Quant Practice Tests vs Actual Test

I just took the GRE and was caught very off guard by the questions I faced on the quant side. I frankly was surprised by my score of 155, as I did not recognize what to do with around a quarter of the questions. My score might have been higher due to lucky guessing. For reference, I was scoring in the 160-165 range on the practice tests on achievable, and thought it was going to be my strongest section.

Has anyone else had a similar experience?

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Hey @Dead_aqua_wren, thanks for posting about this. I think we can break it down into two parts:

  1. How can we prepare you more effectively?
    We currently have about 150 different “master question templates” that we use to generate the review quizzes and practice exam sets. We built most of these questions by looking at past GRE questions, identifying the learning objectives, and creating our own versions, so they’re very similar. We’ve also added additional questions of our own that test other common GRE concepts. After combing through so many past exams we’re confident we cover all the techniques and concepts, but sometimes the questions are worded differently and it isn’t immediately clear from the question that it is a concept you’ve already learned. To this end, we’re working on doubling our question templates so you get more variety - we have 60 questions in progress and another 60 planned.

  2. How can you prepare yourself more effectively?
    I took a look at your study history and was happy to see that you’ve read through most of the quant reading material and have overall done pretty well keeping up with reviews. The big gap is in taking the practice sets. I noticed you only took 3 sets - if you take a look at our Study plan you can see that we recommend folks take 30+! Drilling the sets like this is really important since it gives you fluency with the techniques and will make it much easier to apply them when you come across different formats that test the same concepts.

If anyone else from the community has any feedback I’d love to hear it so we can improve the course!

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Hi there! Orion here.

I’m sorry to hear that you haven’t yet reached your target score on the actual exam. That said, it sounds like you’ve been doing a number of things right (i.e., studying the manual, sitting for practice sets, etc.), and that you likely still have untapped opportunities for growth. In addition to Justin’s comments, here’s something else to potentially consider.

I would say that your assessment of the questions is fairly accurate: about three-quarters of the questions you encounter in a given problem set will have obvious diagnostic signs. The remaining one-quarter can be trickier to diagnose (though they can all be ultimately sorted into at least one of the 50 quantitative question types). If after 10 seconds, you’re not able to identify the type of question you’re dealing with, what can you do? There are two tricks.

First: look at the answer choices. This will help you identify the structure diagnosis of the question, which is consistently associated with a specific problem-solving strategy (i.e., plug-in, backsolve, push extremes, etc.). And second: start solving continuously. It is often the case that the solution to a problem only becomes obvious in the solving of that problem. By the same token, diagnosis can be revealed (or even change) in the process of solving a question. So get busy doing what you can and see what happens.

Hang in there and keep working!


I rescheduled a second exam on 10/9 and will work on drilling the math more. I think I was expecting a more one to one experience on the practice exams relative to the real exam. It was very startling and surprising, and really shook me throughout the exam.

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There are just a lot of ways the questions can be worded, and as Orion mentioned, trying to diagnose them to understand how to relate to the questions you already know well can be a very helpful step.

That said, there will always be some questions that come out of “left field” that are very hard to prepare for because they’re different or unique. We have quite of few of these one-off questions as well, but the tricky part is that you can’t really plan for these as well since they are unique… if they followed a more common pattern then they wouldn’t be out of left field. Drilling the techniques will definitely help you draw the connection more easily though even when things seem different on the surface.

If you have any questions or other feedback as you prepare for your next take, please let us know. We’re here to help!

Hi there, when you say we should do practice sets, do you mean the ones available in the " Practice exams" section? If so, is it fine to take these even if we have not finished read through the whole quant section? Thanks!

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Hey @Ana2, yep, that’s exactly what we mean - the ones in the “Practice exams” section.

It’s still good to take these sections as you’re going through the quant topics in the textbook. The practice exam sections are generated semi-randomly, and they are weighted similarly to the real exam. For instance, questions on triangles are very common on the real GRE exam - about 1 out of 9 questions are on triangles - and they are this common on our practice exam sections too.

The quant sections of the textbook are in the order of question frequency, i.e. we cover the most common topics first, and the rarest topics last. So even if you are only halfway through the textbook, you will have learned the techniques for most of the questions. And it will still be good to see the questions you haven’t officially learned to get practice overall!

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Update: I took my second go at the GRE today. I am not proud to say I did decidedly worse. I scored 151 on the quant side, a 4 point reduction from my first time. I will admit I did not get up to 30 practice tests, but I was getting between 0-3 wrong on the ones I was taking (I think I took around 10ish). On the first quant section I felt once again that I was seeing questions with which I had no reference on how to answer. The second qaunt section did feel like the practice tests, and I had some hope that the first one was just an extreme experimental section. Was a little devastated to have a verbal as the fifth test.

I need to focus on working on my three MBA admission packages, I am within the 80% range of the programs I am applying for with my first test on the quant, but slightly below the mean (UT-Austin, UNC-Chapel Hill, Georgetown). Hopefully they use that and not this second test. Not sure if I will have time to attempt a third time, and not to be petty, but if I do I will likely seek out another method/program of practicing for quant.

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Hi there, following up on this. I had a look at the suggested verbal tests that we should do and I counted 16 in the study plan (which of course does not include further full-timed practice tests). However, there are only 10 mock verbal tests available. Is there any chance you could open up more to align it with the study plan? Thanks

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This has reduced my confidence in the program. I was under the impression that this program would suffice for the entire preparation. But now I’m having my doubts.

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What I was trying to say is that you are encouraging us to take 16 verbal tests but only offer 10 as part of the course. Can you adapt the number of verbal tests we can take to the number included in the study plan?

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Hi, there. Orion here to respond to your post.

I’m sorry to hear that your testing experience didn’t go as hoped. Given the time and effort you’ve already put into your prep, I can imagine that this is a disappointing outcome.

As I mentioned in a previous response to one of your posts, diagnosis – like in the medical sciences – is something of an art. You should see identifiable diagnostic signs in around 3/4 of the questions. The remaining 1/4 will have subtler cues, and some will only reveal themselves in the solving. Diagnosis is meant to be a flexible tool as opposed to a magic bullet. If after ten seconds, you’re not sure what type of problem you’re dealing with, my advice would be to start solving continuously and to focus on doing what you can until the diagnosis becomes more apparent. And, of course, there are always the structure diagnoses (i.e., real numbers/choose one, real numbers/choose many, variables/choose one, variables choose many), which should be applicable in the vast majority of cases.

As far as I know, Stellar is the only GRE test prep system that includes diagnostic considerations in its recommended approach to problems. So while it’s possible that a competitor program might work better for you, it probably won’t be because it can help you solve this particular problem concerning diagnosis. At the end of the day, we’re trying to train flexible and adaptive problem solving – and this is because the test itself is unpredictable.

In any event, regardless of whether you choose to remain with Achievable or decide to take a different tack, it will be important to run a post mortem on your most recent experience. Were there any other factors that could have impacted your performance? If any of these are under your control, what could you do differently moving forward to mitigate their impact? If used appropriately, we can learn more and more quickly from our mistakes than from our successes. For my part, I’m happy to do what I can to help.

So while your recent experience might sting right now, you’re not out of the race yet. Take a few days off and re-evaluate your situation in light of your current options. I trust you’ll find that there are still many potential ways forward. Hang in there!

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Hi there! Orion here to respond to your post.

Without question, Achievable has everything you need – and more – to prepare for the GRE. I say this because it contains far more resources than provided in my live group class, from which I collected the data that demonstrated the effectiveness of my approach. That said, please let us know if you have any specific suggestions on how we can continue to improve the product!

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Hi, there! Orion here to respond to your post.

That’s a good catch. We’re currently in the process of adding more questions to the product; however, this will take some time to implement. In the meantime, I’ll adjust the study plan so that students can make the best use of the hundreds of questions they already have at their disposal. Thanks for pointing this out!

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Hi Orion, rather than reducing the number of verbal sections included in the timed practice test section of the study plan, would it not be best to increase the cap on verbal tests in the practice section? I would not mind seeing the same question repeated as long as I can practice with ease at the beginning of my studies and still have tests “available” for when I do full-practice tests. Please have a think about this. Thanks!

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@Dead_aqua_wren, I’m really sorry to hear that, but thank you for posting about your experience. I would love to meet with you to understand how we can continue to improve the course - please check your DMs.

@Strange_lavender_oce, I hope that Orion’s posts and information on his teaching method gave you more confidence in our program. We have helped a great deal of students improve their scores, and while we strive for every single take to land in a top percentile, there is still a lot of luck and external factors involved. If you have any further questions, please do let us know.

@Ana2, thanks for the suggestion on allowing repeat takes of the practice sets. This is something we have considered before, but ultimately ended up not implementing. Your brain subconsciously holds onto the shape of questions you’ve seen very well - some research suggests that a problem set’s effectiveness decreases by about 50% on the second take. Our goal for the practice exam sets is to have them be a realistic indicator of how you will perform on the real exam, and allowing retakes is likely to result in abnormally high scores and false confidence. Maybe in the future we can allow retakes with a big warning banner, but right now, this isn’t on the roadmap.