretation | 5% | 5% | 10% | The number of questions is increasing, and the questions have characteristics related to daily life. |
Common Mistake Types 3 and 4(A or B) | 5% | 5% | 10% | The number of questions is increasing, and the questions are becoming more difficult. |
Note: This table is based on my decades of experience.
Conclusion
I want to emphasize that it would be especially helpful for those preparing for the GMAT Math to focus on mastering the integer and statistics sections. In fact, I have seen students who get every integer and statistics question right in prep tests (mock tests distributed freely by GMAC) and achieve late 40’s. Additionally, I want to advise test-takers to focus on studying questions that appear every month.
As explained earlier, integer questions are the most common type of questions (not only the number of questions but the number of different types of integer questions are numerous). Hence, spending more time learning these areas than on other concepts would be an effective and time-efficient way to tackle GMAT Math.
Also, the recent trend of GMAT Math is that questions contain characteristics of daily life. Thus, it would be helpful for test-takers to have a general understanding of the culture of the United States. Additionally, questions involving geometric figures are increasing in number. I want to advise test-takers to spend some time learning this concept.
As mentioned earlier, questions are becoming wordier. So, while studying
the Official Guide, please spend some time observing the trend and styles of the questions. It is vital for test-takers to regularly exercise generating equations after reading difficult and wordy questions.
As many test-takers are already aware, solving 31 questions in just 62 minutes is very challenging. Therefore, it is important to have strategies for time management. Many people can solve simple questions in approximately 1 minute with no problems. However, those who solve questions using the conventional method of approach take approximately 5 minutes to solve just one difficult question. Thus, it is very helpful to learn various techniques and tips that can guide test-takers to solve difficult questions in approximately 2 minutes.
The average GMAT score is 38 (it is 33 for the United States alone). However, I firmly believe that if test-takers clearly understand about GMAT Math trends and the history of the test, they will not only be able to exceed the average score but will be able to score at least 45 or even get a score of 49 to 51. Thank you so much for reading this article, and I wish you the best of luck.
*** We are math experts, and if you find any grammatical issues – that is because we spend all of our time focusing on math, sorry grammar. Note that the information herein is based on the knowledge and experience of Max Lee, Founder of
Math Revolution who has taught 30,000+ students and solved 100,000+ problems over the last few decades. He discovered and analyzed types of GMAT Math questions after continuous and numerous interviews with students who wrote the GMAT exam. Thus, please note that the information herein is based solely on the experience of Max Lee. Due to the nature of the test and lack of transparency regarding the algorithm used in preparing the questions, this guide is a best-effort attempt based on the best information available. If you have any questions or other information to share, please feel free to post it here for the benefit of the community.
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