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So Easy, Even a Monkey Could Do It?

comparing fractions GRE

The “Magic X” strategy for comparing fractions on GRE QC’s

Do you struggle with comparing fractions? Perhaps you need to tap in to your most basic animal instincts! According to a new study published in Animal Cognition, it appears as though rhesus monkeys have the ability to compare ratios. Of course, a monkey’s ability to do it doesn’t help you much on the GRE…or does it?

I’ll provide a summary of the study’s findings below so that you can learn more in case you’re interested, but for now let’s focus on the issue at hand: How do you quickly and accurately compare fractions on GRE quantitative comparison questions — a skill that is tested often on the GRE quantitative section and that you should be able to do in your sleep?

There’s a really cool trick called “The Magic X” and it’ll take all of the guesswork out of comparing fractions for you. Watch this video (below) for a detailed explanation of this strategy and prepare to leave your primate ancestors in the dust once and for all!


Monkey see, monkey do math

Research suggests that humans have an innate ability to understand fractions. The following was published in the Fall issue of Duke Magazine:

monkey learning math“It seems we can use ‘understanding fractions’ as the preface to the well-worn expression ‘so easy a monkey can do it.’

In a study published in Animal Cognition, Duke researchers revealed their methodology in discovering whether rhesus monkeys are able to compare ratios. They began by letting the monkeys play on a touch-screen computer for a candy reward. The monkeys received the sweets if they touched a black circle on the screen, but they didn’t get any if they touched a while diamond. Naturally, the black circle became a favorite choice.

Next the team introduced the monkeys to fractions. “We showed two arrays on the screen, each with several black circles and white diamonds,” says Caroline Drucker, who is in the neurobiology graduate training program. “The monkeys’ job was to touch the array having a greater ratio of black circles to white diamonds.”

So if there were three black circles and nine white diamonds on the left, and eight black circles and five white diamonds on the right, the monkey needed to touch the right side of the screen to earn candy.

The monkeys were able to learn to compare proportions. They chose the array with the higher black-circle-white-diamond ratio about three-quarters of the time.

Not only do the results suggest that monkeys understand ratios, they also indicate that monkeys might be able to reason through analogies. And, the researchers say, that means human minds are likely to have been set up with those skills as well.” — www.dukemagazine.duke.edu