How to make the most of your scratch paper on the GMAT Quantitative section

If you're like most test-takers, you will be using your scratch paper extensively on the GMAT Quantitative section. Check out these tips on how to use it effectively!

If you are preparing for the GMAT, you know that the Quantitative questions can get quite complex! This is especially true if you're aiming for a 700+ score. Taking clear, effective notes is essential--here are a few tips on how to make the most of your scratch paper.

1) Don't waste your first read-through

Start taking notes my first time through the question, creating equations to model the word problem or making a chart. Sometimes, you may realize my approach isn’t working and start over, but even then, it is better than starting from scratch. If you do this consistently, you will rarely have to re-read the question to understand what it is about. (However, you should review the question before submitting your answer to ensure you have the correct quantity!)

2) Use shortcuts carefully

While the ability to find an unconventional, faster method to solving questions is an essential skill, insisting on finding such shortcuts can backfire. Sometimes, you might realize in the middle of calculations that you could have chosen an “easier” number to substitute or used an alternative technique. If you feel confident that this new approach is better, go ahead and start over. But do not assume that you have to. If you know how to proceed in your current method, it may be best to stick with it. You won’t suddenly forget what you are supposed to do and require extra time to figure it out again, which is always a risk when reframing the problem. As long as you do not rush or get sloppy, you should arrive at the correct answer. Try the new method when you go back and review.

3) Notate smarter

Using arrows or other symbols can be a good way to demonstrate relationships that are not easy to depict mathematically, such as if two quantities “go together” or if you are calculating one quantity from another. This can help you keep track of relevant information without falling into the trap of assuming the two quantities are equal or the same type of thing. Also, try to leave some space when creating charts and equations so that you can add labels and brief notes around them, as high-level questions tend to contain information that is not easily distilled into a few variables.

Have questions about these methods or have any of your own tips to share? Feel free to reach out! I'd love to hear from you.

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