Is a Calculator Allowed On the GMAT? Tips to Improve Your GMAT Calculation Skills

by Maximilian Claessens
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Is a Calculator Allowed On the GMAT - Tips to Improve Your GMAT Calculation Skills

For most people, the quantitative portion of the GMAT exam is a terrifying prospect. For most of us entering a masters degree, math isn’t really a problem. You may have studied engineering or statistics and not had much difficulty solving math problems for assessments in the past. However, it’s made entirely different when you realize that for the purposes of the GMAT exam, you’ll need to solve difficult logic-based math issues in a very limited amount of time. Surely, a calculator is allowed on the GMAT to solve these questions? As you will realize, this is not the case. A calculator is not allowed on the GMAT. Therefore, you will need to work on your GMAT calculation skills.

In fact, you only have 62 minutes to answer 31 questions, without a calculator. This means that it’s up to you to answer each question in roughly two minutes. Some people wonder why the GMAT would allow such a limited amount of time for this section, wondering how the testers will be able to gauge test-takers math abilities after only giving them such a limited amount of time to calculate the answers properly. But this line of logic carries with it a fundamental flaw, and that’s the assumption that the GMAT examiners are truly trying to determine your math abilities.

Why a Calculator is Not Allowed On the GMAT – and Why You Don’t Need One

While they want to see that you can demonstrate an aptitude for math, what they’re really testing is your ability to perform under pressure. When you’re out there in the business world, you’ll constantly find yourself in situations that will test your ability to come up with rational and correct decisions under enormous pressure. That’s why this exam tries to imitate the pressure of real-life by forcing you to solve quantitative problems in a minimal amount of time. This is also why the GMAT exam does not allow you to bring a calculator with you when it’s time for you to take the exam. They want to know that you can act under pressure, make calculations on the fly and in your head, and still be able to provide the right answers. With that in mind, this article will address what the GMAT examiners are truly looking for in your quantitative answers and how best you can impress them with your answers. We’ll discuss ways that you can make fast calculations and rise to the challenge set by the exam. Read on for the best tips to improve your GMAT calculation skills.

Preparing to Answer Questions Efficiently

The biggest challenge in the quantitative section of the GMAT exam isn’t the difficulty of the math in the questions; it’s actually the time given to complete them. That is also one of the key reasons why the fact that no calculators are allowed on the GMAT is not an actual problem. The questions themselves won’t be any harder than what you learned either in high school or as an undergraduate, so you don’t have to worry about dealing with formulas or theories you haven’t worked with before. The challenge will be ensuring you’re getting every question answered fast enough. Luckily, you know how long you have for the quantitative section in total, which means that it’s simple to plan out the time needed for each question[1]. If you know that a question must be answered within two minutes, you can practice for that and can work out a way of assuming answers at a more efficient speed than you would normally be able to do under everyday conditions.

This is where having no access to a calculator is actually a good thing. So don’t worry about the fact that calculators are not allowed on the GMAT. Calculating the answer is quite time-consuming but is necessary when you need a precise answer to a problem. Luckily, the quantitative portion of the GMAT exam is multiple-choice, which is very helpful for speeding up the calculating process. You don’t actually need to know the exact answer to a multiple-choice question; you just need to know which answers aren’t right. Therefore, the fact that a calculator is not allowed on the GMAT is actually not a problem; rather, it is a blessing.

What does this mean? Basically, if time weren’t an issue, you’d use a calculator, determining the answer using a formula, and coming to a conclusion. But in a rushed situation such as this, you’re looking at multiple possible answers, and one of them is correct. With that in mind, you need to run the formula in your head and generally calculate where the answer probably lies with a high degree of probability, then choose the answer that is the most correct. Here, your GMAT calculation skills are critical. So if you calculate that the answer to a number-based question must be between 50 and 60, and the options are 25, 53, 81, or 90, you’re able to choose 53 as the most likely answer. This is just one strategy that can be implemented when saving time during a multiple-choice exam.

There are other strategies out there, but what matters most is the time. The clock is king, so what matters is that every two minutes, you’re choosing an answer, no matter what. So when studying for the GMAT, don’t study insanely difficult areas of math that you’ve never studied before because there’s a very low chance that they’re even featured in the exam. Instead, find multiple choice practice tests and, through trial and error, become extremely efficient at answering questions, using probability to choose the ‘most correct’ answer, and see how well you do. By training your brain to think faster, you can beat the biggest challenge this exam has to offer.

Study the Theories that Really Matter

When studying for the GMAT exam, many potential test-takers make the enormous mistake of studying exclusively high-level mathematic questions that only relate to one area of mathematic discipline, a decision that leads to severe problems once it becomes time to take the exam. It’s such common reasoning to assume that the test will try to stump you with the highest level math questions possible when this isn’t the case at all. Instead, the GMAT will test you across a wide range of mathematic theories and styles. Everything from basic geometry to concept-based principles may be covered. The goal of the exam isn’t to surprise you with math you’ve never seen before; it’s to see how well you can answer a wide variety of math questions in a short amount of time while scoring well and keeping calm under pressure.

Being prepared for this means studying all types of math and keeping everything at a reasonable level. If it’s not something you encountered as an undergrad, then it’s unlikely to appear in the GMAT. Go dig up an old math textbook and take note of the vast array of mathematic areas covered. Could you solve problems across all areas of the textbook? If not, then it’s time to clean off the dust and start studying[2]. Back in the day you may have solved these problems using a calculator. Since a calculator is not allowed on the GMAT exam, just try to solve them without one to start improving those GMAT calculation skills.

Even if what you’re reading is a high school level textbook, the same mathematic theories that apply to a high schooler apply to you and the GMAT. Math is math, and it comes in a lot of types. Ensure that you’re well-rounded and not stumped when a question addressing ratios comes your way. It will be this preparation that will allow you to solve a lot of questions by simply looking at them instead of having to spend precious minutes running calculations in your head. Most of the math is based on simple theories that can be applied readily to most problems. If one of these simple problems comes your way, you should be able to solve it by applying the theory, then move on. Don’t get stuck because you neglected areas of math that you didn’t believe would be elite enough to be featured in the GMAT.

Practical Application Matters More than Anything Else

What matters most when it comes to studying for the quantitative portion of the GMAT is daily practice utilizing the theories, formulas, strategies, and skills of the wide variety of math problems that will be featured in the exam. But when I say study, I don’t mean watching videos or reading books. I meet a lot of people who read a lot of textbooks and take a lot of online courses. They study hard and take lots of notes, and when they finish, they believe that they’ve done the work; unfortunately, they haven’t even started.

The true work that makes a difference when studying math is actually applying the skills you’re learning to the page and the problems themselves. It’s one thing to understand a strategy or process in theory; it’s another thing entirely to have the ability to put a pencil to hand and actually solve the problem. A lot of people I know will read a lot and know how to solve any problem in their mind; then, when it comes to doing it, they sit there baffled and say out loud, “I know this! I learned this!” Until you actually solve the problems yourself, your brain hasn’t made the connections needed to actually solve the problem and deeply understand the concept in a real way.

So for every theory, concept, strategy, and process you study, ensure you’re applying it to real problems immediately after you’ve finished learning the theory. There are hundreds of practice problems online. Be proactive and prepare 30 or 50 problems before you’ve even started studying; that way, you can apply the theory immediately as soon as you’ve learned it[3].


The GMAT quantitative exam really scares a lot of people who are in the preparation stages, but it doesn’t need to. A calculator is not allowed on the GMAT, but that is actually no reason to be afraid. If you’re studying correctly, improving your GMAT calculation skills early on, making good time on your problems, and always applying a theory to problems directly after theoretical study, then you genuinely have nothing to worry about.

All you  need to do is to remember a few things and incorporate them into your preparation process:

  • A calculator is not allowed on the GMAT, but if you’re doing the exam right, you won’t need one.
  • Ensure you’re prepared to answer questions in a very limited amount of time because you’ll need that skill for the exam.
  • Make sure you’re studying a wide variety of mathematical theories, not simply studying the most complex theories possible.
  • Applying theories to problems in practice is by far the most essential part of the study process and cannot be avoided for those who are serious about passing the exam.
  • Plan in sufficient time for both studying math theories as well as practicing applying them.
  • In the end, if you just cannot solve those math problems, you may consider to do the GRE exam instead, which is less math-heavy.

[1] Milliman, Hayley. GMAT Quantitative: 10 Tips to Master the Math Section. Prep Scholar. 2018.

[2] Business Because, Best Ways to Study for the GMAT Quantitative Section. Accessed 2022.

[3] Graduate Management Admission Council, Prepare for the Quantitative Section. MBA. Accessed 2022.

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