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Problem Solving

GMAT math problem solving
Problem Solving (PS) questions are typical multiple-choice math questions that you have probably encountered before. A math problem is presented, followed by five answer choices, one correct and four incorrect. Calculators are not allowed; calculations must be done manually on your whiteboard. Long, tedious arithmetic is rarely the best approach. Many problems have multiple approaches, with one approach often faster than others.

Concepts Tested on GMAT Problem Solving

The problems are based on various arithmetic and algebra math concepts, many of which are presented as word problems. There is no geometry, trigonometry, or calculus on the GMAT. All numbers used are real numbers; irrational numbers are not used.

  • Arithmetic concepts on the test include number properties, fractions, percents, ratios, exponents and roots, and basic statistics. Also included are certain types of word problems such as rate and work, mixture, sets, probability, and basic combinatorics.
  • Algebra concepts on the test include linear equations, basic quadratic equations, absolute values, and inequalities.

How to Approach GMAT Problem Solving

Read the question carefully and fully understand what is asked. Harder questions may be purposely worded in a confusing manner. For word problems, it is often helpful to translate the information presented into equations or in a tabular format. Make liberal use of the provided scratch board, as performing calculations in your head can lead to careless mistakes. Be systematic in your approach, organize the information logically, and clearly label everything. This becomes even more important as you tackle hard difficultly problems.

Before diving into calculations, examine the five answer choices for clues. Incorrect answers are typically not random numbers, but are instead created to ensnare test takers who make a careless mistake or fall into a common trap. Consider the format of the answers, so you know what you are working towards. Look for any similarities or differences amongst the available answers. If the answer choices are numbers that are far apart, some approximation may make for easier calculations.

Sample GMAT Problem Solving Question

Let’s try a sample problem. Attempt the problem on your own before viewing the answer and explanation.

A hospital purchased 50 stethoscopes and 270 boxes of tongue depressors from a medical supply company. If the price of each stethoscope was nine times the price of each box of tongue depressors, what percent of the total bill was the price of one stethoscope?

        (A) 0.8%
        (B) 1.0%
        (C) 1.25%
        (D) 1.45%
        (E) 2.0%

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