Before we even get into this topic, let me give you a big disclaimer. Memorizing is not the best way to study for the GMAT. This is a critical thinking test, not a content-based test.
The idea is that the GMAT is supposed to test your preparedness to succeed in business school, which means that you aren’t expected to have any specialized knowledge. Instead, you’re expected to have a keen ability to confront novel problems and solve them.
With all of that said, there are some basic concepts which you will need to know so that you can fully focus on the critical thinking aspect of the problems you’re working through. This article will run through how you can study those and which specific pieces of content will help you with both the Quantitative and the Verbal sections.
So without further ado, here is everything you need to memorize for the GMAT and the best way to memorize all of it.
Practice First, Flash Cards Second
Many people benefit from using flashcards to memorize key concepts on the test, whether that’s using the good old fashioned 3” x 5” pieces of card stock from elementary school or newfangled smartphone apps that help you practice your flash cards any time any place.
But before you even make flash cards, take a practice test. You’ll want to get a sense of what you actually do and don’t know on the GMAT, and there’s no better way to do that than by taking one of the free practice tests offered by GMAC, the people who write the test.
From there you’ll know if you struggle on sentence corrections (meaning you’ll need to bone up on grammar) or if you need to freshen up your math fundamentals.
Write out your first set of flash cards based on content that you missed on that test. Focus on rules and formulas so that you are developing skills you can actually practice across a variety of problems. Don’t make flashcards teaching you how to solve a specific problem, since you’ll never see that exact problem on another test.
From there, make sure you’re completing practice problems regularly. Use the original GMAT guides issued by the GMAC to get practice with those rules that you’re studying. Working through practice problems is also a great way to find new material that requires a flash card.
The most effective method for memorization combines studying and practice, so make sure you’re mixing flash cards with problem sets and practice tests.
Use Mnemonics and Visual Thinking
Mnemonic devices are little phrases that help you memorize a more complex idea. One common form of a mnemonic is an acronym, and these can be great for memorizing frameworks of rules.
For example, PEMDAS is helpful for memorizing the order of operations: parentheses, exponents, multiplication and division, addition and subtraction.
Likewise, use FANBOYS to remember the common conjunctions: for, and, not, but, or, yes, so.
Visual thinking can be useful when memorizing various math rules. For example, picture the outline of a circle when memorizing your circumference formula and thinking of a shaded circle when memorizing area.
Quantitative Rules and Formulas to Memorize for the GMAT
This is hardly a comprehensive list of every single math concept you’ll need to know to be successful on the GMAT (or, for that matter, every strategy). But read through this list and ask yourself “can I recall this formula/rule instantly?” If you can’t, look it up and write out a flashcard to memorize it.
- Prime numbers
- Negatives: adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing
- Fractions: adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing
- Simplifying fractions and cross-reducing
- Number lines
Percents and probabilities
- Calculating percent change
- Calculating percent increase and decrease
- Discounts and sales tax
- Finding probability of a single case
- Finding probability of two cases
- D = RT
- Combined rate formula
- Algebraic manipulation
- Variable operations
- Perimeter and area of rectangles and squares
- Circumference and area of a circle
- Area of a triangle
- Pythagorean theorem and pythagorean triples
- Special right triangles
- Degree measures of a line, right angle, circle, semi-circle, and triangle
- Angle identities including: vertical angles, supplementary angles, interior alternate angles
- Formula for degree measure of a polygon
- Finding the slope of a line
- Identifying the (x,y) coordinates
- Identifying the y-intercept of a line
- Slope-intercept form
- Calculating length of a line segment
- Quadrants of a coordinate plane
Exponents and radicals
- Definitions of base and exponent
- Squares of 1 through 15
- Multiplying exponential numbers with the same base
- Dividing exponential numbers with the same base
- Raising a power to a power
- Negative exponents
- Exponent of 0
- Fraction exponent
- Reducing a radical to its simplest form
Verbal Rules to Memorize for the GMAT
You don’t need to know many rules to do well on the Verbal. The only rule-based questions are the Sentence Correction questions and there are only 12 to 14 of those on every test. Additionally, the Sentence Correction questions are easier to deal with when you focus on meaning and not grammar.
There are still some basic guidelines and grammar rules that you’ll want to know about going into the section, so work on memorizing any of the following that you’re not already perfectly familiar with.
Subject-verb agreement is simply when the verb (the main action in the sentence) lines up correctly with the subject (the thing doing the action). For instance The chef cook a delicious Italian meal. is incorrect. The correct verb form should be “cooks” in that sentence.
Dangling modifiers are another subject thing. Basically, make sure any phrase at the beginning of the sentence properly describes the subject.
Incorrect: “Frustrated by the exam, my pencil broke in half.” In this sentence, my pencil is the subject, and it can’t be frustrated by an exam.
Correct: “Frustrated by the exam, I broke my pencil in half.” The subject here is I, which is correct.
Verbals vs. verbs. Simply, verbs are actions that the subject is doing, while verbals are nouns that describe a subject. Ok, maybe not so simple! Let’s see it in action in an example sentence.
My daughter doesn’t know that throwing a temper tantrum will make me less likely to buy her ice cream.
In that sentence “throwing” is a verbal, since “throwing a temper tantrum” is a thing that my daughter is doing. It acts like a noun, since nouns describe a person, place, or thing.
Watch out for any words ending in –ing that are use as the main verb in the sentence. To make those correct, either drop the -ing or add a helper such as is, was, or am.
Incorrect: My daughter throwing a temper tantrum at the grocery store.
Correct: My daughter was throwing a temper tantrum at the grocery store.
Watch out for phrases in the middle. They often split a subject from a verb.
Incorrect: Each player on the team, even the most fit ones, exercise every day.
Remove that phrase in the middle and see if the sentence works. We realize that it reads “Each player on the team exercise every day.” That verb “exercise” does not agree with the subject “each player” so therefore it’s incorrect.
When you see a phrase in the middle of the sentence surrounded by commas, just try taking it out to see if the subject and verb agree.
Run-on sentences can be fixed 4 ways. Split them up with a period, a semicolon, a colon, or a comma with a conjunction (known as the FANBOYS, remember those?).
The most common type of run on sentence is called a comma splice which goes like this:
I went to the store, I bought ice cream for my daughter.
You have two complete sentences joined with a comma, which is not correct. You can fix that with four pieces of punctuation:
Period: I went to the store. I bought ice cream for my daughter.
Semicolon: I went to the store; I bought ice cream for my daughter.
Colon: I went to the store: I bought ice cream for my daughter.
Comma with conjunction: I went to the store, and I bought ice cream for my daughter.