GMAT Calculator & Mental Math – All You Need To Know

Author: Apex GMAT
Contributor: Ilia Dobrev
Date: 27 July, 2021

Are you allowed to use a calculator on the GMAT? While this may seem as a pretty straightforward question to answer, it does deserve a separate blog post as it hides details that are vital for achieving a top GMAT score not only on the quantitative section, but on the exam as a whole.

Well, the answer is both Yes and No. This article aims to examine the different scenarios where you are allowed to use such a device and how you can make full use of its potential. But, if you are used to doing math with a calculator, do not worry as we have compiled a list of some mental math techniques that you can use to your advantage and even save much important time while still being spot-on with your answers.

Calculator on the GMAT | Explained

  • You are not allowed to bring your own calculator to the GMAT exam.
    According to the GMAC, no personal items are allowed in the exam room of any of the certified test centers.
  • You cannot use a calculator on the Quantitative section of the GMAT.
    Despite the fact that we are so used to using calculators to help us with arithmetic operations, you should not feel intimidated that you are not allowed to use any type of calculator on the GMAT Quantitative section. However, you will be provided with a blank canvas by the proctor of the exam where you will have plenty of space to practice to manually compute any calculations, if needed.

You should not worry as the GMAT exam is not designed to test you on complicated mathematical operations or complex calculations. Instead, the quant section draws from secondary-level math skills like basic algebra and geometry, which are mastered in high school, to test other kinds of abilities like critical thinking, logical reasoning, and problem-solving. In fact, the majority of the Quant questions can (and should) be answered without any calculations beyond estimation. A typical example of how you can use mental math to get to the right answer while saving precious time on the GMAT is the Movie Night combinatorics problem. Another type of common GMAT quant questions are data sufficiency problems, which are also more about reasoning than  calculations. You’ll only need to do basic calculations and can rely on estimation for anything more complicated. If you have to do the math, the GMAC usually keeps the numbers simple and avoids decimals. When you see large numbers or complex fractions, then it’s a good bet that there’s an easier solution path to embark on other than calculating.

Surprisingly or not, a calculator will be provided for use during the GMAT Integrated Reasoning section of the test. This GMAT calculator has the standard basic functions, CE (clear entry) button, C (clear) button, an sqrt function, a % (percentage) button, and a 1/x button that calculates the reciprocal of the entry currently on the screen. Also, there is a row with the standard memory functions

  • MS (memory store) stores the current entry in the calculator’s memory for subsequent use.
  • MR (memory recall) displays the latest number stored in the calculator’s memory so that it can be used for the next calculations.
  • M+ (memory addition) adds the current entry to the value that is currently stored in the calculator’s memory. This button is helpful when you need to add a long series of numbers and don’t want to retype each one.
  • MC (memory clear) erases whatever is in the current memory. You should click this button before every new calculation scenario.

Improve your Mental Math and reduce your Calculator Dependency

Survival Tips & Tricks

Do not overuse the IR calculator.

While you are provided with a basic GMAT calculator during the Integrated Reasoning section, you might not want to use it too often as you’ll waste more time than you’ll save. You can also apply the solution paths you are using in the Quant section to some problems in the Integrated Reasoning section.

Constantly practice Mental Math operations.

A huge morale boost is that mental math operations are easy to learn with some practice. You can add, multiply, subtract, and divide when you pay bills, check out at the grocery store, calculate a tip, etc. without using a calculator.

Make accurate estimations

The key to saving a considerable amount of time on the GMAT exam is efficiency in estimations. Transform numbers to less unwieldy figures like 0 or 5 for the purpose of calculations. You can then browse the answer choices to see which is closest to your preliminary estimate.

Do not use a calculator when you are prepping for the GMAT quant section.

This is a great way to practice mental math operations outside the daily life operations. The test setting and quant context will let you get used to this environment so that you know what to expect on test day.

Familiarize yourself with a basic GMAT calculator and do use its Memory functions.

As this will be your only technical aid during the GMAT Integrated Reasoning section, you’d better spend some time making the most out of it. Especially when you are pressed by time, memorizing calculated values for further operations in the calculator’s memory can be crucial for staying on track with a healthy exam pace.

Guide yourself by looking at the answer choices.

Looking at the answer choices can immediately permit you to eliminate a couple of options. Even if you are pushed by time, you can easily make a more educated decision depending on your reasoning that will boost the chances of picking the correct answer.

Do not freak out if you see large numbers.

Remember that the people who stand behind the GMAT are aware that they are designing questions that are supposed to be answered without using a calculator. This also keeps the arithmetic from being too difficult and gives you the opportunity to apply a more straightforward approach.

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