About a month ago, GMAC released the latest version of the GMAT Official Guide, 25% of which consisted of new questions. Though the GMAT tends not to change too drastically over time – how else could a school compare a score received by one candidate in 2015 to a score received by another candidate in 2010? – there can be subtle shifts of emphasis, and paying attention to the composition mix of the questions in the latest version of the Official Guide is a good way to ascertain if any such shift is in the offing.
My concern as an instructor is whether the philosophy I’m advocating and the techniques I’m teaching are as relevant for the newer questions as they have been for the older ones.
This philosophy can be summarized as follows: the GMAT is not, fundamentally, a content-based test, but rather, uses certain elements of our academic background to test how we think under pressure. Because the test is evaluating how we think, and not what we know, the cultivation of simple strategies, such as using the answer choices or picking easy numbers, is just as important as the re-mastery of the content you may have initially learned in eighth grade, but have subsequently forgotten.
Having thoroughly dissected the new questions in the latest version of the Official Guide, I can confidently report that this philosophy is more relevant than ever. Of the over 200 new quantitative questions, I didn’t do extensive calculations for a single problem. If anything, the kind of fluid logic-based approach that we preach at Veritas is more critical than ever.
Take this new question, for example:
Four extra-large sandwiches of exactly the same size were ordered for m students, where m > 4. Three of the sandwiches were evenly divided among the students. Since 4 students did not want any of the fourth sandwich, it was evenly divided among the remaining students. If Carol ate one piece from each of the four sandwiches, the amount of sandwich that she ate would be what fraction of a whole extra-large sandwich?
Of course, we could do this question algebraically. But if the GMAT is testing our ability to make good decisions under pressure, and if the algebra feels hard for you, then a better option is to make your life as easy as possible and select a simple number for m. If m is larger than 4, let’s say that m = 5. “m” represents the number of students, so now we have 5 students and, we’re told in the question stem, a total of 4 sandwiches. (The question of what kind of negligent, hard-hearted school knowingly packs only 4 sandwiches for all of its students to share will have to be addressed in another post. This question feels straight out of Oliver Twist.)
Okay. We’re told that 3 of the sandwiches are divided evenly among the 5 students. (3 sandwiches)/(5 students) means each student gets 3/5 of a sandwich.
Additionally, we’re told that 4 of the students don’t want any part of the remaining sandwich. Because we only have 5 students and 4 of them don’t want the remaining sandwich, the last student will get the entire fourth sandwich.
To summarize what we have so far: Each of the 5 students initially received 3/5 of a sandwich, and then one student received an entire additional sandwich, on top of that initial 3/5. The lucky fifth student received a total of 3/5 + 1 = 8/5 of a sandwich.
Last, we ‘re told that Carol ate a piece of each of the four sandwiches. But we established that only one student ate a piece of every sandwich, so Carol has to be that lucky student! Therefore, Carol ate 8/5 of a sandwich.
We’re asked what fraction of a sandwich Carol ate, so the answer is simply 8/5. Now all we have to do is plug ‘5’ in place of ‘m’ in each answer choice, and the one that gives us 8/5 will be our answer.
Most test-takers will simply start with A and work their way down until they find an option that works. The question-writer knows that this is how most test-takers proceed. Therefore, it’s a more challenging question if the correct answer is towards the bottom of our answer choices. So let’s use this logic to our advantage, start with E, and work our way up.
Answer choice E: (4m-12)/[m(m-4)]
Substituting ‘5’ in place of ‘m,’ we get (4*5 – 12)/[5(5-4) = 8/5. That’s it! We’re done. The correct answer is E.
Takeaway: Keep reminding yourself that the GMAT (even with its new questions) is not designed to test what you know. While it is important to brush up on all of the fundamentals you acquired years before, the most successful test-takers will fluidly incorporate simple strategies when attacking complex questions, rather than simply grinding through longer calculations. Each new version of the Official Guide validates the wisdom of this approach.
*Official Guide question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.