I've been studying for the GRE quantitative section for months, and I feel like I've hit a wall over which I cannot climb. In short, I always run out of time. As such, I get at least a quarter of the questions wrong, and my final score won't budge north of the ~80th percentile.
How I'm preparing
My current thinking is by analogy. For example, the runner Alan Webb said:
People always ask me if it's an all out sprint. But that's the idea of training. You train hard so it doesn't feel like that. The reason you train is that you can do it and it won't feel like a sprint.
Thus, I've been trying to mix
- Doing problems carefully in order to develop good habits like organizing my work, re-reading the problem statement, and checking my work.
- Doing problems under timed conditions. Recently, I've been pushing myself to solve problems in less than 1.5 min rather than the given 1.75 min.
After solving a set of problems (typically 10-20), I review each one, logging the type of problem, the type of answer, and most importantly: "What did I need to recognize or know to get this question right?".
So far, I've solved and logged over 1500 problems in this way. While my score initially increased dramatically, from around the 50th percentile to the 80th percentile, it seems to have slowed down. For the past month or two, I simply cannot score much better than in the high 70s to mid 80s.
What problems am I getting wrong?
The GRE General quantitative material is divided into two sections of 20 problems each, with 35 minutes per section. The first section is fairly easy and the second section is more difficult if you did well on the first section.
Generally, speaking the problems I get wrong can be divided into a few classes:
- I typically get 2-4 problems wrong on the first section. In nearly every case, it is a simple mistake: an arithmetic error, copying the problem down incorrectly, selecting the better deal (in terms of $) rather than the greater quantity, not seeing the similar triangles, etc. Once I see the answer, I think, "Well, that was obvious!" My performance on this section has increased with time, but I still can't get 100% of the problems correct.
- In the second section, I usually come across 1-2 that I simply do not know how to do. If I read the answer, it makes sense, but I can't "see it" on the test, and simply guess and move on.
- I never finish the second section. As such, I always get 1-2 wrong by default here, and often the last 5 are pretty hard, and I'll get 2-4 wrong out of the last 5.
Assuming I haven't hit some intellectual wall where I simply don't have the enough neurons firing to solve these problems—assuming this is a performance gap rather than a conceptual one—how can I improve on time? I've read a dozen GRE prep company blog posts where the author walks through one problem and shows how there is always a faster way. I get that. My question is: how can I systematically train in such a way that over time my performance increases?