Develop Your GRE Mental Calculator

Many students spend lots of time and money on expensive prep courses such as Kaplan or Princeton Review while failing to do simple (free) things that will increase their GRE score.

Most of my students fail to take into account just how horrible the onscreen calculator actually is. It’s the kind of calculator you might by for $3 in the checkout line at Walmart; no higher level function keys, no exponent key, no anything useful.

It’s a long, long way from the graphing calculator most of us are used to. Plus, you can’t use the keyboard number pad. You have to press the calculator keys using your mouse. That’s Slow and Painful!


Turn on your mental math skills.

It’s easier to do than you might think. Most of us have been using a calculator to do our mathematical thinking for us for so long we’ve forgotten lots of basic math skills.

Sure, the has an onscreen calculator, but it’s time consuming to punch those little buttons with your mouse. The solution?

Beef up your mental math skills. It’s easier than you might think.

My oldest two sons–both in their 20s–had a fantastic 5th Grade math teacher. She taught all her 5th graders mental math.

Because of her, my sons–as 5th graders!–were better at mental math than my average prep course student, simply because they practiced doing mental math regularly.

It’s not that hard; we just don’t practice.

I regularly have students struggling to do these sorts of problems in their head…

  • 3% of 600
  • 18,600 / 300
  • 18 X 6

If the answers don’t seem easy and quick to you, you’re wasting valuable time on the ; time that you could be using to think about the logic of the problem rather than laboriously pulling up that onscreen calculator and punching in those numbers.

The Solution?

  1. Put certain math facts at your mental fingertips.
  2. Learn some easy ways to reliably do mental calculations.
  3. Practice so that you can do those calculations quickly under testing conditions.

Put Certain Math Facts at Your Mental Fingertips

Do you perfectly and instantly recall all those multiplication facts you memorized back in third grade? Most of us don’t. We use a calculator for everything now; but that will slow you down on the GRE.

Use a web app, such as this one, to get back up to speed on those multiplication facts.

Memorize percent/decimal/fraction equivalents. You should instantly know, for example, that 3/8 is .375 is 37.5%. Handy charts for this type of thing are available in most prep books.

Finally, learn your math vocabulary. For example, what’s a quotient? A factor? Is zero an integer? These types of things are important on the GRE. 

If you forget that zero is an even integer or that a quotient is what you get when you divide one number by another, you’ll miss the whole problem. I include a helpful list of GRE math vocabulary on page 29 of my GRE Student Supplement. 

I include this and many more tips in my StudyProf GRE Prep Course. Plus, I can tell you exactly what’s on the GRE. Most prep courses and prep books–including the one from ETS–cover a lot of material that’s not even on the GRE. 

My GRE Prep course is available as a monthly Zoom-based class or as one-on-one tutoring.

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© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

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