However, there are other question types that you rarely see on the GMAT. Questions about the volume of spheres (or the winds of winter), or conjugating verbs in the subjunctive mood just don’t come up that often on the GMAT. This means that some people feel like they can skip these lessons and concentrate on the “big fish”, as it were (more fishing analogies).

The problem is that, when you inevitably stumble upon a question you haven’t bothered to prepare for, you start panicking. Sometimes, the panic is not noticeable, but subconsciously you begin to lose confidence and wonder how you’re going to answer this question. The sad truth is that there’s a good chance you’ll have to take an educated guess and move on. This isn’t so bad, as long as the negative effects are limited only to the question being asked. Unfortunately, these qualms tend to linger with most test takers for at least a few questions afterwards.

The best strategy for someone who wants to do really well on the GMAT is to know every type of question that can be asked of you. Understandably, you should spend more time on the broad topics that are sure to be covered more frequently, but there should not be any “oh gosh” moments on the GMAT (unless you took the exam in the ‘50s) to zap your confidence.

Let’s look at an example and what to do if we’re really not sure what to do on a question.

*Economic analysts predict that by 2030 populations of urban areas will have increased by 60%.** This will have tremendous impact on the demand for water in these areas. The increased demand will exhaust the local supplies of water and potable water sources will be drawn to urban areas from longer distances, resulting in a dramatic rise in the price of water.*

*Which of the following roles do the two boldfaced portions play?*

*A) The first is the conclusion of the argument; the second is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument. *

*B) The first is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument; the second is the conclusion of the argument.*

*C) The first is a conclusion that serves as the basis of the argument; the second is a prediction that follows from the conclusion and is used to support the argument.*

*D) The first is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument; the second is a prediction that follows from the conclusion.*

*E) The first is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument; the second is a consequence that follows from the prediction and is used to support the argument.*

Questions that ask about the roles of boldface sections fall under the Method of Reasoning subsection of Critical Reasoning. These questions are somewhat rare on the GMAT, and as a result students don’t tend to have much experience with them. Trying to decipher them without much experience is eminently doable, but a little practice ahead of time will help ensure that your grade doesn’t sink on test day (I’ve definitely jumped the shark with these water metaphors).

The beauty of roles of boldface questions is that they’re asking you to evaluate two phrases, and the answer choices contain two elements. This means that you can look at them one at a time, independently of the other half of the answer choice, and eliminate the choices that don’t match up to your expectations.

Let’s look at the first section “*Economic analysts predict that by 2030 populations of urban areas will have increased by 60%.**” *The five answer choices all have a selection that ends with a semi-colon to describe this phrase. Looking at the choices above, A and C state “the first is a conclusion of the argument”, while B, D and E state “the first is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument”. This section certainly seems like a prediction (the third word is even “predict”), but let’s dive into the passage more to identify the conclusion. This should be easy; as you’re tasked with finding the conclusion for any strengthen or weaken Critical Reasoning questions.

Using the “why?” test, it becomes apparent that the conclusion is the last line: “*resulting in a dramatic rise in the price of water.”* Why? Because of the increase in demand. Why? Because the increased demand will mean water will come from further away. Why? Because people are moving more and more to urban areas. Why? (I feel like Steve Austin here) We don’t know that, it’s just stated as a premise. Now that we’ve identified what the conclusion of this passage is, we can more convincingly knock off incorrect answer choices.

The first section is clearly a prediction, and the conclusion of the passage is the following sentence, so we can eliminate answer choices A and C because they do not correctly identify the role of this phrase. We then move on to the second bolded section of the passage: ** potable water sources will be drawn to urban areas from longer distances**. Looking at the second half of the three remaining choices, we have:

B) “The second is the conclusion of the argument”

D) “The second is a prediction that follows from the conclusion”

E) “The second is a consequence that follows from the prediction and is used to support the argument”

Since we’ve already identified the conclusion of the passage, we can quickly eliminate answer choice B. The conclusion is that the price of water will increase given the increased demand, so answer choice D inverses the relationship between the bolded section and the conclusion. Logically, the fact that water will need to be drawn from further away will contribute to the increase in the price of water, not the other way around. Since this is used to support the argument, answer choice E will be the correct choice.

Logically, you should spend most of your time on question types you know are going to show up on the exam. That means that there may be some instances of seeing question types for the first time on test day. If that happens, remember that the GMAT is primarily a test of how you think, so use the same logical tenets you would use on any other question. Here, we identified the conclusion of a passage, eliminated answer choices inconsistent with our analysis, and ultimately found the only correct answer choice. If you do the same on test day, you’ll end up with a whale of a score.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

*Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam. After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.*

However, it does sometimes happen that a question shatters your expectations. You see the question, you peruse the answer choices, and you immediately look for the properties that you expect to show up. Then, after reading the question, you still don’t have what you expect, and you’re a little lost as to how you should proceed. After all, if you’ve seen the same type of question ten times in a row, a deviation on the 11^{th} time can be somewhat discombobulating.

And yet, this is a strategy that the GMAT frequently employs. At the mid level questions (think 25^{th}-75^{th} percentile), the exam tests the same concepts repeatedly, driving home some crucial ideas through repetition. At the higher level questions (above 75^{th} percentile), the questions tend to get trickier by using your own crutches against you. This throws you out of your comfort zone, and forces you to have to look at a problem through a different vantage point.

Let’s look at such a problem:

*In right triangle ABC, BC is the hypotenuse. If BC = 13 and AB + AC = 15, what is the area of the triangle?*

*A) 2 √7
*

Reading through this problem, we note that it’s a right angle triangle with a hypotenuse of 13. Immediately, my brain jumps to the fairly common 5-12-13 triangle that the GMAT likes to use. Apart from the ubiquitous 3-4-5 right angle triangle, the 5-12-13 triangle is the next smallest right triangle with all integer sides. Perusing the rest of the question, I fully expect AB + AC to be 5 + 12 or 17. However, the question states that AB + AC is not equal to 17, which takes me completely by surprise (and almost makes me question my very existence).

Now, knowing that this isn’t a 5-12-13 triangle isn’t that big of a deal, but it does shatter my expectations of this problem. Clearly, there’s still a solution because the question is being asked, but it deviates from what I thought I had to do. It’s like going to work and your usual route is blocked off. You won’t head back home and sulk, you just have to find an alternate route. Similarly, I now have to take a different approach to solve this geometry question.

Let’s review what we know: it’s a right angle triangle, which means it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll need to use the Pythagorean Theorem. The area is being asked, which is ½ Base * Height, as long as Base and Height are orthogonal to one another. The fact that it’s a right angle triangle and BC is the hypotenuse assures us that AB and AC will be the 90 degree angle we need. All we need to do is multiply AB by AC and divide the product by 2 to get our area.

The problem is that we only have one equation given: AB + AC = 15. To solve for two unknowns, we need two (independent) equations. The second equation will have to come from Pythagoras (possibly by text message). We know that the square of the two right angle sides will equal the square of the hypotenuse, meaning here we know AB^2 + AC^2 = BC^2. Since we know BC is 13, we really have

AB^2 + AC ^2 = 13^2 or

AB^2 + AC ^2 = 169

Combine this with our earlier equation of

AB + AC = 15

And we have two equations and two unknowns. This should be solvable, but the fact that one equation is linear and the other is quadratic can be somewhat disconcerting. We can square the second equation and use the elimination method to isolate variables and get to the right answer.

AB + AC = 15. We now want to square both sides.

(AB + AC)^2 = (15)^2. Remember to square each side, not the individual elements.

AB^2 + 2 AB*AC + AC^2 = 225. This is a perfect square on the left hand side.

Bringing back in the Pythagorean equation:

AB^2 + AC^2 = 169. Using the elimination method to subtract one statement from the other, we can eliminate two variables in one fell swoop, leaving us with:

AB^2 + 2 AB*AC + AC^2 = 225

–

AB^2 + AC^2 = 169

AB^2 + 2 AB*AC + AC^2 = 225

–

AB^2 + AC^2 = 169

2 AB*AC = 56.

Meaning that AB*AC = 28.

Finally, AB * AC is really just the Base * the Height. Since that is what we’re looking for, we don’t need to manipulate the algebra any further. However, there is one final step. The equation we’re looking for is ½ Base * Height, so we need to divide the result by 2 again, yielding just 14. Answer choice C is thus correct.

There are several clues that this solution is on the right track. Firstly, the answer we found is among the answer choices. Moreover, two other answer choices are steps we had to pass through in order to find the final answer, making for perfect trap answer choices for overzealous students. Finally, the area of the triangle is very small, which makes sense because the hypotenuse is 13 and the sum of the other two sides is 15. Even the 5-12-13 triangle, which is a relatively thin triangle with an area of 30 (Pythagoras FTW) is twice as big as this thin triangle. The sides of this triangle won’t be integers, but given their relative sizes, it’s something like 2.5-12.5-13, which is quite thin.

If you know the Pythagorean Theorem and can apply the elimination method to two equations, this problem isn’t that difficult once you start solving for variables. The difficulty lies primarily in getting started and not getting caught in trying to backsolve or pick numbers for this problem. When going through it, your mind might automatically think of 5-12-13, or whatever typical information is provided for similar questions. Sometimes you have to think of the problem from a different vantage point in order to solve it. Indeed, on the GMAT, you should expect the unexpected.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

And if you’re praying, one prayer in particular is your best hope to maximize your GMAT Verbal performance, regardless of whether you can benefit from divine intervention. No matter your faith or belief system, the Serenity Prayer is critical to your Sentence Correction success:

*God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
*

You can view this as a prayer or simply a personal mantra. But you’d better keep it close to heart. On GMAT Sentence Correction problems you MUST maintain the serenity to accept that there will be sentence structures and word choices that you cannot change, and you MUST instead focus on changing those things that you can. Now let’s supply the wisdom to know the difference.

**YOU CANNOT CHANGE:**

**The non-underlined portion. ** Particularly when studying, many GMAT students love to protest problems on the basis that the non-underlined portion “doesn’t sound right” or “is awkward and clumsy” or “I think it has an error…this question is flawed!”. In truth, the GMAT (and reputable creators of replica study problems) intentionally uses strange structures in large part to test your ability to maintain that serenity. You can only change what they give you the option to change, and those who can’t handle the stress of having limited control are at a distinct disadvantage.

**The five answer choices.** For many GMAT problems we all would prefer to just rewrite our own sentence. How many times have you started to write a sentence in an email or essay then realized “I’m not sure if this is grammatically correct” and then deleted and written a brand-new sentence to avoid that uncertainty? We all do that, regularly, and so on the GMAT you have that primal desire to want to write your own sentence. But you don’t have that option. You have to accept that you can’t write your own answer choice and that “the game” is largely about your ability to play it by the test’s rules.

**The author’s intent.** GMAT students love to ask “what if?” on Sentence Correction problems, motivated in part by fear “but what if they had two right answers?” and in part by protest “I don’t like the right answer so let me suggest this other right answer (like the point above) – okay hotshot teacher what would you do now?”. This is virtually never a productive discussion, so accept the serenity that it’s a waste of your time. There will always be exactly one correct answer and exactly four incorrect answers. And whether that correct answer feels wrong or strange to you, it’s correct. And whether you think you could change that wrong answer you picked through a word change here or there, that’s not what the question was about. The GMAT spends roughly $5,000 per question in research, development, and administration costs; these problems are “scientifically” chosen to look exactly the way they look. You can’t change the problem; your job is to learn from it.

**YOU CAN CHANGE:**

**The underlined portion of the sentence.** They give you five ways to phrase that section and the only real choice you have in the matter is which of those five provides a logical meaning and is free from error. That’s your job, so harness your “courage to change the things you can” toward making that choice effectively.

**The way that you approach SC problems. ** Most of us read from left to right and from top to bottom, but on Sentence Correction problems you can and should change that approach to suit your strengths. Attack major grammatical errors first, emphasizing those that you know you’re best at (for most of us those include subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement, and verb tenses). Defer choices that you’re not 100% certain on while you search for better ones; no one said you have to make a decision on A first, then B, then C… You can hunt for the errors you feel most comfortable spotting, then work your way toward major differences between the remaining answer choices.

**Your study mindset. **Much more on the verbal section than on the quant, students have a tendency to fight for their answer choice. “But wait…” “But what if…” “But I thought…” Which in and of itself isn’t a terrible thing; the fact that you’re heavily invested in the problem is a great sign. But (there’s that word again) what’s most important isn’t being right in practice, it’s being right on test day. Learning how the GMAT uses strange structures to throw you off is helpful; when you don’t like a correct answer, think about that structure or phrasing and pay attention to it when you see it in writing elsewhere. When you fall victim to a trap, think about what tempted you with the wrong answer and how the testmaker threw you off the scent of the correct answer. GMAT Sentence Correction rewards serenity, courage, and knowledge. You have to have the serenity to accept that you can’t change most of what you’re reading and that you will undoubtedly find correct answers that aren’t written the way you’d write them. You have to have the courage to deflect decisions you know you’re not good at and the patience to scan until you find decisions that you know you can make. And you have to have the knowledge that it’s all part of the game and that those who succeed on these questions are the ones who recognize and embrace that. You may not be able to pray your way to 700+, but the Serenity Prayer is a great start in that direction.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

*By Brian Galvin*

As an example, when Tony Stark verbally jousts with Ultron in the latest Avengers movie, he is demonstrating critical reasoning and trying very hard to weaken his opponents’ argument. In Jurassic World, a hybrid dinosaur is created using data from various sources, as a conclusion would be created from various sources on a Reading Comprehension question. And in Terminator Genisys, a fractured timeline is created that resembles many tense errors in Sentence Correction (to say nothing of misspelling the title).

Arguably, every movie you see this summer will incorporate some elements of what’s covered on the GMAT (I’m still working on Magic Mike XXL). The exam is designed to test your knowledge of logic using elements you have already covered previously in an academic environment. Moreover, the topics on the GMAT often arouse your own interests and pertain to things you care about. Indeed, sometimes the questions asked will even make you think of the movie you saw the week before to take your mind off the GMAT!

Let’s look at such an example, combining movies and GMAT in one sleek Sentence Correction question:

*At major Hollywood studios, a much greater proportion of the population is employed than is employed by independent movie production companies.*

*A) At major Hollywood studios, a much greater proportion of the population is employed than is employed by independent movie production companies.*

*B) At major Hollywood studios they employ a much greater proportion of the population than independent movie production companies do.*

*C) A much greater proportion of the major Hollywood studios’ population is employed than independent movie production companies employ.*

*D) Major Hollywood studios employ a much greater proportion of the population than the employment of independent movie production companies.*

*E) Major Hollywood studios employ a much greater proportion of the population than independent movie production companies do.*

This question begins with an absolute phrase “At major Hollywood studios…” that modifies the rest of the sentence. The second half of the sentence is a comparison between big budget studios and independent companies, highlighted by the trigger word “than”. With comparisons, we must always ensure that we are comparing similar elements and that these elements are in a parallel form.

Looking specifically at answer choice A, the absolute phrase “At major Hollywood studios” would need to apply to the rest of the sentence. (This is similar to the classic trailer opening “In a world…”). This structure would only be correct if the rest of the sentence were limited in scope to the major Hollywood studios. Anything outside of this scope would create an illogical discord between the modifying phrase and the rest of the sentence. Since the sentence deals with the entire population, it does not make sense to limit it only to the Hollywood studios, and this answer choice can be eliminated for this error in logical meaning.

Answer choice B, “*At major Hollywood studios they employ a much greater proportion of the population than independent movie production companies do*”, there is a pronoun error in the first five words. The antecedent for “they” is nebulous, because it conceivably refers to the studios, or the executives at the studios, or perhaps the HR department at the studios, or something else. The rest of the sentence isn’t great either, but one glaring pronoun error is enough to definitively eliminate this choice from contention.

Answer choice C, “*A much greater proportion of the major Hollywood studios’ population is employed than independent movie production companies employ*” changes the meaning into something that is not exactly English. The population has now been restricted to only the Hollywood studios’ population, and the comparison being made is illogical as well, as it is now comparing a population proportion to a movie production. Answer choice C is perhaps the worst phrase of the bunch and hopefully can be eliminated rather quickly.

Answer choice D, “*Major Hollywood studios employ a much greater proportion of the population than the employment of independent movie production companies*” starts off well, but makes the same comparison error that we saw in answer C. If the sentence begins by comparing major studios to something else, then that something else has to be a studio (or something analogous, my cousin’s garage for example). By comparing studios to employment, the answer choice makes an illogical apples-to-oranges comparison that precludes it from consideration.

Answer choice E, “*Major Hollywood studios employ a much greater proportion of the population than independent movie production companies do*” correctly compares studios to production companies, and makes no other type of error along the way. By process of elimination, this had to be the correct choice, but it’s always nice when the last remaining choice doesn’t contain any obvious errors or omissions. This answer choice is correct, and we can confidently select E as our answer before moving on to the sequel (or next question, as the case may be.)

When it comes to summer blockbusters, there’s always something to learn. Sometimes we learn something helpful in grammar, and sometimes we learn that physics don’t always apply (thank you Furious 7!). This summer, if you’re studying for the GMAT, don’t forget to take the occasional break to go and enjoy a good movie to give your mind a break from the rigors of Sentence Correction problems. Just don’t get butter on your GMAT books.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

**Lesson Three: **

The Long Way is the Wrong Way. For much of your math education you’ve been urged to go step-by-step and show all your work. On a timed test like the GMAT, however, you don’t have that luxury of taking your time. As Ravi demonstrates in this video, however, “the long way is the wrong way” on many GMAT problems, which instead are designed to reward you for making quality estimates, using answer choices as clues, and employing other shortcuts to definitively answer correctly without doing all the work.

Want to learn more from Ravi? He’s taking his show on the road for one-week Immersion Courses in San Francisco and New York this summer, and teaches frequently in our new Live Online classroom.

We also have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

*By Brian Galvin*

The GMAT is known for employing abstraction to make simple questions harder to grasp. Sometimes, a concrete problem using specific numbers can be very difficult, but the difficulty lies in the execution of the solution. An abstract problem, however, introduces an entirely different level of complexion, where even understanding the question at hand isn’t obvious (think of a Georgia O’Keefe painting). Once you’ve figured out what the problem is asking, then you can go about solving it. But until then you’re scratching your head wondering what the next step could be.

There is a lot of value in understanding the abstract, overarching theme of a question. After all, instead of saying that 2 + 2 gives you an even number, and 2 + 4 gives you an even number, and 2 + 6 gives you an even number, you can summarize that the sum of any two even numbers will be even. Once you understand this principle, it makes all future questions on this topic easier to solve. However, if you happen to see something on test day that you’re unfamiliar with, you might be better off concentrating on the question at hand than the unbreakable rule that guarantees the consistency of the answer.

As such, digging into why problems work is important during the time you prepare for the GMAT, so that problems seem easier on test day. Let’s explore one such relatively simple problem, made difficult by the abstract phrasing of the question:

*If the operation ∆ is one of the four arithmetic operations addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, is (6 ∆ 2) ∆ 4 = 6 ∆ (2 ∆ 4)?*

*3 ∆ 2 > 3**3 ∆ 1 = 3*

* A) **Statement 1 alone is sufficient but statement 2 alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked.
*

D)

Data sufficiency questions tend to be somewhat abstract on their own because they are asking whether something is sufficient or not. There aren’t specific values you are being asked to evaluate, but rather the entire spectrum of possibilities. To make things even more abstract, the question is asking about some equation *∆ *(which looks isosceles to me), which could represent any of the four basic operations. This question is very abstract, and contains a pitfall or two if you’re not careful.

Before even looking at the statements, let’s revisit the equation in the question:

*(6 ∆ 2) ∆ 4 = 6 ∆ (2 ∆ 4)*

This equation is actually asking about the commutative property of operations, because the numbers are all the same, but the order of operations is different. Replace all the *∆ *operations by +, and we quickly see that the answer is 12 on both sides. You may already know that addition and multiplication are commutative, whereas subtraction and division are not (and this holds for all problems, so it’s a great shortcut). However, we may as well demonstrate it to ourselves here:

*(6 + 2) + 4 = 6 + (2 + 4) –>* 8 + 4 = 6 + 6 *–>* 12 = 12. This holds, meaning the operation is commutative.

*(6 x 2) x 4 = 6 x (2 x 4) –>* 12 x 4 = 6 x 8 *–>* 48 = 48. This holds, meaning the operation is commutative.

*(6 – 2) – 4 = 6 – (2 – 4) –>* 4 – 4 = 6 – (-2) *–>* 0 = 8. This doesn’t hold, meaning the operation is not commutative.

*(6 *÷* 2) *÷* 4 = 6 *÷* (2 *÷* 4) –>* 3 ÷ 4 = 6 ÷ ½ *–>* ¾ = 12. This doesn’t hold, meaning the operation is not commutative.

This means that we will have sufficient data if a statement can narrow down the choices to any one operation or to either multiplication & addition or division & subtraction. The data will be insufficient if we cannot narrow down the operations or have at least one commutative operation (x or +) and a non-commutative operation (- or ÷) as possibilities.

Next, we must look through the statements and see what information we can glean. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to begin by evaluating statement 2. This is because the equation will yield less abstraction than the inequality of statement 1. If the *∆ *equation can satisfy this equation, it’s a possible answer. If it cannot, we can remove it from the list of potential equations.

Statement 2 says that 3 *∆ *1 = 3. We can replace this by the four basic equations and see which ones hold:

3 + 1 = 3 *–>* This should give 4. Doesn’t hold. Eliminate addition.

3 – 1 = 3 *–>* This should give 2. Doesn’t hold. Eliminate subtraction.

3 x 1 = 3 *–>* This should give 3. Holds. Keep multiplication.

3 ÷ 1 = 3 *–>* This should give 3. Holds. Keep division.

You may be able to quickly ascertain that addition and subtraction do not hold for this equation, so only multiplication and division could work. Since we have two operations that could work, one of which is commutative and one of which is not, we can definitely say that this statement is insufficient.

Moving on to statement 1, we approach it in the same way and see if the operations can hold (i.e. the answer is greater than 3):

3 + 2 > 3 *–>* This gives 5. Holds. Keep addition.

3 – 2 > 3 *–>* This gives 1. Doesn’t hold. Eliminate subtraction.

3 x 2 > 3 *–>* This gives 6. Holds. Keep multiplication.

3 ÷ 2 > 3 *–>* This gives 1.5. Doesn’t hold. Eliminate division.

For this statement alone, we see that addition and multiplication both work, but the other two equations don’t. This means that we don’t know exactly which operation this *∆ *represents, but either way it will give the same answer to the question given. The two operations left standing (last operation standing?) both yield the same answer to the statement, which means we don’t need to narrow down the choices or put the statements together. A common pitfall on this question is to put the statements together, because then only multiplication can work for both statements. However, that’s a trap, as you don’t need statement 2 at all. The correct answer is A, because statement 1 is sufficient on its own to answer the question posed.

For abstract problems, it’s easy to get lost in the generalization of the problem. What happens whenever I add two even numbers together? The magnitude of the scope is almost overwhelming, and as such the best strategy is to turn it concrete using simple examples. If no numbers are provided, try picking small, useful numbers like 2, 3 and 10. If the numbers are given but other variables, such as the operations, are left blank, then just go through all the possibilities until the rule becomes clear. The best way to overcome abstraction is to make it concrete.

**Lesson Two:**

If Answers Smell the Same, They Stink. GMAT verbal problems all carry the same basic instruction: select the best answer from this list of five; while that may sound straightforward enough, it actually lends itself to a powerful strategy. Since there cannot be two correct answers, if two answer choices are too similar, you can infer that neither is correct. In this video, Ravi explains how to leverage that strategy to save yourself from trap answers and ensure that your decision process takes place on the proper grounds.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Want to learn more from Ravi? He’s taking his show on the road for one-week Immersion Courses in San Francisco and New York this summer, and teaches frequently in our new Live Online classroom.

*By Brian Galvin*

Now, if you’re studying for an advanced degree, perhaps retirement is still many decades (or centuries) off. However, the day will likely come when you at least want to consider retirement, even if you don’t opt to do it for various reasons. Sometimes your economic reality keeps you gainfully employed, but often it becomes an issue of boredom, trepidation and even fear. Why would anyone fear retirement? Isn’t it supposed to be the culmination of your hard work so that you can enjoy your golden years without worrying about work and money? It is, at least in theory. However, in practice, it is a project that should be prepared for just like any other major life change.

In North America, many people retire and move to a sunny, warm climate such as Arizona or Florida. The temperate weather allows many people to enjoy outdoor activities regularly, sometimes in stark contrast to the cooler northern climates. (Winter is coming.) Many people are even opting to retire in other countries to take advantage of the increased buying power of their home currency. No matter whether you plan on retiring tomorrow or in 50 years, it is something you must consider at one point or another in your life.

The GMAT often features questions that discuss relevant topics and that arouse your own interests in order to make the questions more relatable. This is also a double-edged sword because the question must be solvable with only the information contained within the stimulus. Any outside information can’t help you, but the topic may still concern something you’ve contemplated in the past. Let’s look at an example that plays into the retirement theme:

*In the United States, of the people who moved from one state to another when they retired, the percentage who retired to Florida has decreased by three percentage points over the past ten years. Since many local businesses in Florida cater to retirees, these declines are likely to have a noticeably negative economic effect on these businesses and therefore on the economy of Florida.*

*Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the argument given?*

*A) People who moved from one state to another when they retired moved a greater distance, on average, last year than such people did ten years ago.*

*B) People were more likely to retire to North Carolina from another state last year than people were ten years ago.*

*C) The number of people who moved from one state to another when they retired has increased significantly over the past ten years.*

*D) The number of people who left Florida when they retired to live in another state was greater last year than it was ten years ago.*

*E) Florida attracts more people who move from one state to another when they retire than does any other state.*

This problem is a Critical Reasoning Weaken problem, which means that we should be able to identify the conclusion, examine the supporting evidence and find the gap between the two. The conclusion is that the economy of Florida will suffer based on shifting demographics. The evidence is that a smaller percentage of people are retiring to Florida than 10 years ago, coupled with the fact that Florida’s economy is dependent on these retirees. (Nothing about hurricanes or floods, though.)

If we had to predict an answer to this question, it would likely hinge on the fact that the evidence is a 3% decrease of all retirees who choose to move to Florida. Whenever you see a percentage as evidence, it should make you think that you may need to consider the absolute value as well (the reverse is also often true). Just because the percentage went down by 3%, that doesn’t mean that fewer people are actually going. You might still be growing, just growing slower than you were 10 years ago. Let’s look at the answer choices and see if any of them match our expectations.

Answer choice A, people *who moved from one state to another when they retired moved a greater distance, on average, last year than such people did ten years ago, *discusses the distance of these moves. This is clearly out of scope, as the question is only interested with the destination state, not in the original state. One mile (maybe you’re right on the border?) or one thousand miles are identical in this regard, so the distance travelled won’t matter. We can eliminate A.

Answer choice B, *people were more likely to retire to North Carolina from another state last year than people were ten years ago, *is only concerned with North Carolina. There are clearly many other states that people can move to, but none of them are pertinent to the question about Florida. This answer choice is thus incorrect as well (and paid for by the North Carolina tourism board).

Answer choice C, *the* *number of people who moved from one state to another when they retired has increased significantly over the past ten years, *plays right into our prediction. Just because a smaller proportion than before is moving to Florida does not mean that there is economic collapse on the horizon. If 20% of one million people moved to Florida ten years ago, we could have more immigration by reducing the percentage to 17% but increasing the number of people to two million. As such, answer choice C weakens the argument significantly, as it could justify a sizable increase in relocations to the sunshine state. Let’s look at the other choices to confirm.

Answer choice D, *the number of people who left Florida when they retired to live in another state was greater last year than it was ten years ago, *turns the argument on its ear by discussing the number of people leaving Florida. While there is some merit in arguing that people are leaving the state in bigger numbers, it would actually support the argument that local businesses are in trouble. This answer choice is a 180° because it strengthens the argument instead of undermining it.

Finally, answer choice E, *Florida attracts more people who move from one state to another when they retire than does any other state, *is most likely true in the real world, but doesn’t help us in this question. If I have the most water in a drought, I may still not have much water at all. This answer choice doesn’t weaken the argument because it’s still entirely possible that the economy of Florida will suffer. Answer choice E can be eliminated. We now can confirm that it must be answer choice C.

For strengthen and weaken questions, it’s often best to attempt a logical guess at the answer choice based on the disconnect between the conclusion and the supporting evidence. Some statistical errors appear frequently on the GMAT, such as percentage and absolute number data that can be interpreted differently depending on the context. Like anything else in life, preparation is the key to success. Once you’ve mastered the finer elements of the GMAT, you can even start preparing your own retirement plan.

Because the GMAT is largely a test of pattern recognition, it’s worthwhile to first discuss the structural clues that we’ll want to be on the lookout for when determining whether algebra will be the most effective approach. My older posts discussed two scenarios when algebra would be problematic: the first was problem-solving questions involving difficult quadratic simplification, and the second was problem-solving percent questions that involved variables. In both cases, we’re better off either picking numbers or back-solving. Alternatively, when we see Data Sufficiency word problems, algebra serves a much more useful function, allowing us to distill complex information in simpler, more concrete form.

Once we recognize that we’ll be attacking a question algebraically, the next step is to consider how we can make our equations and expressions as simple as possible. Say, for example, that we’re told that the ratio of men to women to children in a park is 6 to 5 to 4. One way to depict this information is to write M:W:C = 6:5:4. The problem with this approach is that it leaves us with three variables. Hardly the simplicity and elegance that we’re looking for if we’re dealing with a time constraint. The alternative is to use only one variable and depict the information in terms of x:

Men: 6x

Women: 5x

Children: 4x

Now when we receive additional information about how these values are related, the equations we can assemble will be far more straightforward. Let’s try a GMATPrep* question to see this in action.

*A certain company divides its total advertising budget into television, radio, newspaper, and magazine budgets in the ratio of 8:7:3:2 respectively. How many dollars are in the radio budget?*

(1) The television budget is $18,750 more than the newspaper budget

(2) The magazine budget is $7,500.

We’ve got a Data Sufficiency word problem, so let’s start by putting all of the relevant information into algebraic form. Rather than using four different variables, we’ll organize our information like so:

Television: 8x

Radio: 7x

Newspaper: 3x

Magazine: 2x

Our ultimate goal is find the radio budget, which is 7x. Clearly, if we have the value of x, we can find 7x, so we can rephrase the question as: ‘What is the value of x?’

Statement 1 tells us that the television budget, 8x, is 18,750 more than the newspaper budget, 3x. In algebraic form, that will be: 8x = 18750 + 3x. Obviously, we can solve for x here, so SUFFICIENT.

Statement 2 tells us that the magazine budget, or 2x, is 7500. So 2x = 7500. Again, we can clearly solve for x, so SUFFICIENT.

And the answer is D; either statement alone is sufficient to answer the question.

Let’s try another.

Of the shares of stock owned by a certain investor, 30 percent are shares of Company X stock and 1/7 of the remaining shares are shares of Company Y stock. How many shares of Company X stock does the investor own?

(1) The investor owns 100 shares of Company Y stock.

(2) The investor owns 200 more shares of Company X stock than of Company Y stock.

Same drill: we recognize that we’re dealing with a Data Sufficiency word problem, so let’s convert the initial into algebraic form.

If we designate our total shares of stock ‘T,’ and we know that 30% of those are Company X, we’ll have .3T shares of company X. We’re told that 1/7 of the remaining shares are Company Y. If .3T shares are company X, we’ll have .7T shares left over. If 1/7 of those .7T shares belong to Company Y, we can designate Company Y’s shares as (1/7) * .7T = .1T.

Summarized, we have the following information:

Company X: .3T

Company Y: .1T

We’re asked about Company X, so we want .3T. Clearly, if we have T, we can solve for .3T, so our rephrased question is just: “What is the value of T?”

Statement 1 tells us there are 100 share of Y, so .1T = 100. We can solve for T, so SUFFICIENT.

Statement 2 tells us that the investor has 200 more shares of X than Y. Algebraically: .3T = 200 + .1T. Again, we can solve for T, but no need to actually do the math. SUFFICIENT.

The answer is D; either alone is sufficient to answer the question.

Takeaway: preparation for the GMAT is not about learning which strategies are ‘best.’ Different strategies will work well in different scenarios, and for some test-takers, it will be a matter of taste to determine which they prefer. If you do decide to approach a question algebraically – and again, in Data Sufficiency word problems, this will often work nicely – try to diminish the complexity of the problem by minimizing the number of variables you use to depict the relevant information.

*GMATPrep questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

*By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here. *

**Lesson One:**

Drywall vs. Door. Many GMAT quantitative problems resemble an everyday situation you see frequently: you need to get out of this room, so are you going to break through the drywall you might be facing, or will you look for a door for easy exit? As Ravi demonstrates in this video, too often students are inclined to break through the proverbial drywall on quant problems, when looking at them from a slightly different angle would show them an open door and a cleaner exit.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Want to learn more from Ravi? He’s taking his show on the road for one-week Immersion Courses in San Francisco and New York this summer, and teaches frequently in our new Live Online classroom.

*By Brian Galvin*