Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Varying Inversely

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomAs promised, we will discuss inverse variation today. The concept of inverse variation is very simple – two quantities x and y vary inversely if increasing one decreases the other proportionally.

If x takes values x1, x2, x3… and y takes values y1, y2, y3 … correspondingly, then x1*y1 = x2*y2 = x3*y3 = some constant value

This means that if x doubles, y becomes half; if x becomes 1/3, y becomes 3 times etc. In other words, product of x and y stays the same in different instances.

Notice that x1/x2 = y2/y1; The ratio of x is inverse of the ratio of y.

The concept will become clearer after working on a few examples.

Question 1: The price of a diamond varies inversely with the square of the percentage of impurities. The cost of a diamond with 0.02% impurities is $2500. What is the cost of a diamond with 0.05% impurities (keeping everything else constant)?

(A)   $400

(B)   $500

(C)   $1000

(D)   $4000

(E)    $8000


Price1*(% of Impurities1)^2 = Price2*(% of Impurities2)^2

2500*(.02)^2 = Price2*(.05)^2

Price = $400

Answer (A)

The answer is quite intuitive in the sense that if % of impurities in the diamond increases, the price of the diamond decreases.

There is an important question type related to inverse variation. It often uses the formula:

Total Price = Number of units*Price per unit

If, due to budgetary constraints, we need to keep the total money spent on a commodity constant, number of units consumed varies inversely with price per unit. If price per unit increases, we need to reduce the consumption proportionally.

Question 2: The cost of fuel increases by 10%. By what % must the consumption of fuel decrease to keep the overall amount spent on the fuel same?

(A)   5%

(B)   9%

(C)   10%

(D)   11%

(E)    20%

Solution: Do you think the answer is 10%? Think again.

Total Cost = Number of units*Price per unit

If the price per unit increases by 10%, it becomes 11/10 of its original value. To keep the total cost same, you need to multiply number of units by 10/11. i.e. you need to decrease the number of units by 1/11 i.e. 9.09%. In that case,

New Total Cost = (10/11)*Number of units*(11/10)*Price per unit

This new total cost will be the same as the previous total cost.

Answer (B)

Let’s look at one more example of the same concept but this one is a little trickier.

Question 3: Recently, fuel price has seen a hike of 20%. Mr X is planning to buy a new car with better mileage as compared to his current car. By what % should the new mileage be more than the previous mileage to ensure that Mr X’s total fuel cost stays the same for the month? (assuming the distance traveled every month stays the same)

(A)   10%

(B)   17%

(C)   20%

(D)   21%

(E)    25%

Solution:  The problem here is ‘how is mileage related to fuel price?’

Total fuel cost = Fuel price * Quantity of fuel used

Since the ‘total fuel cost’ needs to stay the same, ‘fuel price’ varies inversely with ‘quantity of fuel used’.

Quantity of fuel used = Distance traveled/Mileage

Distance traveled = Quantity of fuel used*Mileage

Since the same distance needs to be traveled, ‘quantity of fuel used’ varies inversely with the ‘mileage’.

We see that ‘fuel price’ varies inversely with ‘quantity of fuel used’ and ‘quantity of fuel used’ varies inversely with ‘mileage’. So, if fuel price increases, quantity of fuel used decreases proportionally and if quantity of fuel used decreases, mileage increases proportionally. Hence, if fuel price increases, mileage increases proportionally or we can say that fuel price varies directly with mileage.

If fuel price becomes 6/5 (20% increase) of previous fuel price, we need the mileage to become 6/5 of the previous mileage too i.e. mileage should increase by 20% too.

Another method is that you can directly plug in the expression for ‘Quantity of fuel used’ in the original equation.

Total fuel cost = Fuel price * Distance traveled/Mileage

Since ‘total fuel cost’ and ‘distance traveled’ need to stay the same, ‘fuel price’ is directly proportional to ‘mileage’.

Answer (C)

We hope you are comfortable with fundamentals of direct and inverse variation now. More next week!

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!