GMAT Tip of the Week: The Answer Is Part of the Question

GMAT prep
It seems so simple, but Jeopardy! has built an empire out of giving “answers” as clues and requiring its contestants to provide the questions. This tiny twist on traditional trivia has created a mass following, which has kept the show as a mainstay of entertainment culture for nearly 50 years. Just mention Jeopardy! in social situations and nearly everyone will have an opinion, either regarding their own strategy, or their household rules for watching:

“My roommates and I have a rule that we’re not allowed to say anything until Alex has finished the question.”

“I’m actually pretty good at predicting the $200 question just based on the category, before Alex even reads anything.”

“Even if I don’t know much about the topic, usually they give you enough of a clue with the category and something in the answer that I can get the question.”

That last quote (and, in large part, the second quote, as well) is one that you may have experienced yourself, and an ideology that you can certainly translate to success on the GMAT. Often times on the GMAT, the answer choice provides you a valuable clue for how you can approach the question.

Consider geometry problem that includes the answer choices:

A) 2

B) 2v3

C) 3

D) 3v3

E) 4

Even without looking at the question itself, you have some clues as to what may appear. The square root of 3 is part of the 30-60-90 right triangle ratio, and also a number that appears when calculating the area of an equilateral triangle (which can be bisected in to two 30-60-90 triangles). On this question, because the answer choices feature the square root of 3, if you are unsure of how to approach the question, one logical step is to try to identify a potential equilateral or 30-60-90 triangle, as it’s quite likely that the square root of 3 will be derived from one of those triangles.

Geometry questions often feature these types of clues in the answer choices — pi implies that you’ll need to use a circle; the square root of 2 often appears in conjunction with isosceles right triangles (45-45-90) and squares (the diagonals of which are the hypotenuses of isosceles right triangles). Other questions provide clues, as well; if the answer choices are spread far apart in number, you can likely estimate. If the answer choices provide simple “plug-ins,” like 0 or 1, you can use them to plug back in to the problem and determine how the equation will react.

Most importantly, know that, like with Jeopardy!, the GMAT embeds subtle clues in its answers to help you with the questions. Learn to use them to your advantage, and you can reduce your workload and increase your score.

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