Aug
17
2011

# Overcoming Math Paralysis: Getting Started on GRE Math Problems

At some point in a Quantitative section, many test-takers experience Math Paralysis. “What do I do?” they ask themselves as they stare blankly at the screen, letting precious seconds slip away.

This fear is unnecessary! It’s true, the first step is the hardest. But once you know where to begin, solving a problem simply requires executing the steps.

That’s fine, if you’re a Math Person who can figure it out, right? No, even the most math-fearful among us can overcome this uncertainty. Instead of letting Test Day anxiety turn hesitation into paralysis, remind yourself that YOU CAN DO THIS – you just have to stop, breathe, and put what you know into action.

Every problem on the GRE gives you information. It may not be much, and it may not be immediately clear. But don’t forget that the GRE is testing your ability to THINK CRITICALLY, not how well you can do math. That Critical Thinking comes into play when deciding where to start solving the problem. Here’s an example.

“If Carl pays c dollars and Kevin pays k dollars per month for their apartment’s rent”… Have I lost you already? Stay with me. “What percent of the total does Kevin pay?”

What has the problem told us? We know c+k=rent.

What is it asking us for? What percentage k pays.

Next you would look at the answer choices. In this problem, they all have c and k in them, the variables given to us in the question. How does that help? Because we know that variables in the answer choices are a GREAT time to use one of the core Kaplan Strategies: Picking Numbers.

Kaplan-trained test-takers also know that when a problem asks for a percentage of an unstated value, the best number to pick is 100. So the savvy test-taker who encounters Carl and Kevin on Test Day would assume they live somewhere with phenomenal rent control pick \$100 as their monthly rent. We’ll do that, too. (Look, we just did the first step together, painlessly!)

Next, we decide who pays what portion of that \$100. Perhaps Carl got the tiny bedroom, so let c=40 and k=60. Now go back to what we were asked for: How much of the rent does Kevin pay? Well, if we decided that k=\$60, and the total was \$100, then Kevin pays 60/100, which is 60% of the total.

Following the rest of the Picking Numbers strategy, we know we need to plug let c=40 and k=60 into the answer choices until we find the one that gives us 60%. That’s easy, once we tackled the first step and figured out WHAT to do.

This works on even more complicated problems, too; decide where to start based on what you are given. The way to master this skill is to PRACTICE it regularly so it comes naturally on Test Day. Doing so ensures you will triumph over Math Paralysis!

## Related Posts

#### About the Author: Jennifer Land

Jennifer Mathews Land has taught for Kaplan since 2009. She teaches and tutors GRE and GMAT for Kaplan via Classroom Anywhere and GRE, GMAT, and MCAT Verbal in Alabama. She was named Kaplan’s Alabama-Mississippi Teacher of the Year in 2010. Jennifer holds a PhD and a master’s in library and information studies (MLIS) from the University of Alabama, and an AB in English from Wellesley College. She worked as a copy editor for a number of publishing companies and web sites before becoming a librarian in 2004. When she isn’t teaching, she enjoys watching Alabama football and herding cats.

• Han0uf

Fine, but why you choose to predict that Carl got the tiny bedroom while in fact you don’t really know.

Now I don’t know if intelligence behavior could be go random as any matter of life.

Are You Serious or don’t know?
because following this method you’ll lost me till death.

Thank You
Chimie

• Jennifer Land

It doesn’t really matter who gets which room! The only issue is that you pick values for C and K that together equal 100. I could have said Carl pays \$99 and Kevin pays \$1, and it would have worked out the same. But for the sake of explaining it, I chose numbers that were near one another AND that could be actual percentages different roommates could pay.

Hope that solves any confusion!

Jennifer

• Gina @ Kaplan

Hi Terri_may2000. Thanks for the feedback! We’re always working to keep our materials error-free.

• Simmi

Hi Jennifer,
I am preparing for GRE and evaluating different resources which can be of help to my preparation. I can relate to this post very much as Quant is my weakness and I dread it. I came across this resource http://www.wiziq.com/course/2526-improve-your-gre-quantitative-score and iv checked a few test prep of kaplan too. What do you suggest is the best for me.

Thanks
Simmi