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GRE Quantitative Comparison Is Not About Timing

December 1, 2016
Boris Dvorkin

Try solving this GRE quantitative comparison question.

“I’m fine with the problems. It’s the timing that kills me.”

We hear this from a lot of you. Unfortunately, having more time on the GRE wouldn’t actually help you get a higher score, since the GRE is a scaled test. So instead of moaning about the clock, strive to be as awesome as possible at solving problems. If you’re great, you’ll also be fast.

Here’s a quantitative comparison problem for a simple, but clear illustration of the fact that speed isn’t something that comes independently of your problem solving skills.

Solving quantitative comparison questions the long way

This problem comes from our GRE Bootcamp event:

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At a glance, the direct, “mathematical” way to solve this problem is in fact time-consuming: add up the sums in both columns, then compare. Since there’s an on-screen calculator on the GRE, many test-takers opt to solve the problem this way. And boy does it take a long time.

Let us be very clear: Directly totaling both columns isn’t just a slow way to solve the problem. It’s a BAD way. Someone who solves the problem in this head-on, brute force fashion, then says to themselves, “I’m fine with the problems, it’s the timing that kills me,” is being dishonest with themselves. They are not “fine with the problems.” They are very much unfine!

Taking the shorter road on GRE Test Day

Instead of worrying about timing when you have to compare two quantities, start by eliminating what they have in common. If a quantity appears in both columns, then it isn’t helping either one to be bigger than the other.

In the quantitative comparison at hand, both columns include the range of numbers 12 to 29. Thus, totaling that range would be a waste of time. Ignore it and look instead at what’s different:

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-9-45-35-am

Since 9 + 10 + 11 clearly equals 30, you can click answer choice (C)—“The two quantities are equal”—in under ten seconds and score the point. That’s the beauty of the GRE: if you’re awesome, speed comes for free. Practice will get you there.

Ready to practice your quantitative comparison skills? Check out our free GRE prep resources.



Boris Dvorkin Boris scored in the 99th percentile on the PSAT, was a National Merit finalist, and went on to earn two degrees from Case Western Reserve University. As a two-time Kaplan Teacher of the Year, Boris has helped many students achieve their goals and is known for his sense of humor in the classroom. When Boris isn’t helping students tackle tests, he loves playing strategy board games.


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