How to get a perfect score in GRE quant [Complete Strategy Guide]

A perfect score in GRE quant (or a 167+) is quite difficult to achieve even if you are currently scoring in the 160 to 165 levels. This is because concept knowledge and practice alone isn’t enough to reach the upper echelons of the GRE quant scores. What you need is a lot of strategic insights into how the test works and what kind of cognitive traps you fall for when solving tough GRE questions.

In this (slightly long) article we will talk about what kind of strategic outlook you need to get a perfect GRE Quant score. We will also discuss how you need to review your practice sessions to derive better value out of each practice set you do.

How to get a perfect score in GRE Quant

Insight 1: Why a 150 to 160 is easier than a 160 to 165

If you have taken a few mock tests, or even attempted the actual exam you might have realised that getting to a 160 score range in the GRE quant section isn’t that difficult. However, getting past this seems, somehow, to be a herculean task!

There are multiple factors that could be at play here. That said, do know that a 163 (let’s assign an arbitrary 160+ score here) in Quant is by no means a ‘bad’ score: A 163, to be precise, puts you in the 80th percentile!

GRE scoring percentile

GRE® General Test Interpretive Data ETS

It gets considerably harder to break beyond the 160 score, since you are not in the regular playing field anymore. You’re gunning for the “top-dog” positions (top 5 percentiles) and that’s going to be very tough.

To give you an idea – to score a 168 in Quant you need to get 19 questions right in the first Quant section AND 19 Questions right in the second Quant section as well!

Your margin for error is super small!

A score of 163 for comparison can be achieved with 17 Right in each section. That’s an error rate of 15% as compared to a 168 which only allows an error rate of 5% .

Comparing the quantum of effort, it would be incorrect to see this as just a need to improve performance by 10 percent. Not at all. You need to improve performance by up to a 100% . Difficulty curves aren’t linear in their progression, they are exponential!

Insight 2: Understanding your performance and where you are now

Considering you’re stuck in the lower 160’s (let’s assume a score of 163). A few things should ring true based on where you are in your prep and how you perform in your practice tests.

– You have your concepts in place – you’re probably a master of formulae, conceptual understanding, and are aware of all question types and strategies to tackle them.

– You are able to manage time (for the most part) efficiently. You finish sections without running out of time. You don’t leave any question unanswered. You probably guess (without working out) on at most 1 question per Quant section.

– For most questions you get wrong, when you review them: you smack yourself in the head and tell yourself, “That was a stupid mistake! Why did I make that stupid mistake? Am I dumb? I must be! How else could I have made that mistake?!!!”.

You don’t see any underlying conceptual issues, you don’t see that a specific question types is constantly wrong either – yet you religiously, faithfully, consistently make similar mistakes every time you take sectional / mock tests!

Did that sound eerily personal? Don’t worry we’ve worked with enough students who have gone through this exact situation, and they all unanimously report the same things.

Identifying these helps us understand what’s keeping us away from a perfect score in GRE quant.

Insight 3: Why you aren’t scoring a 168 in Quant

Based on the previous insight, the reasons you aren’t going past the 160-ish mark are…

1. Even though you have concept mastery, you may not be a master of strategically solving tricky questions.

2. You have the habit of solving questions mathematically every single time (I will clarify this soon) even though many can be solved quickly using critical thinking.

3. You aren’t necessarily diligent with the data provided all the time. Sometimes, skimming through data points and taking constraints for granted.

4. You brush off many questions that you review (after solving) as “silly mistakes” and don’t dig deeper to understand why it happened and how you can prevent them from happening again.

Point 4. is the biggest one! Most of us brush off inefficiencies in our method as being “silly mistakes”. This can be dangerous since we let them fly under the radar and consequently NEVER do anything to fix them.

If you don’t fix them, you’ll never be able to get to the 90% accuracy range needed for a near perfect score in GRE quant.

Let’s move on to insights that will address these inefficiencies and how we can avoid making them.

Insight 4: Be deliberate when evaluating data

1. Be deliberate: you need to make it a habit to use your note-board / scratch-paper to put down key inferences and work-out steps. Do this for EVERY question. Errors creep up when you aren’t very diligent and do things ‘in your head’.

2. NEVER skim through questions: Read them carefully. The language used in most questions can be misinterpreted if you aren’t careful.

E.g. ‘an increase by 10%’ vs ‘an increase to 10%’ are totally different things, but when you skim you tend to skip prepositions that are all too important to understand underlying nuances.

3. Illustrative Example

If positive integer X is increased by 20%, decreased by 25%, and then increased by 60%, the resulting number is what percent of X?
(A) 155
(B) 152
(C) 144
(D) 55
(E) 48

Not the toughest cookie to crack, but it can be quite challenging if you do things ‘in your head’ and aren’t methodical.

The easiest way to solve this would be to assume a number value for X: let’s say 100.

Going through the steps:

i. Increase by 20% = 120

ii. Decrease by 25% = 120 (.75) = 90

iii. Increase by 60% = 90 (1.60) = 144 | Option (C)

While this seems obvious when done methodically, errors can creep up if you aren’t methodical. For instance, reading the ‘decreased by 25%’ as ‘decreased to 25%’ will result in you choosing either (C) or (D).

Whereas, when it comes to ‘doing the calculation’, if you didn’t pay attention you might have gone from the 20% increase to 120 and then directly subtracting 25 from 120 instead of subtracting 25% from it. This would had led you to either options (A) or (B).

On review, if you had gotten this question wrong, the solution would have seemed “Obvious!”. But this wasn’t a random mistake, this was you NOT being deliberate when going through the data and simplifying that data.

Insight 5: Be strategic about your approach when solving questions

Most questions don’t need you to use the calculator or use (tedious) formulae. Work on training your mind to think critically to figure out the most hassle-free (requiring as few calculations as possible) ways to solve questions. This will save you on so many instances: don’t be in a rush to put pen to paper immediately.

Illustrative Example

In a knockout tournament of 64 teams, a team is eliminated after it loses and the winner advances to play with other winners. How many games will it take to have one winner in the end? 

Again, a straight-forward question to solve but can you do this without scribbling down on a piece of paper?

Many errors pop up when we don’t simplify the problem enough and go on a tail chase as we start ‘solving’ the question’ mathematically.

1. The ‘mathematical way to solve this’:

(i) 64 teams divided by 2 = 32

(ii) Once those play each other we have = 32 / 2 = 16

(iii) 8 (iv) 4 ….

You’d stop once you reach 1. But do you add the 64 with all the resulting numbers in each step? Do you add the 1? It’s also a lot of calculations for a potentially simple question.

2. The strategic approach

Think of this as a word-problem. Let’s think about what the question tells us: a team gets knocked off with every game played. What this means is that we could rephrase the question the following way:

How many teams must lose for there to be one winner?
There are 64 teams.

The answer is quite obvious 63. That took less than 10 seconds to solve didn’t it? Being strategic can save a LOT of time and help you solve tricky questions with higher accuracy.

So always take a few seconds to understand what the questions really wants and what the quickest and most efficient way to solve the questions would be, before putting down pen to paper and ‘solving’ the question the traditional way. This is usually what distinguishes someone that gets a perfect score on GRE quant from someone who doesn’t.

Quant Strategy you need to know

Insight 6: Understand common traps in GRE Quant

Have you ever been stuck between two options and always ended up picking the wrong one? This happens because the answers to questions on the GRE are designed to make you pick those that look appealing, but deep down are exploiting assumptions that you’ve made about the problem statement / constraints. You will need to deeply analyse your thought process when you review questions to figure this out.

For instance: For a quantitative comparison question, you may try and figure out whether the two quantities are equal or that one is bigger than the other – and when you test this, chances are that one of these possibilities will be satisfied by a string variables. Yet, you might not have tested the same with Zero, negative numbers, fractions etc… This can lead to selection biases -> WRONG selection!

Illustrative Example

6 < x < 7

y = 8

Quantity A : x / y

Quantity B : 0.85

(A) Quantity A is greater.
(B) Quantity B is greater.
(C) The two quantities are equal.
(D) The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.

This might seem like a direct solve for most. A terrible mistake you could make is to only sample one set of numbers that correspond to x. Let’s see what results you get when you sample individual numbers.

Let’s assume x = 6.2
Then x / y = 6.2 / 8 = .775
This would suggest that x / y is smaller that .85 ; but hold on.
You shouldn’t pick (B)!

Let’s assume x = 6.8
Then x/y = .85
This would suggest that the two quantities are equal.
You shouldn’t pick (C) either!

Let’s assume x = 6.9
Then x/y = .86
This would suggest that A is greater than B.
But hold one! You shouldn’t pick (A) either!

Notice how if we were trying to prove a specific hypothesis (that, for example A > B) we could have ended up picking numbers for x that gave values of x/y that confirmed the hypothesis. This means that we end up picking the wrong answer. Instead our approach should be to try and disprove. Since we were able to find values where x/y does more than one thing (is larger than, smaller than and equal to B), we MUST choose (D), which is the correct response for the this question..

Insight 7: Review practice questions, sectional tests and mock tests exhaustively

The final and most important aspect to internalise to scale up scores is to become a data crunching, pattern recognising machine when it comes to reviewing your practice questions. First let’s look at how to plan your practice sets.

How to plan GRE quant practice sets

  1. Select about 20 questions to practice at once
  2. Time yourself; 35 minutes is a good amount to work with for 20 Questions.
  3. Solve the entire set of questions in one go. Do not take breaks while solving these 20 Questions (Feel free to take a break after). Treat it like a sectional test.
  4. This will be very useful because the GRE is in a lot of ways just Seven sittings of 30 -35 minute sectional tests.
  5. Timed practice builds competencies needed to do well on the GRE; these cannot be built without timed practice.

Which questions should you review?

It is a mistake only to review questions that you got wrong (after you practiced a set of questions), instead review questions that you …

  1. Got right, but spent too much time on.
    Example: over 2.5 minutes for Hard questions. [timed out]
  2. Blindly guessed and got right. [fluke]
  3. Down to two Options, was not 100 percent sure of the choice, picked one and it was right [guessed]
  4. Got the answer wrong. [wrong]

What you should focus on when reviewing

Run through the following evaluations when reviewing such questions.

1. Was this mistake due to a conceptual gap?
Here is fix is simple. Learn fix the conceptual gap by learning the concept, when it is used, where it is used and how it is tested.

2. Did I know the concept but didn’t know how to apply it in this case?
In this case you’ll need to treat it as a gap in concept. Knowing the formula or the general concept alone does not indicate mastery of a concept. You must also know When it is used, where it is used and how it is tested.

3. Did I know the concept and application, but still took too much time to solve?
Identifying these is important. This gives you insight to when you are ‘calculating’ when you should actually be applying ‘critical thinking’. Think about how this could have been solved faster without necessarily using calculations / hard-math. When you solve questions going forward look for such opportunities and make it a point to apply critical think as often as you can.

4. Did I make this mistake because I misread the question?
Identify if this is a patter for a specific question type. Do you make these “silly mistakes” only when faced with word-problems? or do you end up doing this when there are a lot of percentages involved? Think deeper than just “Oh I need to read carefully”. Think about when, where and why you make the kind of mistakes you do.

5. Did you fall for a “trap” answer, which on review was obvious?
Understand why you made the mistake. Go back to your rough paper / scratch paper that you worked the question out on. Identify where the error creeped up. Did you make assumptions about the constraints that the variables are subject to? Did you skip a step when calculating? Did you miswrite a number? Find these out. See how you can eradicate this by being more deliberate, methodical and strategic.

Additional Resources

Additional suggested reading: 5 Ways to improve accuracy in Quant Sections

That’s all folks! Hope you found the article helpful. We hope your error rate drops substantially as you implement what you’ve learned here. Good luck!