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Jun 04 2015

Preview of 2016 GMAT Official Guide Math

2016 GMAT Official GuideIn this third post of this series of exclusive previews of the 2016 GMAT Official Guides, we now turn to the math section of the main Official Guide. We will focus on how the 2016 GMAT Official Guide differs from the 2015 edition in terms of math question difficulty and math concepts.

Problem Solving – Difficulty

Both the 2015 and 2016 editions of the GMAT Official Guide contain 230 Problem Solving questions, excluding the identical 24 Problem Solving questions in the Diagnostic Exam portion of the guides. But the allocation of question difficulty, as assigned by the GMAC, has noticeably shifted. In particular, the Easy and Hard categories have expanded whereas the Medium category has shrunk considerably. A big portion of these change resulted from the GMAC upgrading 36 questions from Medium difficulty (in the 2015 edition) to Hard (in the 2016 edition).

Difficulty 2016 2015 Change
Easy 55 37 +18
Medium 52 93 (41)
Hard 123 100 +23
Total 230 230

A total of 57 brand new Problem Solving questions, which we have never seen before, appear in the 2016 GMAT Official Guide, with difficulty ratings of Easy / Medium / Hard as follows: 21 / 24 / 12. This is in lieu of 57 questions from the 2015 edition that have been removed, with difficulty ratings of Easy / Medium / Hard as follows: 12 / 20 / 25. Let’s further break down how each of these difficulty categories has changed.

Easy Problem Solving

Additions:
21 new questions
9 downgraded from Medium

Subtractions:
12 questions removed

Net change: +18 questions

Medium Problem Solving

Additions:
24 new questions

Subtractions:
20 questions removed
9 downgraded to Easy
36 upgraded to Hard

Net change: -41 questions

Hard Problem Solving

Additions:
12 new questions
36 upgraded from Medium

Subtractions:
25 questions removed

Net change: +23 questions

Problem Solving – Concepts

Let’s now consider changes in the concepts of the 57 new (in 2016) and the 57 removed (from 2015) Problem Solving questions. GMAT Genius classifies questions based on their primary and secondary concepts. In order to observe trends, we have condensed our categorization as follows:

Type Concept 2016 2015 Change
Arithmetic Basic 3 5 (2)
Arithmetic Absolute Value 0 1 (1)
Arithmetic Divisibility & Factors 2 3 (1)
Arithmetic Exponents & Roots 4 3 1
Arithmetic Fractions & Ratios 3 5 (2)
Arithmetic Percents 4 2 2
Arithmetic Positive/Negative 1 1
Algebra Formulas 2 0 2
Algebra Inequalities 1 4 (3)
Algebra Linear Equations 2 3 (1)
Algebra Quadratics 2 2
Algebra Simultaneous Equations 2 5 (3)
Geometry Various 15 14 1
Statistics Averages 5 1 4
Statistics Other 1 1
Word Problems Functions & Sequences 2 0 2
Word Problems Other Various 8 7 1

Although we cannot draw definite conclusions from this data about question composition on the GMAT, what stands out is the decrease in algebraic inequalities and simultaneous equations, the decrease in arithmetic fundamentals, and the increase in averages.

Data Sufficiency – Difficulty

Both the 2015 and 2016 editions of the GMAT Official Guide contain 174 Data Sufficiency questions, excluding the identical 24 Data Sufficiency questions in the Diagnostic Exam portion of the guides. As with Problem Solving, the allocation of question difficulty has noticeably shifted. Once again, the Easy and Hard categories have expanded whereas the Medium category has shrunk considerably. A big portion of these change resulted from the GMAC upgrading 24 questions from Medium difficulty (in the 2015 edition) to Hard (in the 2016 edition).

Difficulty 2016 2015 Change
Easy 38 24 +14
Medium 34 64 (30)
Hard 102 86 +16
Total 174 174

A total of 44 brand new Data Sufficiency questions, which we have never seen before, appear in the 2016 GMAT Official Guide, with difficulty ratings of Easy / Medium / Hard as follows: 17 / 12 / 15. This is in lieu of 44 questions from the 2015 edition that have been removed, with difficulty ratings of Easy / Medium / Hard as follows: 10 / 11 / 23. Let’s further break down how each of these difficulty categories has changed.

Easy Data Sufficiency

Additions:
17 new questions
7 downgraded from Medium

Subtractions:
10 questions removed

Net change: +14 questions

Medium Data Sufficiency

Additions:
12 new questions

Subtractions:
11 questions removed
7 downgraded to Easy
24 upgraded to Hard

Net change: -30 questions

Hard Data Sufficiency

Additions:
15 new questions
24 upgraded from Medium

Subtractions:
23 questions removed

Net change: +16 questions

Data Sufficiency – Concepts

Let’s now consider changes in the concepts of the 44 new (in 2016) and the 44 removed (from 2015) Data Sufficiency questions. GMAT Genius classifies questions based on their primary and secondary concepts. In order to observe trends, we have condensed our categorization as follows:

Type Concept 2016 2015 Change
Arithmetic Basic 0 4 (4)
Arithmetic Absolute Value 0 1 (1)
Arithmetic Exponents 4 2 2
Arithmetic Fractions & Ratios 1 3 (2)
Arithmetic Percents 6 2 4
Arithmetic Positive/Negative 2 1 1
Algebra Simultaneous Equations 1 8 (7)
Algebra Other 7 5 2
Geometry Coordinate 3 1 2
Geometry Other 6 5 1
Statistics Averages 2 3 (1)
Statistics Other 2 0 2
Word Problems Various 10 9 1

Although we again cannot draw definite conclusions from this data about question composition on the GMAT, what clearly stands out is the decrease in algebraic simultaneous equations and basic arithmetic concepts, offset by an increase in percents.

Removed Questions

Here is the list of the math questions that have been removed from the 2015 edition of the GMAT Official Guide. We’ll publish a list of the new math questions in the 2016 GMAT Official Guide after it publicly releases.

Problem Solving – 57 questions removed:

1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 23, 24, 28, 29, 32, 33, 35, 38, 39, 40, 43, 45, 47, 48, 50, 53, 62, 73, 78, 86, 90, 96, 103, 104, 111, 113, 121, 147, 152, 153, 159, 161, 165, 167, 171, 173, 175, 176, 179, 184, 187, 191, 192, 195, 197, 201, 202, 205, 220, 221, 225, 227

Data Sufficiency – 44 questions removed:

1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 13, 16, 17, 19, 20, 30, 36, 43, 45, 50, 56, 61, 72, 86, 87, 88, 89, 104, 106, 107, 112, 115, 121, 132, 136, 138, 140, 145, 148, 151, 153, 155, 156, 158, 160, 161, 162, 165, 174

Key Takeaways

Keep in mind that we cannot draw firm conclusions about the GMAC’s intent in making changes to the question composition in the 2016 GMAT Official Guide. That said, we can observe certain trends and speculate on what those changes may imply.

Between Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency, the GMAC has upgraded 60 questions from Medium difficulty to Hard. We can only presume that the GMAC is moving away from the trend of recent years of increasing the difficulty of the math section. If correct, this would bring welcome relief to many future GMAT hopefuls.

The changes in concepts as discussed above seem consistent with what we’ve observed in the 2016 Quantitative Official Guide. Simultaneous equations, in particular, have been reduced significantly. The GMAC really seems to be moving towards math questions that require more analytical reasoning to solve rather than rote usage of formulas and fundamental math techniques.

We’re still working our way through the Verbal sections of the 2016 GMAT Official Guide, and will post our analysis as soon as we can. Stay tuned!