The GRE Tutor: The Skills to Pay the Mathematical Bills

Posted by Mac Staben on 2/24/14, 10:13 AM

theskillsdatpaydabills resized 600

Positive K has them. Do you?

As a GRE math tutor in Boston, I am continually struck by the number of students who believe that the memorization of math formulas and facts is the key to success on the GRE. While these factoids are important, I’ll try to convince you with this blog post that spending time improving your mathematical reasoning skills will help more than drilling formulas.

In many ways, a mathematical formula is like the phone number of a friend. Today, when I want to call or text a friend, I turn to my cell phone. I’ve heard their number only once or twice in my life; if my phone broke, I would be totally unable to contact them, except by alternate means. In contrast, I can still remember the phone numbers of houses where my friends haven’t lived for a decade. Growing up before cell phones and electronic address books were common forced you to look up a number every time you called, and that repetition fixed the number in your brain. But, simply knowing the number wasn’t the most important thing to a friendship. Instead, it was what you did or said after calling.

Knowing a formula without knowing its importance is like calling a friend, then not having anything to say when she picks up. You can’t make plans with a friend if you don’t know her number; you have to think about similar situation. A student I’m coaching for the GRE can’t stop after memorizing formulas; the GRE math formulas are more of a base layer that allows her to attack a problem. So, instead of simply memorizing formulas, pay attention to how they are used in example problems. Practice them while solving problems and pay more attention to the strategy. The GRE math section is tricky, but it always suggests answers through the answer choices. For example, if a problem asks you the value of a number like 1215/423, apply the exponent rules and reduce until something clean and simple pops out.

If you have further questions about this blog post, or using these strategies in your own GRE preparation, look for other posts focusing on the GRE on this blog, or talk to a tutor from Cambridge Coaching.

Sign up to receive a free, 8-part GRE Math Toolkit

Tags: GRE