Complete GRE Math Concept List
How To Study For GRE Math
If you need to take the GRE, but you hate or fear math, this guide is for you. We're going to start at the very beginning and build from there.
To skip straight to my math concepts guide itself, just click right here.
My name is Vince Kotchian, and I've been helping people raise their GRE scores since 2008. I've co-written GRE books, published video courses for LinkedIn Learning, and worked with hundreds of people both one-on-one and in small group GRE classes.
I've found that most people need to work pretty hard on GRE math, but that once they do, it's predictable that their scores will go up. What follows in this article is step #1 for most people: learning the conceptual basics that the GRE will use to design math questions. This step will give you the math foundation to work on more complicated questions.
Note: My guide, in my opinion, will help you way more than just memorizing GRE math formulas from a cheat sheet. Math skill comes from doing lots and lots of math questions.
(This cat aced the GRE.)
What Kind Of Math Is On The GRE?
The GRE has a brief - very brief - review of all the math concepts it tests in the free ETS Math Review. Please take a minute to stop reading and click on it and scroll through it a bit. The Math Review tells us what's on the test. In a nutshell, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and "data analysis" - which means statistics and probability.
Now, mark which concepts you know and which ones you might not or don't know. Use the Math Review to try to learn ones you don't know. This means read about the concepts and do all the practice exercises at the end of each section.
However, you may very well need much more practice than the ETS Math Review can give you. For example, for certain concepts, you might just need a reminder - like for a certain exponent rule. For other concepts - perhaps probability - you may feel like you need much more depth.
That's where Khan Academy comes in. If you haven't used it before, it's amazing - and 100% free!
Here's a pic from the Khan Academy website to show you where the video lesson, written lesson, and practice questions are for each concept - and where you can take a quiz or test to gauge your skills.
FYI, understanding the video does NOT mean you can do the problem from scratch. So, make sure you take advantage of the practice exercises as well.
Pro tip: If you're not sure whether you are good with a particular concept, go straight to the quizzes or even the unit test. This saves time, and the website will give you hints if you're stuck on a question.
GRE Math Practice Questions
Once you've mastered a concept, check it off on the ETS Math Review and move onto the next one. Your job is to get this whole project done ASAP, so you can start practicing with real ETS GRE questions. The more real ETS math questions you successfully solve on your own - i.e., without following someone else's solution - the better you get.
It's a numbers game, pun intended.
Important: having a plan and schedule is crucial. Make sure you check out my 1, 2, 3, and 4-month GRE study plans. I also create custom GRE study plans if you want something specific to your unique situation.
Spoiler: All my plans are designed around official ETS GRE practice questions. This is the big reason they're better than plans from companies like Magoosh, whose plans will have you wading through hundreds of unrealistic Magoosh-written questions.
A common myth is that practicing with "harder" questions than you'll see on the GRE will make the real GRE seem easier. This isn't true, because those "hard" questions - if they're written by test-prep companies like Magoosh, Kaplan, or the like - will be hard for the wrong reasons - unrealistically computation-heavy, obscure, or written with no possibility of a shortcut. This is why we want to eventually do as many real ETS questions as we can.
(Above: Your town celebrating your perfect GRE math score with a fireworks display.)
My Most Important GRE Math Tip
It's important for you to know that being able to solve math questions on the real GRE is a skill that comes from practice with real GRE questions. Shocking, right?
Real GRE questions are hard until they're easy. By that, I mean that they're often wordy and complicated but often can be solved by cutting through the words to figure out what the question's asking, or by using a logical shortcut. They're testing your ability to think with math skills - which is why the section is called "Quantitative Reasoning".
This means that memorizing GRE math formulas, reviewing notes, using GRE math cheat sheets, and watching videos are WAY less important than getting your hands dirty by doing a ton of ETS math questions by yourself - then keeping a detailed mistake journal (as described in my study plans).
A Few More Things About Khan Academy
Important note: If you see a concept in the ETS Math Review that you don't know but can't find it on the Khan page I've linked to, type it into the Khan Academy search bar.
BUT if you find a concept in Khan that is NOT in the ETS Math Review, don't worry about it. I'll list anything you DON'T need in Khan next to each Khan link.
Concepts you DON'T need to know that are in the ETS Math Review: how to calculate standard deviation.
(Above: You studying?)
Can You Use A Calculator On The GRE?
Yes! It's an on-screen calculator that you can use at any time during a GRE quantitative section.
Your GRE calculator can add, subtract, multiply, divide, and square root. But that's pretty much it. And the display only fits 8 digits.
(just like a calculator from the '80s!)
Pro tip: download a GRE calculator app onto your phone when practicing GRE math, since your phone's calculator is actually much better than the GRE calculator...
The test center at which you take the GRE will also provide you with scrap paper and a pencil. So practice using a pencil, not a pen.
- 2.1 Operations with Algebraic Expressions (skip independent / dependent variables)
- 2.3 Solving Linear Equations
- 2.4 Solving Quadratic Equations
- 2.5 Solving Linear Inequalities
- 2.6 Functions (skip recognizing fxns, max and min points, and intervals)
- 2.8 Coordinate Geometry
- Sequences (skip everything below quiz 1)
- (skip any proofs)
- 3.1 Lines and Angles
- 3.2 Polygons
- Area and Perimeter of Shapes (skip anything about nets)
- 3.3 Triangles
- 3.4 Quadrilaterals
- 3.5 Circles (skip radians)
- 3.6 Three-Dimensional Figures (skip cones, pyramids, and spheres)
GRE DATA ANALYSIS
- 4.1 Graphical Methods for Describing Data
- 4.2 Numerical Methods for Describing Data
- Central Tendency (mean, median, mode)
- Measures of Dispersion (range, standard deviation) skip variance; skip calculating standard deviation
- 4.3 Counting Methods
- 4.4 Probability
- 4.5 Distributions of Data, Random Variables, and Probability Distributions
- Normal Distribution
- don't need the formula for normal dist; skip the Excel exercise
(be scrupulous in your GRE math prep and you'll do well. Credit: @GRE_vocab_words)
Be sure to check out my blog for more free GRE resources, too.