GMAT Tip of the Week: Taking The GMAT Like It’s Nintendo Switch

GMAT Tip of the WeekThe non-election trending story of the day is the announcement of the forthcoming Nintendo Switch gaming system, a system that promises to help you take the utmost advantage of your leisure time…but that may help you maximize the value of your GMAT experience, too.


The main feature of the Switch (and the driving factor behind its name) is its flexibility. It can be an in-home gaming system attached to a fixed TV set, but then immediately Switch to a hand-held portable system that allows you to continue your game on the go. Nintendo’s business plan is primarily based on offering flexibility…and on the GMAT, your plan should be to prove to business schools that you can offer the same.

The GMAT, of course, tests algebra skills and critical thinking skills and grammar skills, but beneath the surface it also has a preference for testing flexibility. Many problems will punish those with pure tunnel vision, but reward those who can identify that their first course of action isn’t working and who can then Switch to another plan. This often manifests itself in:

  • Math problems that seem to require algebra…but halfway through beg to be back-solved using answer choices.
  • Sentence Correction problems that seem to ask you to make a decision about one major difference…but for which the natural choices leave you with clearer-cut errors elsewhere.
  • Critical Reasoning answer choices that seem out of scope at first, but reward those who read farther and then see their relevance.
  • Data Sufficiency problems for which you’ve made a clear, confident decision on one statement…but then the other statement shows you something you hadn’t considered before and forces you to reconsider.
  • The overall concept that if you’re a one-trick pony – you’re a master of plugging in answer choices, for example – you’ll find questions that just won’t reward that strategy and will force you to do something else.

Flexibility matters on the GMAT! As an example, consider the following Data Sufficiency question:

Is x/y > 3? 

1) 3x > 9y
2) y > 3y

If you’re like many, you’ll confidently address the algebra in Statement 1, divide both sides by 3 to get x > 3y, and then see that if you divide both sides by y, you can make it look exactly like the question stem: x/y > 3. And you may very well say, “Statement 1 is sufficient!” and confidently move on to Statement 2.

But when you look at Statement 2 – either conceptually or algebraically – something should stand out. For one, there’s no way that it’s sufficient because it doesn’t help you determine anything about x. And secondly, it brings up the point that “y is negative” (algebraically you’d subtract y from both sides to get 0 > 2y, then divide by 2 to get 0 > y). And here’s where, if it hasn’t already, your mind should Switch to “positive/negative number properties” mode. If you weren’t thinking about positive vs. negative properties when you considered Statement 1, this one gives you a chance to Switch your thinking and reconsider – what if y were negative? Algebraically, you’d then have to flip the sign when you divide both sides by y:

3x > 9y : Divide both sides by 3

x > 3y : Now divide both sides by y, but remember that if y is positive you keep the sign (x/y > 3), and if y is negative you flip the sign (x/y < 3).

With this in mind, Statement 1 doesn’t really tell you anything. x/y can be greater than 3 or less than 3, so all Statement 1 does is eliminate that x/y could be exactly 3. Now you have the evidence to Switch your answer. If you initially thought Statement 1 was sufficient, Statement 2 has given you a chance to reassess (thereby demonstrating flexibility in thinking) and realize that it’s not, until you know whether y is negative or positive.

Statement 2 supplies that missing piece, and the answer is thus C. But more important is the lesson – because the GMAT so values mental flexibility, it will often provide you with clues that can help you change your mind if you’re paying attention. So on the GMAT, take a lesson from Nintendo Switch: flexibility is an incredibly marketable skill, so look for clues and opportunities to Switch your line of thinking and save yourself from trap answers.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

How to Solve “Unsolvable” Equations on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomThe moment we see an equation involving the variable x, we have a habit of jumping right into attempting to solve it. But what happens when we are not able to solve it? Let’s say, for example, we have an equation such as x^2 + 1 = 0. How would we solve for x here? We can’t because x has no real value. Note that x^2 is non-negative – it would be either 0 or positive. 1, we know, is positive. So together, a positive number and a non-negative number cannot add up to 0.

In this example, it relatively easy to see that the equation has no real solution. In others, it may not be so obvious, so we will need to use other strategies.

We know how to solve third degree equations. The first solution is found by trial and error – we try simple values such as -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, etc. and are usually able to find the first solution. Then the equation of third degree is split into two factors, including a quadratic. We know how to solve a quadratic, and that is how we get all three solutions, if it has any.

But what if we are unable to find the first solution to a third degree equation by trial and error? Then we should force ourselves to wonder if we even need to solve the equation at all. Let’s take a look at a sample question to better understand this idea:

Is x < 0?
(1) x^3 + x^2 + x + 2 = 0
(2) x^2 – x – 2 < 0

In this problem, x can be any real number – we have no constraints on it. Now, is x negative?

Statement 1: x^3 + x^2 + x + 2 = 0

If we try to solve this equation as we are used to doing, look at what happens:

If you plug in x = 2, you get 16 = 0
If you plug in x = 1, you get 5 = 0
If you plug in x = 0, you get 2 = 0
If you plug in x = -1, you get 1 = 0
If you plug in x = -2, you get -4 = 0

We did not find any root for the equation. What should we do now? Note that when x goes from -1 to -2, the value on the left hand side changes from 1 to -4, i.e. from a positive to a negative. So, in between -1 and -2 there will be some value of x for which the left hand side will become 0. That value of x will not be an integer, but some decimal value such as -1.3 or -1.4, etc.

Even after we find the first root, making the quadratic will be very tricky and then solving it will be another uphill task. So we should ask ourselves whether we even need to solve this equation.

Think about it – can x be positive? If x is indeed positive, x^3, x^2 and x all will be positive. Then, if we add four positive numbers (x^3, x^2, x and 2) we will get a positive sum – we cannot get 0. Obviously x cannot be 0 since that will give us 2 = 0.

This means the value of x must be negative, but what it is exactly doesn’t matter. We know that x has to be negative, and that is sufficient to answer the question.

Statement 2: x^2 – x – 2 < 0

This, we can easily solve:

x^2 – 2x + x – 2 < 0
(x – 2)*(x + 1) < 0

We know how to solve this inequality using the method discussed here.

This this will give us -1 < x < 2.

Since x can be a non-integer value too, x can be negative, 0, or positive. This statement alone is not sufficient,and therefore, the answer is A.

To evaluate Statement 1, we didn’t need to solve the equation at all. We figured out everything we wanted to know by simply using some logic.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: A GMAT Quant Question That Troubles Many!

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWhat determines whether or not a question can be considered a GMAT question? We know that GMAT questions that are based on seemingly basic concepts can be camouflaged such that they may “appear” to be very hard. Is it true that a question requiring a lot of intricate calculations will not be tested in GMAT? Yes, however it is certainly possible that a question may “appear” to involve a lot of calculations, but can actually be solved without any!

In the same way, it is possible that a question may appear to be testing very obscure concepts, while it is really solvable by using only basic ones.

This happens with one of our own practice questions – we have often heard students exclaim that this problem isn’t relevant to the GMAT since it “tests an obscure number property”. It is a question that troubles many people, so we decided to tackle it in today’s post.

We can easily solve this problem with just some algebraic manipulation, without needing to know any obscure properties! Let’s take a look:

† and ¥ represent non-zero digits, and (†¥)² – (¥†)² is a perfect square. What is that perfect square?

(A) 121
(B) 361
(C) 576
(D) 961
(E) 1,089

The symbols † and ¥ are confusing to work with, so the first thing we will do is replace them with the variables A and B.

The question then becomes: A and B represent non-zero digits, and (AB)² – (BA)² is a perfect square. What is that perfect square?

As I mentioned before, we have heard students complain that this question isn’t relevant to the GMAT because it “uses an obscure number property”.  Now here’s the thing – most advanced number property questions CAN be solved in a jiffy using some obscure number property such as, “If you multiply a positive integer by its 22nd multiple, the product will be divisible by …” etc. However, those questions are not actually about recalling these so-called “properties” – they are about figuring out the properties using some generic technique, such as pattern recognition.

For this question, the complaint is often that is that the question tests the property, “(x + y)*(x – y) (where x and y are two digit mirror image positive integers) is a multiple of 11 and 9.” It doesn’t! Here is how we should solve this problem, instead:

Given the term (AB)^2, where A and B are digits, how will you square this while keeping the variables A and B?

Let’s convert (AB)^2 to (10A + B)^2, because A is simply the placeholder for the tens digit of the number. If you are not sure about this, consider the following:

58 = 50 + 8 = 10*5 + 8
27 = 20 + 7 = 10*2 + 7

Along those same lines:

AB = 10A + B
BA = 10B + A

Going back to our original question:

(AB)^2 – (BA)^2
= (10A + B)^2 – (10B + A)^2
= (10A)^2 + B^2 + 2*10A*B – (10B)^2 – A^2 – 2*10B*A
= 99A^2 – 99B^2
= 9*11*(A^2 – B^2)

We know now that the expression is a multiple of 9 and 11. We would not have known this beforehand. Now we’ll just use the answer choices to figure out the solution. Only 1,089 is a multiple of both 9 and 11, so the answer must be E.

We hope you see that this question is not as hard as it seems. Don’t get bogged down by unknown symbols – just focus on the next logical step at each stage of the problem.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!

GMAT Tip of the Week: As You Debate Over Answer Choices… Just Answer The Freaking Question!

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you’re like many – to the dismay of the NFL and the advertising industry – you’re planning to watch another presidential debate this coming Sunday. And just like Trump-Clinton I and Pence-Kaine earlier this week, this debate will provide plenty of opportunities to be annoyed, frustrated, and disappointed…but it will also provide an ever-important lesson about the GMAT.

It’s no surprise that candidate approval ratings are low for the same reason that far too many GMAT scores are lower than candidates would hope. Why?

People don’t directly answer the question.

This is incredibly common in the debates, where the poor moderators are helpless against the talking points and stump speeches of the candidates. The public then suffers because people cannot get direct answers to the questions that matter. This is also very common on the GMAT, where students will invest the time in critical thought and calculation, and then levy an answer that just doesn’t hit the mark. Consider the example:

Donald has $520,000 in campaign money available to spend on advertising for the month of October, and his advisers are telling him that he should spend a minimum of $360,000 in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina. If he plans to spend the minimum amount in battleground states to appease his advisers, plus impress his friends by a big ad spend specific to New York City (and then he will skip advertising in the rest of the country), how much money will he have remaining if he wants 20% of his ad spend to take place in New York City?

(A) $45,000
(B) $52,000
(C) $70,000
(D) $90,000
(E) $104,000

As people begin to calculate, it’s common to try to determine all of the facets of Donald’s ad spend. If he’s spending only the $360,000 in battleground states plus the 20% he’ll spend in New York City, then $360,000 will represent 80% of his total ad spend. If $360,000 = 0.8(Total), then the total will be $450,000. That means that he’ll spend $90,000 in New York City. Which is answer choice D…but that’s not the question!

The question asked for how much of his campaign money would be left over, so the calculation you need to focus on is the $520,000 he started with minus the $450,000 he spent for a total of $70,000, answer choice C. And in a larger context, you can learn a major lesson from Wharton’s most famous alumnus: it’s not enough for your answer to be related to the question. On the GMAT, you must answer the question directly! So make sure that you:

  1. Double check which portion of a word problem the question asked for. Don’t be relieved when your algebra spits out “a” number. Make sure it’s “the” number.
  2. Be careful with Strengthen/Weaken Critical Reasoning problems. A well-written Strengthen problem will likely have a good Weaken answer choice, and vice-versa.
  3. In algebra problems, make sure to identify the proper variable (or combination of variables if they ask, for example “What is 6x – y?”).
  4. With Data Sufficiency problems, pay attention to the exact values being asked for. One of the most common mistakes that people make is saying that a statement is insufficient because they’re looking to fill in all variables, when actually it is sufficient to answer the exact combination that the test asked for.

As you watch the debate this weekend, notice (How could you not?) how absurd it is that the candidates just about never directly answer the question…and then vow to not make the same mistake on your GMAT exam.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Try to Answer This GMAT Challenge Question!

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomToday, we will give you a GMAT challenge question. The challenge of reviewing this question is not that the question is hard to understand – it is that you will need to solve this official question within a minute using minimum calculations.

Let’s take a look at the question stem:

Date of Transaction

Type of Transaction

June 11

Withdrawal of $350

June 16

Withdrawal of $500

June 21

Deposit of x dollars

For a certain savings account, the table shows the three transactions for the month of June. The daily balance for the account was recorded at the end of each of the 30 days in June. If the daily balance was $1,000 on June 1 and if the average (arithmetic mean) of the daily balances for June was $1,000, what was the amount of the deposit on June 21?

(A) $1,000
(B) $1,150
(C) $1,200
(D) $1,450
(E) $1,600

Think about how you might answer this question:

The average of daily balances = (Balance at the end of June 1 + Balance at the end of June 2 + … + Balance at the end of June 30) / 30 = 1000

Now we have been given the only three transactions that took place:

  • A withdrawal of $350 on June 11 – so on June 11, the account balance goes down to $650.
  • A withdrawal of $500 on June 16 – so on June 16, the account balance goes down to $150.
  • A deposit of $x on June 21 – So on June 21, the account balance goes up to 150 + x.

Now we can plug in these numbers to say the average of daily balances = [1000 + 1000 + …(for 10 days, from June 1 to June 10) + 650 + 650 + … (for 5 days, from June 11 to June 15) +  150 + … (for 5 days, from June 16 to June 20) + (150 + x) + (150 + x) + … (for 10 days, from June 21 to June 30)] / 30 = 1000

One might then end up doing this calculation to find the value of x:

[(1000 * 10) + (650 * 5) + (150 * 5) + ((150 + x) * 10)] / 30 = 1000
x = $1,450
The answer is D.

But this calculation is rather tedious and time consuming. Can’t we use the deviation method we discussed for averages and weighted averages, instead? After all, we are dealing with large values here! How?

Note that we are talking about the average of certain data values. Also, we know the deviations from those data values:

  • The amount from June 11 to June 30 is 350 less.
  • The amount from June 16 to June 30 is another 500 less.
  • The amount from June 21 to June 30 is x in excess.

Through the deviation method, we can see the shortfall = the excess:

350 * 20 + 500 * 15 = x * 10
x = 1,450 (D)

This simplifies our calculation dramatically! Though saving only one minute on a question like this may not seem like a very big deal, saving a minute on every question by using a more efficient method could be the difference between a good Quant score and a great Quant score!

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!

The Benefits of Thinking With a Growth-Mindset Mentality

GMAT ReasoningDuring a little summer beach vacation, I had the chance to read Carol Dweck’s Mindset. (Yes, this is my beach reading. Don’t judge.) If you’re not familiar with Dweck’s work, she’s the psychologist who pioneered the concepts of the fixed-mindset and the growth-mindset.

In a classic study, students at a middle school were interviewed and asked whether they believed that intelligence was an inherent characteristic (fixed-mindset) or that intelligence was something you can cultivate and improve through hard work (growth-mindset). It will come as no surprise that the growth-mindset group improved their grades over the course of the year by significantly more than the fixed-mindset group did. These effects became more pronounced through high school and college.

Dweck’s book is full of interesting tidbits about the history of testing. For example, Alfred Binet, one of the pioneers of IQ testing, didn’t believe that his tests measured intelligence. Rather, he saw them as a way to identify which students hadn’t properly benefited from their public school education, so that a different, more effective approach might be employed.

Put another way, the test not only wasn’t supposed to measure intelligence, it was designed on the premise that there was no such thing as fixed intelligence, – that anyone could improve and thrive if they had access to the proper tools and strategies.

I’ve written a bit about Dweck in the past, but I’m beginning to see that the implications of her research are even broader than I’d initially suspected. It should go without saying that here at Veritas Prep, we’re advocates of growth-mindset – in fact, the whole notion of test prep is rooted in a growth-mindset mentality! Moreover, I’ve noticed that this fixed vs. growth notion isn’t just applicable to performance on GMAT in general, but has implications for how test-takers attack individual questions.

Here’s a question I tackled with a tutoring student the other day:

How many positive three-digit integers are divisible by both 3 and 4? 

A) 75
B) 128
C) 150
D) 225
E) 300 

My student began by recognizing that if a number is divisible by both 3 and 4, it’s divisible by 12 as well, so the question was really asking how many three-digit numbers were multiples of 12. Then he looked up and told me that he didn’t know what to do.

Now, there is, of course, a way to solve this problem formally. You can find the number of elements in an evenly spaced set by using the following formula: [(High – Low)/Interval] + 1. The smallest three-digit multiple of 12 is 108 (clearly, 120 is a multiple of 12, so you can quickly see that the previous multiple of 12 is 120-12 = 108). The largest three-digit multiple of 12 is 996. (It’s divisible by 3 because 9 + 9 + 6 = 24, which is a multiple of 3. And it’s divisible by 4 because the number formed by the last two digits, 96, is divisible by 4.) So, one way to tackle this problem is to plug these numbers into the aforementioned formula to get [(996-108)/12] + 1 = (888/12) + 1 = 74 + 1 = 75.

But if you don’t know the formula, and you see this question on test day, this approach can’t help you. So rather than offer this equation, I pushed my student to think about the problem with a growth-mindset mentality. I reminded him that you don’t have to solve things formally on this test, and that he could definitely figure out a way to arrive at the correct answer based on logic and intuition. Once he stopped dwelling on the fact that he didn’t know how to do the problem formally, he used the following logic:

Between 1 and 1,000 there are 100 multiples of 10 (1,000/10 = 100). Clearly, between 100 and 999 there are fewer than 100 multiples of 12, as 12 is bigger than 10. If the correct answer is less than 100, it has to be 75, as this is the only answer choice under 100. He was able to solve a question he thought he couldn’t do in about 5 seconds. Thus, the power of the growth-mindset mentality.

Takeaway: Read Carol Dweck’s book. Work on internalizing the main ideas. Switching from a fixed-mindset mentality to a growth-mindset mentality can have a profound impact, not only on how well you perform on the GMAT, but on how ably you tackle problems in every domain of life.

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

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

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Evaluating Nasty GMAT Answer Choices

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomIn some Quant questions, we are given big nasty numbers in the answer choices and little else in the question stem. Often in such cases, the starting point is difficult for the test-taker to find, so today, we will discuss how to handle such questions.

The first and only rule with these types of problems is that familiarity helps. Evaluate the answer choices that make sense to you first.

Let’s look at a few questions to understand how to do that:

Which of the following is NOT prime?

(A) 1,556,551
(B) 2,442,113
(C) 3,893,257
(D) 3,999,991
(E) 9,999,991

The first thing that comes to mind when we consider how to find prime numbers should be to “check the number N for divisibility by all prime factors until we get to the √N.” But note that here, we have four numbers that are prime and one number that is not. Also, the numbers are absolutely enormous and, hence, will be very difficult to work with. So, let’s slide down to a number that seems a bit more sane: 3,999,991 (it is very close to a number with lots of 0’s).

3,999,991 = 4,000,000 – 9
= (2000)^2 – 3^2

This is something we recognise! It’s a difference of squares, which can be written as:

= (2000 + 3) * (2000 – 3)
= 2003 * 1997

Hence, we see that 3,999,991 is a product of two factors other than 1 and itself, so it is not a prime number. We have our answer! The answer is D.

Let’s try another problem:

Which of the following is a perfect square?

 (A) 649
 (B) 961
 (C) 1,664
 (D) 2,509
 (E) 100,000

Here, start by looking at the answer choices. The first one that should stand out is option E, 100,000, since multiples of 10 are always easy to handle. However, we have an odd number of zeroes here, so we know this cannot be a perfect square.

Next, we look at the answer choices that are close to the perfect squares that we intuitively know, such as 30^2 = 900, 40^2 = 1600, 50^2 = 2500. The only possible number whose perfect square could be 961 is 31 – 31^2 will end with a 1 and will be a bit greater than 900 (32^2 will end with a 4, so that cannot be the square root of 961, and the perfect squares of other greater numbers will be much greater than 900).

31^2 = (30 + 1)^2 = 900 + 1 + 2*30*1 = 961

So, we found that 961 is a perfect square and is, hence, the answer!

In case 961 were not a perfect square, we would have tried 1,664 since it is just 64 greater than 1,600. It could be the perfect square of 42, as the perfect square of 42 will end in a 4.

If 1,664 were also not a perfect square (it is not), we would have looked at 2,509. We would have known immediately that 2,509 cannot be a perfect square because it is too close to 2,500. 2,509 ends in a 9, so we may have considered 53 to be its square root, but the difference between consecutive perfect squares increases as we get to greater numbers.

(4^2 is 16 while 5^2 is 25 – the difference between them is 9. The difference between 5^2 and 6^2 will be greater than 9, and so will the difference between the perfect squares of any pair of consecutive integers greater than 6. Hence, the difference between the squares of 50 and 53 certainly cannot be 9.)

Therefore, our answer is B. Let’s try one more question:

When a certain perfect square is increased by 148, the result is another perfect square. What is the value of the original perfect square?

(A) 1,296
(B) 1,369
(C) 1,681
(D) 1,764
(E) 2,500

This question is, again, on perfect squares. We can use the same concepts here, too.

30^2 = 900
31^2 = 961 (=(30+1)^2 = 900 + 1 + 2*30)

40^2= 1,600
41^2 = 1,681 (=(40+1)^2 = 1,600 + 1 + 2*40)

50^2 = 2,500
51^2 = 2,601 (=(50+1)^2 = 2,500 + 1 + 2*50)

We know that the difference between consecutive squares increases as we go to greater numbers: going from 30^2 to 31^2 is a difference of 61, while jumping from 40^2 to 41^2 is a difference of 81.

All the answer choices lie in the range from 900 to 2500. In this range, the difference between consecutive squares is between 60 and 100. So, when you add 148 to a perfect square to get another perfect square in this range, we can say that the numbers must be 2 apart, such as 33 and 35 or 42 and 44, etc. Also, the numbers must lie between 30 and 40 because twice 61 is 122 and twice 81 is 162 – 148 lies somewhere in between 122 and 162.

A and B are the only two possible options.

Consider option A – it ends in a 6, so the square root must end in a 6, too. If you add 148, then it will end with a 4 (the perfect square of a number ending in 8 will end in 4). So this answer choice works.

Consider option B – it ends in a 9, so the square root must end in a 3 or a 7. When you add 148, it ends in 7. No perfect square ends in 7, so this option is out. Our answer is, therefore, A.

We hope you see how a close evaluation of the answer choices can help you solve questions of this type. Go get ’em!

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!

GMAT Tip of the Week: Gary Johnson, Aleppo, and What To Do When Your Mind Goes Blank

GMAT Tip of the WeekArguably the biggest news story this week was presidential hopeful Gary Johnson’s reply to a foreign policy question. “What is Aleppo?” is what Johnson responded, his mind evidently blanking on the epicenter of Syrian civil war and its resulting refugee crisis. And regardless of your opinion of Johnson’s fitness to be the architect of American foreign policy, there’s one major lesson there for your GMAT aspirations:

In pressure situations, it’s not uncommon for your brain to fail you as you “blank” on a concept you know (or should know). So it’s important to have strategies ready for that moment that very well may come to you. To paraphrase the Morning Joe question to Johnson:

What would you do about “Aleppo?”

Meaning: what would you do if your mind were to go blank on an important GMAT rule or formula?

There are four major strategies that should be in your toolkit for such a situation:

1) Test Small Numbers
You should absolutely know formulas like exponent rules or relationships like that between dividend, divisor, and remainder in division, but sometimes your mind just goes blank. In those cases, remember that math rules are logically-derived, not arbitrarily ordained! Math rules will hold for all possible values, so if you’re unsure, test numbers. For example, if you’re forced to solve something like:

(x^15)(x^9) =

And you’ve blanked on what to do with exponents, try testing small numbers like (2^2)(2^3). Here, that’s (4)(8) = 32, which is 2^5. So if you’re unsure, “Do I add or multiply the exponents?” you should see from the small example that you definitely don’t multiply, and that your hunch that, “Maybe I add?” works in this case, so you can more confidently make that decision.

Similarly, if a problem asked:

When integer y is divided by integer z, the quotient is equal to x. Which of the following represents the remainder in terms of x, y, and z?

(A) x – yz
(B) zy – x
(C) y – zx
(D) zy – x
(E) zx – y

Many students memorize equations to organize dividend, divisor, quotient, and remainder, but in the fog of war on test day it can even be difficult to remember which element of the division problem is the dividend (it’s the number you start with) and which is the divisor (it’s the one you divide by). So if your mind has blanked on any part of the equation or on which element is which, just test it with small numbers to remind yourself how the concept works:

11 divided by 4 is 2 with a remainder of 3. How do you get to the remainder? You take the 11 you started with and subtract the 8 that you get from taking the divisor of 4 and multiplying it by the quotient of 2. So the answer is y (what you started with) minus zx (the divisor times the quotient), or answer choice C.

Simply put, if you blank on a rule or concept, you can test small numbers to remind yourself how it works.

2) Use Process of Elimination and Work Backwards From the Answer Choices
One beautiful thing about the GMAT is that, while in “the real world” if you need to know the Pythagorean Theorem and blank on it, you’re out of luck (well, unless you have a Google-enabled Smartphone in your pocket which you almost certainly do…), on the GMAT you have answer choices as assets. So if your own work stalls in progress, you can look to the answer choices to eliminate options you know for sure you wouldn’t get with that math:

What is x^5 + x^6? You know you don’t add or multiply those exponents, so even if you don’t see to factor out the common x^5, you could eliminate answer choices like x^11 and x^30.

Or you can look to the answer choices to see if they help you determine how you’d apply a rule. For example, if a problem forces you to employ the side ratios for a 45-45-90 triangle and you’ve forgotten them, the presence of some square roots of 2 in the answer choices can help you remember. The square root of 2 is greater than 1, and two sides must match, so if someone spots you “the rule includes a square root of 2” the only thing it can really be is the ratio x : x : x(√2)

Gary Johnson should have been so lucky – had the question been posed as, “What would you do about Aleppo, which is either a DJ on the new Drake album; the epicenter of the Syrian crisis; or a new restaurant in the Garment District?” he would get that question right every single time. Answer choices are your friends…when you blank, consult them!

3) Think Logically
Similar to that 45-45-90 “what else could it be?” logic, many times when you blank on a rule, you can work your way to either the rule itself or just to the answer by thinking logically about it. For example, if you end up with math that includes a radical sign in the denominator and can’t quite remember the steps for rationalizing the denominator:

What is 1/(1 – √2)?

(A) √2
(B) 1 – √2
(C) 1 + √2
(D) -1 – √2
(E) √2 – 1

Not all is lost! Sure, algebraically you should multiply the numerator and the denominator by the conjugate (1 + 2) but you can also logically work with this one. The numerator is 1, and the denominator is 1 – the square root of 2. You know that 2 is between 1 and 2, so what do you know about the denominator? It’s negative, and it’s a fraction (or decimal), so once you’ve taken 1 divided by that, your answer must be a negative number to the left of -1 – only answer choice D would work. So, yeah, you blanked on the steps, but you can still employ logic to back into the answer.

4) Write Down Everything You Know
Blanking is particularly troublesome because it’s that moment of panic. You’re trying to retrace your mental steps and the answer is elusive; it’s a moment you’re not in control of at that point. So take control! The more you’re actively working – jotting down other related formulas or facts you know, working on other facets of the diagram or problem and saving that step for last, etc. – the more you’re controlling, or at least actively managing, the situation.

Gary Johnson couldn’t get away with a “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” style talk-through-it (“Um, I know it’s not the name of any congressmen; it’s not Zika, it’s not…”) without looking dumb, but no one is going to audit your scratchwork and release it to Huffington Post, so you’re free to jot down half-baked thoughts and trial calculations to your heart’s content. Actively manage the situation, and you can work your way through that dreaded “my mind is blank” moment.

So learn from Gary Johnson. No matter how much you’ve prepared for your GMAT, there’s a chance that your mind will go blank on something you know that you know, but just can’t recall in the moment. But you have options, so heed the wisdom above, and let Trump or Clinton handle the gaffes for the day while you move on confidently to the next question.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

How to Simplify Complicated Combination and Permutation Questions on the GMAT

GMATWhen test-takers first learn how to tackle combination and permutation questions, there’s typically a moment of euphoria when the proper approach really clicks.

If, for example, there are 10 people in a class, and you wish to find the number of ways you can form a cabinet consisting of a president, a vice president, and a treasurer, all you need to do is recognize that if you have 10 options for the president, you’ll have 9 left for the vice president, and 8 remaining for the treasurer, and the answer is 10*9*8. Easy, right?

But on the GMAT, as in life, anything that seems too good to be true probably is. An easy question can be tackled with the type of mechanical thinking illustrated above. A harder question will require a more sophisticated approach in which we consider disparate scenarios and perform calculations for each.

Take this question, for example:

Of the three-digit positive integers whose three digits are all different and nonzero, how many are odd integers greater than 700?

A) 84
B) 91
C) 100
D) 105
E) 243

It’s natural to see this problem and think, “All I have to do is reason out how many options I have for each digit. So for the hundreds digit, I have 3 options (7, 8, or 9); the tens digit has to be different from the hundreds digit, and it must be non-zero, so I’ll have 8 options here; then the last digit has to be odd, so…”

Here’s where the trouble starts. The number of eligible numbers in the 700’s will not be the same as the number of eligible numbers in the 800’s -if the digits must all be different, then a number in the 700’s can’t end in 7, but a number in the 800’s could. So, we need to break this problem into separate cases:

First Case: Numbers in the 700’s  
If we’re dealing with numbers in the 700’s, then we’re calculating how many ways we can select a tens digit and a units digit. 7___ ___.

Let’s start with the units digit. Well, we know that this number needs to be odd. And we know that it must be different from the hundreds and the tens digits. This leaves us the following options, as we’ve already used 7 for the hundreds digit: 1, 3, 5, 9. So there are 4 options remaining for the units digit.

Now the tens digit must be a non-zero number that’s different from the hundreds and units digit. There are 9 non-zero digits. We’re using one of those for the hundreds place and one of those for the units place, leaving us 7 options remaining for the tens digit. If there are 4 ways we can select the units digit and 7 ways we can select the tens digit, there are 4*7 = 28 options in the 700’s.

Second Case: Numbers in the 800’s
Same logic: 8 ___ ___. Again, this number must be odd, but now we have 5 options for the units digit, as every odd number will obviously be different from the hundreds digit, which is even (1, 3, 5, 7, or 9). The tens digit logic is the same – 9 non-zero digits total, but it must be different from the hundreds and the units digit, leaving us 7 options remaining. If there are 5 ways we can select the units digit and 7 ways we can select the tens digit, there are 5*7 = 35 options in the 800’s.

Third Case: Numbers in the 900’s
This calculation will be identical to the 700’s scenario: 9___ ___. For the units digit, we want an odd number that is different from the hundreds digit, giving us (1, 3, 5, 7), or 4 options. We’ll have 7 options again for the tens digit, for the same reasons that we’ll have 7 options for the tens digit in our other cases. If there are 4 ways we can select the units digit and 7 ways we can select the tens digit, then there are 4*7 = 28 options in the 900’s.

To summarize, there are 28 options in the 700’s, 35 options in the 800’s, and 28 options in the 900’s. 28 + 35 + 28 = 91. Therefore, B is the correct answer.

Takeaway: for a simpler permutation question, it’s fine to simply set up your slots and multiply. For a more complicated problem, we’ll need to work case-by-case, bearing in mind that each individual case is, on its own, actually not nearly as hard as it looks, sort of like the GMAT itself.

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

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

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Using the Deviation Method for Weighted Averages

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe have discussed how to use the deviation method to find the arithmetic mean of numbers. It is very useful in cases where the numbers are huge, as it considerably brings down the calculation time.

The same method can be applied to weighted averages, as well. Let’s look at an example very similar to the one we examined when we were working on deviations in the case of arithmetic means:

What is the average of 452, 452, 453, 460, 467, 480, 499,  499, 504?

What would you say the average is here? Perhaps, around 470?

We have two 452s – 452 is 18 less than 470.
453 is 17 less than 470.
460 is 10 less than 470.
467 is 3 less than 470.

Overall, the numbers less than 470 are (2*18) + 17 + 10 + 3 = 66 less than 470.

480 is 10 more than 470.
We have two 499s – 499 is 29 more than 470.
504 is 34 more than 470.

Overall, the numbers more than 470 are 10 + (2*29) + 34 = 102 more than 470.

The shortfall is not balanced by the excess; there is an excess of 102-66 = 36.

So what is the average? If we assume that the average of these 9 numbers is 470, there will be an excess of 36. We need to distribute this excess evenly among all of the numbers, and hence, the average will increase by 36/9 = 4.

Therefore, the required mean is 470 + 4 = 474. (If we had assumed the mean to be 474, the shortfall would have balanced the excess.)

This method is used in exactly the same way when we have a simple average as when we have a weighted average. The reason we are reviewing it is that it can be very handy in weighted average questions involving more than two quantities.

We often deal with questions on weighted averages involving two quantities using the scale method. Let’s see how to use the deviation method for more than 2 quantities on an official GMAT question:

Three grades of milk are 1 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent fat by volume. If x gallons of the 1 percent grade, y gallons of the 2 percent grade, and z gallons of the 3 percent grade are mixed to give x+y+z gallons of a 1.5 percent grade, what is x in terms of y and z?

(A) y + 3z
(B) (y +z) / 4
(C) 2y + 3z
(D) 3y + z
(E) 3y + 4.5z

Grade 1 milk contains 1% fat. Grade 2  milk contains 2% fat. Grade 3 milk contains 3% fat. The mixture of all three contains 1.5% fat. So, grade 1 milk provides the shortfall and grades 2 and 3 milk provide the excess.

Shortfall = x*(1.5 – 1)
Excess = y*(2 – 1.5) + z*(3 – 1.5)

Since 1.5 is the actual average, the shortfall = the excess.

x*(1.5 – 1) = y*(2 – 1.5) + z*(3 – 1.5)
x/2 = y/2 + 3z/2
x = y + 3z

And there you have it – the answer is A.

We easily used deviations here to arrive at the relation. It’s good to have this method – useful for both simple averages and weighted averages – in your GMAT toolkit.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!

GMAT Geometry Practice Questions and Problems

SAT/ACTWould you call yourself a math person? If so, you’ll be glad to know that there are plenty of algebra, geometry, arithmetic, and other types of math problems on the GMAT. Perhaps you like math but need a little review when it comes to the topic of geometry. If so, learn some valuable tips on how to prep for GMAT geometry problems before you get started studying for the exam.

Learn and Practice the Basic Geometry Formulas
Knowing some basic formulas in geometry is an essential step to mastering these questions on the GMAT. One formula you should know is the Pythagorean Theorem, which is a^2 + b^2 = c^2, where c stands for the longest side of a right triangle, while a and b represent the other two sides.

Another formula to remember is the area of a triangle, which is A = 1/2bh, where A is the area, b is the length of the base, and h is the height. The formula for finding the area of a rectangle is l*w = A (length times width equals the area). Once you learn these and other basic geometry formulas for the GMAT, the next step is to put them into practice so you know how to use them when they’re called for on the exam.

Complete Practice Quizzes and Questions
Reviewing problems and their answers and completing GMAT geometry practice questions are two ways to sharpen your skills for this section of the test. This sort of practice also helps you become accustomed to the timing when it comes to GMAT geometry questions. These questions are found within the Quantitative section of the GMAT.

You are given just 75 minutes to finish 37 questions in this section. Of course, not all 37 questions involve geometry – GMAT questions in the Quantitative section also include algebra, arithmetic, and word problems – but working on completing each geometry problem as quickly as possible will help you finish the section within the time limit. In fact, you should work on establishing a rhythm for each section of the GMAT so you don’t have to worry about watching the time.

Use Simple Study Tools to Review Problems
Another way to prepare for GMAT geometry questions is to use study tools such as flashcards to strengthen your skills. Some flashcards are virtual and can be accessed as easily as taking your smartphone out of your pocket. If you prefer traditional paper flashcards, they can also be carried around easily so you can review them during any free moments throughout the day. Not surprisingly, a tremendous amount of review can be accomplished at odd moments during a single day.

In addition, playing geometry games online can help you hone your skills and add some fun to the process at the same time. You could try to beat your previous score on an online geometry game or even compete against others who have played the same game. Challenging another person to a geometry game can sometimes make your performance even better.

Study With a Capable Tutor
Preparing with a tutor can help you to master geometry for GMAT questions. A tutor can offer you encouragement and guide you in your studies. All of our instructors at Veritas Prep have taken the GMAT and earned scores that have put them in the 99th percentile of test-takers. When you study with one of our tutors, you are learning from an experienced instructor as well as someone who has been where you are in the GMAT preparation process.

Our prep courses instruct you on how to approach geometry questions along with every other topic on the GMAT. We know that memorizing facts is not enough: You must apply higher-order thinking to every question, including those that involve geometry. GMAT creators have designed the questions to test some of the skills you will need in the business world.

Taking a practice GMAT gives you an idea of what skills you’ve mastered and which you need to improve. Our staff invites you to take a practice GMAT for free. We’ll give you a score report and a performance analysis so you have a clear picture of what you need to focus on. Then, whether you want help with geometry or another subject on the GMAT, our team of professional instructors is here for you.

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

How to Solve “Hidden” Factor Problems on the GMAT

Magnifying GlassOne of the interesting things to note about newer GMAC Quant questions is that, while many of these questions test our knowledge of multiples and factors, the phrasing of these questions is often more subtle than earlier versions you might have seen. For example, if I ask you to find the least common multiple of 6 and 9, I’m not being terribly artful about what topic I’m testing you on – the word “multiple” is in the question itself.

But if tell you that I have a certain number of cupcakes and, were I so inclined, I could distribute the same number of cupcakes to each of 6 students with none left over or to each of 9 students with none left over, it’s the same concept, but I’m not telegraphing the subject in the same conspicuous manner as the previous question.

This kind of recognition comes in handy for questions like this one:

All boxes in a certain warehouse were arranged in stacks of 12 boxes each, with no boxes left over. After 60 additional boxes arrived and no boxes were removed, all the boxes in the warehouse were arranged in stacks of 14 boxes each, with no boxes left over. How many boxes were in the warehouse before the 60 additional boxes arrived?

(1) There were fewer than 110 boxes in the warehouse before the 60 additional arrived.
(2) There were fewer than 120 boxes in the warehouse after the 60 additional arrived.

Initially, we have stacks of 12 boxes with no boxes left over, meaning we could have 12 boxes or 24 boxes or 36 boxes, etc. This is when you want to recognize that we’re dealing with a multiple/factor question. That first sentence tells you that the number of boxes is a multiple of 12. After 60 more boxes were added, the boxes were arranged in stacks of 14 with none left over – after this change, the number of boxes is a multiple of 14.

Because 60 is, itself, a multiple of 12, the new number must remain a multiple of 12, as well. [If we called the old number of boxes 12x, the new number would be 12x + 60. We could then factor out a 12 and call this number 12(x + 5.) This number is clearly a multiple of 12.] Therefore the new number, after 60 boxes are added, is a multiple of both 12 and 14. Now we can find the least common multiple of 12 and 14 to ensure that we don’t miss any possibilities.

The prime factorization of 12: 2^2 * 3

The prime factorization of 14: 2 * 7

The least common multiple of 12 and 14: 2^2 * 3 * 7 = 84.

We now know that, after 60 boxes were added, the total number of boxes was a multiple of 84. There could have been 84 boxes or 168 boxes, etc. And before the 60 boxes were added, there could have been 84-60 = 24 boxes or 168-60 = 108 boxes, etc.

A brief summary:

After 60 boxes were added: 84, 168, 252….

Before 60 boxes were added: 24, 108, 192….

That feels like a lot of work to do before even glancing at the statements, but now look at how much easier they are to evaluate!

Statement 1 tells us that there were fewer than 110 boxes before the 60 boxes were added, meaning there could have been 24 boxes to start (and 84 once 60 were added), or there could have been 108 boxes to start (and 168 once 60 were added). Because there are multiple potential solutions here, Statement 1 alone is not sufficient to answer the question.

Statement 2 tells us that there were fewer than 120 boxes after 60 boxes were added. This means there could have been 84 boxes – that’s the only possibility, as the next number, 168, already exceeds 120. So we know for a fact that there are 84 boxes after 60 were added, and 24 boxes before they were added. Statement 2 alone is sufficient, and the answer is B.

Takeaway: questions that look strange or funky are always testing concepts that have been tested in the past – otherwise, the exam wouldn’t be standardized. By making these connections, and recognizing that a verbal clue such as “none left over” really means that we’re talking about multiples and factors, we can recognize even the most abstract patterns on the toughest of GMAT questions.

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

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

GMAT Probability Practice: Questions and Answers

Roll the DiceThe Quantitative portion of the GMAT contains questions on a variety of math topics. One of those topics is probability. GMAT questions of this sort ask you to look for the likelihood that something will occur. Probability is not as familiar to many as Algebra, Geometry, and other topics on the test. This is why some test-takers hesitate when they see the word “probability” on a summary of the GMAT. However, this is just another topic that can be mastered with study and practice.

You may already know that there are certain formulas that can help solve GMAT probability questions, but there is more to these problems than teasing out the right answers. Take a look at some advice on how to tackle GMAT probability questions to calm your fears about the test:

Probability Formulas
As you work through GMAT probability practice questions, you will need to know a few formulas. One key formula to remember is that the probability equals the number of desired outcomes divided by the number of possible outcomes. Another formula deals with discrete events and probability – that formula is P(A and B) = P(A)*P(B). Figuring out the probability of an event not occurring is one minus the probability that the event will occur. Putting these formulas into practice is the most effective way to remember them.

Is it Enough to Know the Basic Formulas for Probability?
Some test-takers believe that once you know the formulas related to probability for GMAT questions, then you have the keys to success on this portion of the test. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. The creators of the GMAT are not just looking at your ability to plug numbers into formulas – you must understand what each question is asking and why you arrived at a particular answer. Successful business executives use reason and logic to arrive at the decisions they make. The creators of the GMAT want to see how good you are at using these same tools to solve problems.

The Value of Practice Exams
Taking a practice GMAT can help you determine your skill level when it comes to probability questions and problems on every other section of the test. Also, a practice exam gives you the chance to become accustomed to the amount of time you’ll have to finish the various sections of the test.

At Veritas Prep, we have one free GMAT practice test available to anyone who wants to get an idea of how prepared they are for the test. After you take the practice test, you will receive a score report and thorough performance analysis that lets you know how you fared on each section. Your performance analysis can prove to be one of the most valuable resources you have when starting to prepare for the GMAT. Follow-up practice tests can be just as valuable as the first one you take. These tests reveal your progress on probability problems and other skills on the GMAT. The results can guide you on how to adjust your study schedule to focus more time on the subjects that need it.

Getting the Right Kind of Instruction
When it comes to probability questions, GMAT creators have been known to set subtle traps for test-takers. In some cases, you may happen upon a question with an answer option that jumps out at you as the right choice. This could be a trap.

If you study for the GMAT with Veritas Prep, we can teach you how to spot and avoid those sorts of traps. Our talented instructors have not only taken the GMAT; they have mastered it. Each of our tutors received a score that placed them in the 99th percentile. Consequently, if you study with Veritas Prep, you’ll benefit from the experience and knowledge of tutors who have conquered the GMAT. When it comes to probability questions, GMAT tutors at Veritas Prep have you covered!

In addition to providing you with effective GMAT strategies, tips, and top-quality instruction, we also give you choices regarding the format of your courses. We have prep classes that are given online and in person – learn your lessons where you want, and when you want. You may want to go with our private tutoring option and get a GMAT study plan that is tailored to your needs. Contact Veritas Prep today and dive into your GMAT studies!

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: The Power of Deduction on GMAT Data Sufficiency Questions

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomIn a previous post, we have discussed how to find the total number of factors of a number. What does the total number of factors a number has tell us about that number? One might guess, “Not a lot,” but it actually does tell us quite a bit! If the total number of factors is odd, you know the number must be a perfect square. If the total number of factors is even, you know the number is not a perfect square.

We know that the total number of factors of a number A (prime factorised as X^p * Y^q *…) is given by (p+1)*(q+1)… etc.

So, if we know that a number has, say, 6 total factors, what can we say about the number?

6 = (p+1)*(q+1) = 2*3, so p = 1 and q = 2 or vice versa.

A = X^1 * Y^2 where X and Y are distinct prime numbers.

Today, we will look at a data sufficiency question in which we can use factors to deduce much more information than what we might first guess:

When the digits of a two-digit, positive integer M are reversed, the result is the two-digit, positive integer N. If M > N, what is the value of M?

Statement 1: The integer (M – N) has 12 unique factors.
Statement 2: The integer (M – N) is a multiple of 9.

With this question, we are told that M is a two-digit integer and N is obtained by reversing it. So if M = 21, then N = 12; if M = 83, then N = 38 (keeping in mind that M must be greater than N). In the generic form:

M = 10a + b and N =10b + a (where a and b are single-digit numbers from 1 to 9. Neither can be 0 or greater than 9 since both M and N are two-digit numbers.)

We also know that no matter what M and N are, M > N. Therefore:

10a + b > 10b + a
9a > 9b
a > b

Let’s examine both of our given statements:

Statement 1: The integer (M – N) has 12 unique factors.

First, let’s figure out what M – N is:

M – N = (10a + b) – (10b + a) = 9a – 9b

Say M – N = A. This would mean A = 9(a-b) = 3^2 * (a-b)

The total number of factors of A where A = X^p * Y^q *… can be calculated using the formula (p+1)*(q+1)* …

We know that A has 3^2 as a factor, so X = 3 and p = 2. Therefore, the total number of factors would be (2+1)*(q+1)*… = 3*(q+1)*… = 12, so (q+1)*… must be 4.

Case 1:
This means q may be 3 so that (q+1) is 4. Since a-b must be less than or equal to 9 and must also be the cube of a number, (a-b) must be 8. (Note that a-b cannot be 1 because then the total number of factors of A would only be 3.)

So, a must be 9 and b must be 1 in this case (since a > b). The integers will be 91 and 19, and since M > N, M = 91.

Case 2:
Another possibility is that (a-b) is a product of two prime factors (other than 3), both with the power of 1. In that case, the total number of factors = (2+1)*(1+1)*(1+1) = 12

Note, however, that the two prime factors (other than 3) with the smallest product is 2*5 = 10, but the difference of two single-digit positive integers cannot be 10. This means that only Case 1 can be true, therefore, Statement 1 alone is sufficient. This is certainly not what we expected to find from just the total number of factors!

Statement 2: The integer (M – N) is a multiple of 9.

M – N = (10a + b) – (10b + a) = 9a – 9b, so M – N = 9 (a-b) . This is already a multiple of 9.

We get no new information with this statement; (a-b) can be any integer, such as 2 (a = 5, b = 3 or a = 7, b = 5), etc. This statement alone is insufficient, therefore our answer is A.

Don’t take the given data of a GMAT question at face value, especially if you are expecting questions from the 700+ range. Ensure that you have deduced everything that you can from it before coming to a conclusion.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!

GMAT Tip of the Week: Making Your GMAT Score SupeRIOr to Ryan Lochte’s

GMAT Tip of the WeekWhat’s the worst thing that can happen on your GMAT exam? Is it running out of time well before you’re done? Or blanking on nearly every math formula you’ve studied?

Whatever it is, it can’t be nearly as bad as being pulled over by fake cops – no lights or nothing, just a badge – then being told to get on the ground and having a gun placed on your forehead and being like, “whatever.” So your big event of 2016 will already go a lot better than Ryan Lochte’s did; you have that going for you.

What else do you have going for you on the GMAT? The ability to learn from the most recent few days of Lochte’s life. Lochte’s biggest mistake wasn’t vandalizing a gas station bathroom at 4am, but rather making up his own story and creating an even larger mess. And that’s a huge lesson that you need to keep in mind for the GMAT:

Don’t make up your own story.

Here’s what that means, on three major question types:

People make up their own story on Data Sufficiency all the time. And like a prevailing theory about Lochte (he didn’t connect the vandalism of the bathroom to the men coming after him for restitution; he really did think that he had been robbed for no reason), it’s not that they’re intentionally lying. They’re just “conveniently” misremembering what they’ve read or connecting dots that weren’t actually connected in real life. Consider the question:

The product of consecutive integers a, b, c, and d is 5040. What is the value of integer d?

(1) d is prime
(2) d < c < b < a

Once people have factored 5040 into 7*8*9*10, they can then quickly recognize that Statement 1 is sufficient: the only prime number in that bunch is 7, so d must be 7. But then when it comes to Statement 2, they’ve often made up their own story. By saying “d is the smallest, and, yep, that’s 7!” they’re making up the fact that these consecutive integers are positive. That was not specifically stated! So it could be 7, 8, 9, and 10 or it could be -7, -8, -9, and -10, making d either -10 or 7. And the GMAT (maybe like an NBC interviewer?) makes it easy for you to make up your own story.

With Statement 1, prime numbers must be positive, so if you weren’t already thinking only about positives, the question format nudges you further in that direction. The answer is A when people often mistakenly choose D, and the reason is that the question makes it easy for you to make up your own story when looking at Statement 2. So before you submit an answer, always ask yourself, “Am I only using the facts explicitly provided to me, or am I somehow making up my own story?”

Think of your friends who are good storytellers. We hate to break it to you, but they’re probably making at least 10-20% of those stories up. Which makes sense. “It was a pretty big fish,” is a lot less compelling than, “It was the biggest fish any of us had ever seen!” Case in point, the Olympics themselves.

No commentator this week has said that Michael Phelps, Lochte’s teammate, is “a really good swimmer.” They’re posing, “Is he the greatest athlete of all time?” because words that end in -st capture attention (and pageviews). Even Lochte was guilty of going overly-specific for dramatic effect: there was, indeed, a gun pointed at his taxi, but not resting on his forehead. His version just makes the story more exciting and dramatic…and you may very well be guilty of such a mistake on the GMAT. Consider:

About two million years ago, lava dammed up a river in western Asia and caused a small lake to form. The lake existed for about half a million years. Bones of an early human ancestor were recently found in the ancient lake bottom sediments on top of the layer of lava. Therefore, ancestors of modern humans lived in Western Asia between 2 million and 1.5 million years ago.

Which one of the following is an assumption required by the argument?

(A) There were not other lakes in the immediate area before the lava dammed up the river.
(B) The lake contained fish that the human ancestors could have used for food.
(C) The lava under the lake-bottom sediments did not contain any human fossil remains.
(D) The lake was deep enough that a person could drown in it.
(E) The bones were already in the sediments by the time the lake disappeared.

The correct answer here is E (if the bones were not already there, then they’re not good evidence that people were there during that time), but the popular trap answer is C. Consider what would happen if C were untrue: that means that there were human fossil remains that pre-date the time period in question.

But here’s where Lochte Logic is dangerous: you’re not trying to prove that the FIRST humans lived in this period at this time; you’re just trying to prove that humans lived here during that time. And whether or not there were fossils from 2.5 million or 4 million years ago doesn’t change that you still have this evidence of people in that 2 million-1.5 million years ago timeframe.

When people choose C, it’s almost always because they made up their own story about the argument – they read it as, “The earliest human ancestors lived in this place and time,” and that’s just not what’s given. Why do they do that? For Lochte’s very own reasons: it makes the story a little more interesting and a little more favorable.

After all, the average pre-MBA doesn’t spend much time reading about archaeology, but if some discovery is that level of exciting (We’ve discovered the first human! We’ve discovered evidence of aliens!) then it crosses your Facebook/Twitter feeds. You’re used to reading stories about the first/fastest/greatest/last, and so when you get dry subject matter your mind has a tendency to put those words in there subconsciously. Be careful – do not make up your own story about the conclusion!

A similar phenomenon occurs with Reading Comprehension. When you read a long passage, your mind tends to connect dots that aren’t there as it fills in the rest of the story for you. Just like Lochte, who had to fill in the gap of, “Hey what would I have said if someone pointed a gun at me and told me to get on the ground? Oh right…’whatever’ is my default answer for most things,” your mind will start to fill in details that make logical sense.

The problem then comes when you’re asked an Inference question, for which the correct answer must be true based on the passage. For example, if two details in a passage are:

  1. Michael swam the fastest race of his life.
  2. Ryan’s race was one of the slowest he’s ever swam.

You might answer the question, “Which of the following is a conclusion that can be drawn from the passage?” with:

(A) Michael swam faster than Ryan.

Your mind – particularly amidst a lot of other text between those two facts – wants to logically arrange those two swims together, and with “fastest” for Michael and “slowest” for Ryan, it kind of seems logical that Michael was faster. But those two races are never compared directly to each other. Consider that if Michael and Ryan aren’t Phelps and Lochte, but rather filmmaker Michael Moore and Olympic champion Ryan Lochte, then of course Lochte’s slowest swim would still be way, way faster than Moore’s fastest.

Importantly, Reading Comprehension questions love to bait unwitting test-takers with comparisons as answer choices, knowing that your mind is primed to create your own story and draw comparisons that are probably true, but just not proven. So again, any time you’re faced with an answer that seems obvious, go back and ask yourself if the details you’re using were provided to you, or if instead, you’re making up your own story.

So learn a valuable lesson from Ryan Lochte and avoid making up your own story, sticking only to the clean facts of the matter. Stay true to the truth, and you’ll walk out of the test center saying “Jeah!”

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Math Cheat Sheet: Formulas and Tips for Success

ChecklistAn individual who is creating a study plan for the GMAT knows that math must be a part of the equation. Though many people love all sorts of math, there are some who become worried about the Quantitative portion of the exam.

If you’re concerned about the math questions on the GMAT, it can be useful to become more familiar with the specific content in this section. Find out about the types of problems in the Quantitative section and consider some GMAT geometry formulas. Also, check out a gathering of tips on how to prep in an effective way:

What is in the Quantitative Section?
Data Sufficiency and Problem-Solving are the two types of questions in the Quantitative section. The Problem-Solving questions are multiple-choice and test your skills in algebra, basic arithmetic, and geometry. The basic arithmetic questions involve decimals, positive and negative integers, fractions, percentages, and averages. The problems you find in this section are on par with the level of material taught in high school math classes. Though many of the questions on the exam involve basic arithmetic, it’s helpful to have a GMAT formula sheet to refer to when preparing for algebra and geometry problems.

GMAT Formulas for the Math Section
Your GMAT math formulas cheat sheet should include the Pythagorean Theorem. This formula helps you to find the measurement of the third side of a right triangle when given the measurements of the other two sides. Another item on your GMAT math cheat sheet should be A = 1/2 bh, which is the formula for finding the area of a triangle. Distance = rate*time is a very helpful formula to know, too. Find the area of a rectangle in fast fashion by using the formula A = lw. The formula A = s2 will help you discover the area of a square.

Moving Beyond Memorization

A GMAT math formulas cheat sheet is an effective study tool, but it’s equally important to know which formula to apply to a problem, so you should spend time practicing problems that employ each of those formulas. This way, on test day, you’ll be familiar with the formulas and feel comfortable using them. The easiest way to do this, of course, is to let us help you.

The expert instructors at Veritas Prep partner with students to help them learn and to practice these formulas for the Quantitative section. We hire tutors who have excellent teaching skills as well as GMAT scores in the 99th percentile. When you study with us, you know you’re learning from the best! Our instructors work through practice math problems with you to ensure that you understand how to solve them in the most efficient way.

Get the Timing Right
Test-takers are given 75 minutes to tackle the 37 questions in the Quantitative section. This sounds like a long time, but if you get hung up on one question for several minutes, you could end up running out of time for this section. In order to avoid this, you should take timed practice tests. Taking timed tests allows you to establish a rhythm for solving problems and answering questions. Once you establish a rhythm, you don’t have to be so concerned about running out of time before you finish all of the problems.

More Tips for Mastering the Quantitative Section
Studying with a GMAT math cheat sheet is one way to prepare for the test. Another way to save test time and make questions more manageable is to eliminate answer options that are clearly wrong – this allows your mind to focus only on the legitimate choices. Estimating the answer to a problem as you read through it is another way to save test time and arrive at answers more quickly.

Our GMAT curriculum teaches you how to approach questions on the separate math topics within the Quantitative section. Our strategies give you the tools you need to problem-solve like a business professional! We are proud to provide both online and in-person courses that prepare you for the GMAT. Veritas Prep instructors offer solid instruction as well as encouragement to individuals with the goal of acing the GMAT and getting into a preferred business school. Let us partner with you on the road to GMAT success! Contact us to talk with one of our course advisers today.

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

When to Pick Your Own Numbers on GMAT Quant Questions

SAT/ACTThe other day, while working with a tutoring student, I was enumerating the virtues of various test-taking strategies when the student sheepishly interrupted my eloquent paean to picking numbers. She’d read somewhere that these strategies were fine for easy to moderate questions, but that for the toughest questions, you just had to bear down and solve the problem formally. Clearly, she is not a regular reader of our fine blog.

As luck would have it, on her previous practice exam she’d received the following problem, which both illustrates the value of picking numbers and demonstrates why this approach works so well.

A total of 30 percent of the geese included in a certain migration study were male. If some of the geese migrated during the study and 20 percent of the migrating geese were male, what was the ratio of the migration rate for the male geese to the migration rate for the female geese? 

[Migration rate for geese of a certain sex = (number of geese of that sex migrating) / (total number of geese of that sex)] 

A) 1/4
B) 7/12
C) 2/3
D) 7/8
E) 8/7

This is a perfect opportunity to break out two of my favorite GMAT tools: picking numbers and making charts. So, let’s say there are 100 geese in our population. That means that if 30% are male, we’ll have 30 male geese and 70 females geese, giving us the following chart:

Male Female Total
Total 30 70 100

Now, let’s say 10 geese were migrating. That means that 90 were not migrating. Moreover, if 20 percent of the migrating geese were male, we know that we’ll have 2 migrating males and 8 migrating females, giving us the following:

Male Female Total
Migrating 2 8 10
Total 30 70 100

(Note that if we wanted to, we could fill out the rest of the chart, but there’s no reason to, especially when we’re trying to save as much time as possible.)

Our migration rate for the male geese is 2/30 or 1/15. Our migration rate for the female geese is 8/70 or 4/35. Ultimately, we want the ratio of the male migration rate (1/15) to the female migration rate (4/35), so we need to simplify (1/15)/(4/35), or (1*35)/(15*4) = 35/60 = 7/12. And we’re done – B is our answer.

My student was skeptical. How did we know that 10 geese were migrating? What if 20 geese were migrating? Or 50? Shouldn’t that change the result? This is the beauty of picking numbers – it doesn’t matter what number we pick (so long as we don’t end up with an illogical scenario in which, say, the number of migrating male geese is greater than the number of total male geese). To see why, watch what happens when we do this algebraically:

Say that we have a total of “t” geese. If 30% are male, we’ll have 0.30t male geese and 0.70t females geese.  Now, let’s call the migrating geese “m.” If 20% are male, we’ll have 0.20m migrating males and 0.80m migrating females. Now our chart will look like this:

Male Female Total
Migrating 0.20m 0.80m m
Total 0.30t 0.70t t

The migration rate for the male geese is 0.20m/0.30t or 2m/3t. The migration rate for the female geese is 0.80m/0.70t or 8m/7t. We want the ratio of the male migration rate (2m/3t) to the female migration rate (8m/7t), so we need to simplify (2m/3t)/(8m/7t) = (2m*7t)/(3t * 8m) = 14mt/24mt = 7mt/12mt = 7/12. It’s clear now why the numbers we picked for m and t don’t matter – they cancel out in the end.

Takeaway: We cannot say this enough: the GMAT is not testing your ability to do formal algebra. It’s testing your ability to make good decisions in a stressful environment. So your goal, when preparing for this test, isn’t to become a virtuoso mathematician, even for the toughest questions. It’s to practice the kind of simple creative thinking that will get you to your answer with the smallest investment of your time.

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

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

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Know Your Subtraction for the GMAT!

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomYour first reaction to the title of this post is probably, “I already know my subtraction!” No surprise there. But what is surprising is that our statistics tell us that the following GMAT question – which is nothing extraordinary, but does involve some tricky subtraction – is a 700-level question. That made us decide to write this post. We will discuss this concept along with the question:

The last digit of 12^12 + 13^13 – 14^14 × 15^15 =

(A) 0
(B) 1
(C) 5
(D) 8
(E) 9

This is a simple question based on the cyclicity of units digits. There are 3 terms here: 12^12, 13^13 and (14^14)*(15^15). Let’s find the last digit of each of these terms:

The units digit of 12 is 2.
2 has a cyclicity of 2 – 4 – 8 – 6.
The cycles end at the powers 4, 8, 12 … etc. So, twelve 2’s will end in a units digit of 6.

The units digit of 13 is 3.
3 has a cyclicity of 3 – 9 – 7 – 1.
A new cycle starts at the powers 1, 5, 9, 13 … etc. So, thirteen 3’s will end in a units digit of 3.

This term is actually the most simple to manage in the case of its units digit – an even number multiplied by a multiple of 5 will end in 0. Also, note that this will be a huge term compared to the other two terms.

This is what our expression looks like when we consider just the units digits of these terms:

(A number ending in 6) + (A number ending in 3) – (A much greater number ending in 0)

Looking at our most basic options, a number ending in 6 added to a number ending in 3 will give us a number ending in 9 (as 3 + 6 = 9). So, the expression now looks like this:

(A number ending in 9) – (A much greater number ending in 0)

It is at this point that many people mess up. They deduce that 9-0 will end in a 9, and hence, the answer will be E. All their effort goes to waste when they do this. Let’s see why:

How do you subtract one number out of another? Take, for example, 10-7 = 3

This can also be written as 7-10 = -3. (Here, you are still subtracting the number with a lower absolute value from the number with a greater absolute value, but giving it a negative sign.)

Let’s try to look at this in tabular form. The number with the greater absolute value goes on the top and the number with the smaller absolute value goes under it. You then subtract and the result gets the sign of the number with the greater absolute value.

(i) 100-29

(ii) 29-100
(But since the sign of 100 is negative, your answer is actually -71.)

So, the number with greater absolute value is always on top. Going back to our original question now, (A number ending in 9) – (A much greater number ending in 0) will look like:

–  pq9

Ignoring the letter variables (these are simply placeholders), note that the greater number ending in 0 will be on the top and the smaller one ending in 9 will be below it. This means the answer will be a negative number ending in a units digit of 1. Therefore, our answer is B.

As we learn more advanced concepts, make sure you are not taking your basic principles for granted!

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

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!

GMAT Tip of the Week: What Simone Biles and the Final Five Can Teach You About GMAT Math

GMAT Tip of the WeekOn this Friday, ending the first week of the Rio Olympics, your office has undoubtedly said the name “Simone” exponentially more than ever before. Michael Phelps’ blowout win – his 4th straight – in the 200 IM was incredible, but last night belonged to two Texans named Simone.

Swimmer Simone Manuel and gymnast Simone Biles each won historic gold medals, and if you’re at all inspired to pursue your own “go for the gold” success in business school (maybe Stanford like Manuel, or UCLA like Biles), you can learn a lot from the Olympic experience. Two lessons, in particular, stand out from the performance of Biles and her “Final Five” teammates:

Connect Your Skills
There’s no way to watch Olympic gymnastics and not be overwhelmingly impressed by the skills that each gymnast brings to competition. So at times it’s frustrating and saddening to hear the TV announcers discuss deduction after deduction; shouldn’t everyone at all times just be yelling, “Wow!!!!” at the otherworldly talents of each athlete?

Much like the GMAT, though, Olympic gymnastics is not about the sheer possession of these skills – at that level, everyone has them. It’s more about the ability to execute them and, as becomes evident from the expert commentary of Tim Dagget and Nastia Liukin, to connect them. It’s not the uneven bars handstand or release itself that wins the gold, it’s the ability to connect skill after skill as part of a routine. The line, “She was supposed to connect that skill to another…” is always followed by, “That will be a deduction” – both in Olympic gymnastics and on the GMAT.

How does that affect you?

By test day, you had better have all of the necessary skills to compete on the GMAT Quant Section. Area of a triangle, Pythagorean Theorem, Difference of Squares…if you don’t know these rules, you’re absolutely sunk. But to do really well, you need to quickly connect skill to skill, and connect items in the problems to the skills necessary to work with them. For example:

If a problem includes a term x^4 – 1, you should immediately be thinking, “That connects really well to the Difference of Squares rule: a^2 – b^2 = (a + b)(a – b), and since x^4 is a square [it’s (x^2)^2] and 1 is a square (it’s 1^2), I can write that as (x^2 + 1)(x^2 – 1), and for good measure I could apply Difference of Squares to the (x^2 – 1) term too.” The GMAT won’t ever specifically tell you, “Use the Difference of Squares,” so it’s your job to immediately connect the symptoms of Difference of Squares (an even exponent, a subtraction sign, a square of some kind, even if it’s 1) to the opportunity to use it.

If you see a right triangle, you should recognize that Area and Pythagorean Theorem easily connect. In a^2 + b^2 = c^2, sides a and b are perpendicular and allow you to use them as the base and height in the area formula. And the Pythagorean Theorem includes three squares with the opportunity to create subtraction [you could write it as a^2 = c^2 – b^2, allowing you to say that a^2 = (c + b)(c – b)…], so you could connect yet another skill to it to help solve for variables.

Similarly, if you see a square or rectangle, its diagonal is the hypotenuse of a right triangle, allowing you to use the sides as a and b in the Pythagorean setup, which could also connect to Difference of Squares…etc.

When you initially learned most of these skills in high school (much like when Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, etc. learned handstands and cartwheels in Gymboree), you learned them as individual, isolated skills. “Here’s the formula, and here are 10 questions that test it.” On the GMAT – as in the Olympics – you’re being tested more on your ability to connect them, to see opportunities to use a skill that’s not obvious at first (“Well, I’m not sure what to do but I do have multiple squared terms so let me try to apply Difference of Squares…or maybe I can use a and b in the Area calculation.”), but that helps you build more knowledge of the problem.

So as you study, don’t just learn individual skills. Look for opportunities to connect them, and look for signals that will tell you that a connection is possible. A rectangle problem with a square root of 3 in the answer choices should tell you “the diagonal of this rectangle may very well be connected to a 30-60-90 triangle, since those have the 1, √3, 2 side ratio…” The GMAT is about connections more so than just skills, so study accordingly.

Stick the Landing
If you’re like most in the “every four years I love gymnastics for exactly one week” camp, the single most important thing you look for on any apparatus is, “Did he/she stick the landing?” A hop or a step on the landing is the most noticeable deduction on a gymnastics routine…and the same holds true for the GMAT.

Again, the GMAT is testing you on how well you connect a variety of skills, so naturally there are places for you to finish the problem a step short. A problem that requires you to leverage the Pythagorean Theorem and the Area of a Triangle may ask for the sum of sides A and B, for example, but if you’ve solved for the sides individually first, you might see a particular value (A = 6) on your noteboard and in the answer choices and choose it without double checking that you answered the proper question.

That is a horrible and unnecessary “deduction” on your GMAT score: you did all the work right, all the hard part right (akin to the flip-and-two-twists in the air on your vault or the dazzling array of jumps and handstands on the tiny beam) and then botched the landing.

On problems that include more than one variable, circle the variable that the test is looking for and then make sure that you submit the proper answer for that variable. If a problem asks for a combination of variables (a + b, for example), write that down at the top of your scratchwork and go back to it after you’ve calculated. Take active steps to ensure that you stick the landing, because nothing is worse than doing all the work right and then still getting the problem wrong.

In summary, recognize that there are plenty of similarities between the GMAT and GyMnAsTics [the scoring system is too complex for the layman to worry about, the “Final Five” are more important than you think (hint: the test can’t really use the last five questions of a section for research purposes since so many people are rushing and guessing), etc.]. So take a lesson from Simone Biles and her gold-medal-winning teammates: connect your skills, stick the landing, and you’ll see your score vault to Olympian heights.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Linear Relations in GMAT Questions

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe have covered the concepts of direct, inverse and joint variation in previous posts. Today, we will discuss what we mean by “linearly related”. A linear relation is one which, when plotted on a graph, is a straight line. In linear relationships, any given change in an independent variable will produce a corresponding change in the dependent variable, just like a change in the x-coordinate produces a corresponding change in the y-coordinate on a line.

We know the equation of a line: it is y = mx + c, where m is the slope and c is a constant.

Let’s illustrate this concept with a GMAT question. This question may not seem like a geometry question, but using the concept of linear relations can make it easy to find the answer:

A certain quantity is measured on two different scales, the R-scale and the S-scale, that are related linearly. Measurements on the R-scale of 6 and 24 correspond to measurements on the S-scale of 30 and 60, respectively. What measurement on the R-scale corresponds to a measurement of 100 on the S-scale?

(A) 20
(B) 36
(C) 48
(D) 60
(E) 84

Let’s think of the two scales R and S as x- and y-coordinates. We can get two equations for the line that depicts their relationship:

30 = 6m + c ……. (I)
60 = 24m + c ……(II)

(II) – (I)
30 = 18m
m = 30/18 = 5/3

Plugging m = 5/3 in (I), we get:

30 = 6*(5/3) + c
c = 20

Therefore, the equation is S = (5/3)R + 20. Let’s plug in S = 100 to get the value of R:

100 = (5/3)R + 20
R = 48

48 (answer choice C) is our answer.

Alternatively, we have discussed the concept of slope and how to deal with it without any equations in this post. Think of each corresponding pair of R and S as points lying on a line – (6, 30) and (24, 60) are points on a line, so what will (r, 100) be on the same line?

We see that an increase of 18 in the x-coordinate (from 6 to 24) causes an increase of 30 in the y-coordinate (from 30 to 60).

So, the y-coordinate increases by 30/18 = 5/3 for every 1 point increase in the x-coordinate (this is the concept of slope).

From 60 to 100, the increase in the y-coordinate is 40, so the x-coordinate will also increase from 24 to 24 + 40*(3/5) = 48. Again, C is our answer.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!

GMAT Math Help: Understanding and Solving Combinatorics Problems

StudentStudents who are taking the GMAT are going to encounter combinatorics problems. If you are a little rusty on your math topics, you may be asking, “What is combinatorics?” Combinatorics has to do with counting and evaluating the possibilities within a scenario that involve various amounts of people or things. Learn more about GMAT combinatorics questions and how to arrive at the right answers to be better prepared for the test.

Picture a certain number of people or objects. Permutations are the possible arrangements that those people or objects can be in. One of the things you have to decide when looking at combinatorics problems is whether order is an important factor. If order is important in a problem, then the answer has to do with permutations. If order is not important in a problem, then the answer deals with combinations.

For example, say you line up five postcards from different cities on a tabletop. You may wonder how many different orders you can put these postcards in. Another way to say that would be, “How many different permutations can I make with these five postcards?” To figure out this problem, you would need the help of an equation: 5! = (5) (4) (3) (2) (1) = 120. The exclamation point in the formula is a symbol that means “factorial.”

When working on combinatorics questions that deal with combinations, the order/arrangement of items is not important. For example, say that you have eight books and you want to know how many ways you can group three of those books on a library shelf. You could plug numbers into the three places in this formula to figure out the answer: (8) (7) (6) = 336 ways. This is the slot method of solving a combination problem.

Combinations With a Large Amount of Numbers
You will quickly find yourself needing combinatorics help if you try to count up a lot of numbers in one combination problem on the GMAT. Furthermore, you’ll use a lot of valuable test time with this counting method. Knowing the formula for combinations can help you to find the solution to a problem in a much shorter amount of time. The formula is nCr = n!/r!(n-r)! Here, n is the total number of options, r is the number of options chosen, and ! is the symbol for factorial.

Preparing for Applied Combinatorics Questions on the GMAT
One of the most effective ways of preparing for applied combinatorics questions is to take practice tests and review the various steps of problems. You want to get into the habit of approaching a problem by asking yourself whether order is a factor in a problem. This will help you determine whether a problem deals with permutations or combinations. Then, you can start to attack a problem from the right angle.

In addition, it’s important to time yourself when taking a practice Quantitative test. Though there are not many of these problems on the test, you have to get into the habit of spending only a certain amount of minutes on each problem so you don’t run out of test time before finishing.

We have a program of study at Veritas Prep that prepares you for questions on combinatorics as well as all of the other problems in the Quantitative section. We instruct you on how to approach test questions instead of just coaching you on how to memorize facts. Pair up with one of our skilled instructors at Veritas Prep and you will be studying with someone who scored in the 99th percentile on the GMAT. We believe that in order to perform at your best on the GMAT, you have to learn from a first-rate instructor! Our instructors can work through a combinatorics tutorial with you to determine what your strengths and weaknesses are in this branch of math. Then, we give you strategies that help you to improve.

For your convenience, we offer both in-person and online GMAT prep courses. We recognize that professionals in the business world have busy schedules, so we provide several study options to fit your life. When it comes to the topic of combinatorics, GMAT tips, instruction, and encouragement, we are your test prep experts. Contact us today and let us know how we can help you achieve your top GMAT score!

Want to learn more about our GMAT prep courses and how you can get a competitive edge when focusing your GMAT studies? Attend one of our upcoming free Live-Online GMAT Strategy Sessions. And be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

Probability and Combinations: What You’ll Need to Know for the GMAT

Roll the DiceIf you’ve been paying attention to the exciting world of GMAT prep, you know that GMAC released two new practice tests fairly recently. I’d mentioned in a previous post that I was going to write about any conspicuous trends I noted, and one unmistakable pattern I’ve seen with my students is that probability questions seem to be cropping up with greater and greater frequency.

While these questions don’t seem fundamentally different from what we’ve seen in the past, there does seem to be a greater emphasis on probability questions for which a strong command of combinations and permutations will prove indispensable.

First, recall that the probability of x is the number ways x can occur/number of total possible outcomes (or p(x) = # desired/ # total). Another way to think about this equation is to see it as a ratio of two combinations or permutations. The number of ways x can occur is one combination (or permutation), and the total number of possible outcomes is another.

Keeping this in mind, let’s tackle this new official prompt:

From a group of 8 volunteers, including Andrew and Karen, 4 people are to be selected at random to organize a charity event. What is the probability that Andrew will be among the 4 volunteers selected and Karen will not?

(A) 3/7
(B) 5/12
(C) 27/70
(D) 2/7
(E) 9/35

Typically, I’ll start by calculating the total number of possible outcomes, as this calculation tends to be the more straightforward one. We’ve got 8 volunteers, and we want to know the number of total ways we can select 4 people from these 8 volunteers. Note, also, that the order does not matter – group of Tiffany, Mike, Louis, and Amy is the same as a group of Louis, Amy, Mike, and Tiffany. We’re not assigning titles or putting anyone in seats, so this is a combination.

If we use our combination formula N!/[(K!*(N-K)!] then N, our total pool of candidates, is 8, and K, the number we’re selecting, is 4. We get 8!/(4!*4!), which comes out to 70. At this point, we know that the denominator must be a factor of 70, so anything that doesn’t meet this criterion is out. In this case, this only allows us to eliminate B.

Now we want our desired outcomes, in which Andrew is selected and Karen is not. Imagine that you’re responsible for assembling this group of four from a total pool of eight people. You plan on putting your group of four in a conference room. Your supervisor tells you that Andrew must be in and Karen must not be, so you take Andrew and put him in the conference room. Now you’ve got three more spots to fill and seven people remaining. But remember that Karen cannot be part of this group. That means you only have 6 people to choose from to fill those other 3 spots in the room.

Put another way, think of the combination as the number of choices you have. Andrew and Karen are not choices – you’ve been ordered to include one of them and not the other. Of the 4 spots in the conference room, you only get to choose 3. And you’re only selecting from the other 6 people for those spots. Now N = 6 and K = 3. Plugging these into our trusty combination formula, we get 6!/(3!*3!), which comes out to 20.

Summarizing, we know that there are 20 ways to create our desired group of 4, and 70 total ways to select 4 people from a pool of 8, giving us a probability of 20/70, or 2/7, so the correct answer is D.

Takeaway: Probability questions can be viewed as ratios of combinations or permutations, so when you brush up on combinatorics, you’re also bolstering your probability fundamentals. Anytime you’re stuck on a complex probability question, break your calculation down into its component parts – find the total number of possible outcomes first, then find the total number of desired outcomes. Like virtually every hard question on the GMAT, probability questions are never as hard as they first seem.

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

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

How to Use Units Digits to Avoid Doing Painful Calculations on the GMAT

StudentDuring the first session of each new class I teach, we do a quick primer on the utility of units digits. Imagine I want to solve 130,467 * 367,569. Without a calculator, we are surely entering a world of hurt. But we can see almost instantaneously what the units digit of this product would be.

The units digit of 130,467 * 367,569 would be the same as the units digit of 7*9, as only the units digits of the larger numbers are relevant in such a calculation. 7*9 = 63, so the units digit of 130,467 * 367,569 is 3. This is one of those concepts that is so simple and elegant that it seems too good to be true.

And yet, this simple, elegant rule comes into play on the GMAT with surprising frequency.

Take this question for example:

If n is a positive integer, how many of the ten digits from 0 through 9 could be the units digit of n^3?

A) three
B) four
C) six
D) nine
E) ten

Surely, you think, the solution to this question can’t be as simple as cubing the easiest possible numbers to see how many different units digits result. And yet that’s exactly what we’d do here.

1^3 = 1

2^3 = 8

3^3 = 27 à units 7

4^3 = 64 à units 4

5^3 = ends in 5 (Fun fact: 5 raised to any positive integer will end in 5.)

6^3 = ends in 6 (Fun fact: 6 raised to any positive integer will end in 6.)

7^3 = ends in 3 (Well 7*7 = 49. 49*7 isn’t that hard to calculate, but only the units digit matters, and 9*7 is 63, so 7^3 will end in 3.)

8^3 = ends in 2 (Well, 8*8 = 64, and 4*8 = 32, so 8^3 will end in 2.)

9^3 = ends in 9 (9*9 = 81 and 1 * 9 = 9, so 9^3 will end in 9.)

10^3 = ends in 0

Amazingly, when I cube all the integers from 1 to 10 inclusive, I get 10 different units digits. Pretty neat. The answer is E.

Of course, this question specifically invoked the term “units digit.” What are the odds of that happening? Maybe not terribly high, but any time there’s a painful calculation, you’d want to consider thinking about the units digits.

Take this question, for example:

A certain stock exchange designates each stock with a one, two or three letter code, where each letter is selected from the 26 letters of the alphabet. If the letters may be replaced and if the same letters used in a different order constitute a different code, how many different stocks is it possible to uniquely designate with these codes? 

A) 2,951
B) 8,125
C) 15,600
D) 16,302
E) 18,278 

Conceptually, this one doesn’t seem that bad.

If I wanted to make a one-letter code, there’d be 26 ways I could do so.

If I wanted to make a two-letter code, there’d be 26*26 or 26^2 ways I could do so.

If I wanted to make a three-letter code, there’d be 26*26*26, or 26^3 ways I could so.

So the total number of codes I could make, given the conditions of the problem, would be 26 + 26^2 + 26^3. Hopefully, at this point, you notice two things. First, this arithmetic will be deeply unpleasant to do.  Second, all of the answer choices have different units digits!

Now remember that 6 raised to any positive integer will always end in 6. So the units digit of 26 is 6, and the units digit of 26^2 is 6 and the units digit of 26^3 is also 6. Therefore, the units digit of 26 + 26^2 + 26^3 will be the same as the units digit of 6 + 6 + 6. Because 6 + 6 + 6 = 18, our answer will end in an 8. The only possibility here is E. Pretty nifty.

Takeaway: Painful arithmetic can always be avoided on the GMAT. When calculating large numbers, note that we can quickly find the units digit with minimal effort. If all the answer choices have different units digits, the question writer is blatantly telegraphing how to approach this problem.

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

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

Quarter Wit Quarter Wisdom: What is Your Favorite Number?

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomFans of The Big Bang Theory will remember Sheldon Cooper’s quote from an old episode on his favorite number:

The best number is 73. Why? 73 is the 21st prime number. Its mirror, 37, is the 12th and its mirror, 21, is the product of multiplying 7 and 3… and in binary 73 is a palindrome, 1001001, which backwards is 1001001.”

Though Sheldon’s logic is infallible, my favorite number is 1001 because it has a special role in standardized tests.

1001 is 1 more than 1000 and hence, is sometimes split as (1000 + 1). It sometimes appears in the a^2 – b^2 format such as 1001^2 – 1, and its factors are 7, 11 and 13 (not the factors we usually work with).

Due to its unusual factors and its convenient location (right next to 1000), it could be a part of some tough-looking GMAT questions and should be remembered as a “special” number. Let’s look at a question to understand how to work with this  number.

Which of the following is a factor of 1001^(32) – 1 ?

(A) 768
(B) 819
(C) 826
(D) 858
(E) 924

Note that 1001 is raised to the power 32. This is not an exponent we can easily handle. If  we try to use a binomial here and split 1001 into (1000 + 1), all we will achieve is that upon expanding the given expression, 1 will be cancelled out by -1 and all other terms will have 1000 in common. None of the answer choices are factors of 1000, however, so we must look for some other factor of 1001^(32) – 1.

Without a calculator, it is not possible for us to find the factors of 1001^(32) – 1, but we do know the prime factors of 1001 and hence, the prime factors of 1001^32. We may not be able to say which numbers are factors of 1001^(32) – 1, but we will be able to say which numbers are certainly not factors of this!

Let me explain:

1001 = 7 * 11 * 13 (Try dividing 1001 by 7 and you’ll get 143. 143 is divisible by 11, giving you 13.)

1001^32 = 7^32 * 11^32 * 13^32

Now, what can we say about the prime factors of 1001^(32) – 1? Whatever they are, they are certainly not 7, 11 or 13 – two consecutive integers cannot have any common prime factor (discussed here and continued here).

Now look at the answer choices and try dividing each by 7:

(A) 768 – Not divisible by 7

(B) 819 – Divisible by 7

(C) 826 – Divisible by 7

(D) 858 – Not divisible by 7

(E) 924 – Divisible by 7

Options B, C and E are eliminated. They certainly cannot be factors of 1001^(32) – 1 since they have 7 as a prime factor, and we know 1001^(32) – 1 cannot have 7 as a prime factor.

Now try dividing the remaining options by 11:

(A) 768 – Not divisible by 11

(D) 858 – Divisible by 11

D can also be eliminated now because it has 11 as a factor. By process of elimination, the answer is A; it must be a factor of 1001^(32) – 1.

I hope you see how easily we used the factors of 1001 to help us solve this difficult-looking question. And yes, another attractive feature of 1001 – it is a palindrome in the decimal representation itself!

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!

GMAT Tip of the Week: How to Avoid GMAT (and Pokemon Go) Traps

GMAT Tip of the WeekIn seemingly the most important development in world history since humans learned to create fire, Pokemon Go has arrived and is taking the world by storm. Rivaling Twitter and Facebook for mobile phone attention and battling the omnipresent selfie as a means of death-by-mobile-phone, Pokemon Go is everywhere you want to be…and often in places you don’t.

And that is why Pokemon Go is responsible for an ever-important GMAT lesson.

Perhaps most newsworthy about Pokemon Go these days is the dangerous and improper places that it has led its avid users. On the improper side,  such solemn and dignified places as the national Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery have had to actively prohibit gamers from descending upon mourners/commemorators while playing the game. And as for danger, there have been several instances of thieves luring gamers into traps and therefore robbing them of valuable (if you’re playing the game, you definitely have a smartphone) items.

And the GMAT can and will do the same thing.


If you’re reading this on our GMAT blog, you’ve undoubtedly already learned that, on Data Sufficiency problems, you cannot assume that a variable is positive, or that it is an integer. But think about what makes Pokemon Go users so vulnerable to being lured into a robbery or to losing track of basic human decency. They’re so invested in the game that they lose track of the situations they’re being lured into.

Similarly, the most dangerous GMAT traps are those for which you should absolutely know better, but the testmaker has gotten your mind so invested in another “game” that you lose track of something basic. Consider the example:

If y is an odd integer and the product of x and y equals 222, what is the value of x? 

(1) x is a prime number
(2) y is a 3 digit number

Statement 1 is clearly sufficient. Since y is odd, and an integer, and the product of integers x and y is an even integer, that means that x must be even. And since x also has to be prime (which is how you know it’s an integer, too), the only even prime is 2, making x = 2.

From there your mind is fixated on the game. You can quickly see that in that case y = 111 and x = 2. Which you then have to forget about as you attack Statement 2. But here’s the reason that less than 25% of users in the Veritas Prep Question Bank get this right, while nearly half incorrectly choose D. Statement 1 has gotten your mind fixated on the even/odd/prime game, meaning that you may only be thinking about integers (and positive integers at that) at this point.

That y is a 3-digit number DOES NOT mean that it has to be 111. It could be -111 (making x = -2) or 333 (making x = 2/3). So only Statement 1 alone is sufficient, but the larger lesson is more important. Just like Pokemon Go has the potential to pollute your mind and have you see the real world through its “enhanced reality” lens, so does a statement that satisfies your intellect (“Ah, 2 is the only even prime number!”) give you just enough tunnel vision that you make poor decisions and fall for traps.

The secret here is that almost no one scoring above a 500 carries over all of Statement 1 (“Oh, well I already know that x = 2!”) – a total rookie mistake. It’s that Statement 1 got you fixated on definitions of types of integers (prime, even, odd) and therefore got your mind looking through the “enhanced reality” of integers-only.

The lesson? Much like Pokemon Go, the GMAT has tools to get you so invested in a particular facet of a game that you lose your universal awareness of your surroundings. Know that going in – that you have to consciously step back from that enhanced reality you’ve gained after Statement 1 and look at the whole picture. So take a lesson from Pokemon Go and know when to stop and step back.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

How to Approach Difficult GMAT Problems

SAT/ACTMy students have a hard time understanding what makes a difficult GMAT question difficult. They assume that the tougher questions are either testing something they don’t know, or that these problems involve a dizzying level of complexity that requires an algebraic proficiency that’s simply beyond them.

One of my main goals in teaching a class is to persuade everyone that this is not, in fact, how hard questions work on this test. Hard questions don’t ask you do to something you don’t know how to do. Rather, they’re cleverly designed to provoke an anxiety response that makes it difficult to realize that you do know exactly how to solve the problem.

Take this official question, for example:

Let a, b, c and d be nonzero real numbers. If the quadratic equation ax(cx + d) = -b(cx +d) is solved for x, which of the following is a possible ratio of the 2 solutions?

A) –ab/cd
B) –ac/bd
C) –ad/bc
D) ab/cd
E) ad/bc

Most students see this and panic. Often, they’ll start by multiplying out the left side of the equation, see that the expression is horrible (acx^2 + adx), and take this as evidence that this question is beyond their skill level. And, of course, the question was designed to elicit precisely this response. So when I do this problem in class, I always start by telling my students, much to their surprise, that every one of them already knows how to do this. They’ve just succumbed to the question writer’s attempt to convince them otherwise.

So let’s start simple. I’ll write the following on the board: xy = 0. Then I’ll ask what we know about x or y. And my students shrug and say x or y (or both) is equal to 0. They’ll also wonder what on earth such a simple identity has to do with the algebraic mess of the question they’d been struggling with.

I’ll then write this: zx + zy = 0. Again, I’ll ask what we know about the variables. Most will quickly see that we can factor out a “z” and get z(x+y) = 0. And again, applying the same logic, we see that one of the two components of the product must equal zero – either z = 0 or x + y = 0.

Next, I’ll ask if they would approach the problem any differently if I’d given them zx = -zy – they wouldn’t.

Now it clicks. We can take our initial equation in the aforementioned problem: ax(cx +d) = -b(cx+d), and see that we have a ‘cx + d’ on both sides of the equation, just as we’d had a “z” on both sides of the previous example. If I’m able to get everything on one side of the equation, I can factor out the common term.

Now ax(cx +d) = -b(cx+d) becomes ax(cx +d) + b(cx+d) = 0.

Just as we factored out a “z” in the previous example, we can factor out “cx + d” in this one.

Now we have (cx + d)(ax + b) = 0.

Again, if we multiply two expressions to get a product of zero, we know that at least one of those expressions must equal 0. Either cx + d = 0 or ax + b = 0.

If cx + d = 0, then x = -d/c.

If ax + b = 0, then x = -b/a.

Therefore, our two possible solutions for x are –d/c and –b/a. So, the ratio of the two would simply be (-d/c)/(-b/a). Recall that dividing by a fraction is the equivalent of multiplying by the reciprocal, so we’re ultimately solving for (-d/c)(-a/b). Multiplying two negatives gives us a positive, and we end up with da/cb, which is equivalent to answer choice E.

Takeaway: Anytime you see something on the GMAT that you think you don’t know how to do, remind yourself that the question was designed to create this false impression. You know how to do it – don’t hesitate to dive in and search for how to apply this knowledge.

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

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

How to Go From a 48 to 51 in GMAT Quant – Part VII

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomBoth a test-taker at the 48 level and one at the 51 level in the GMAT Quant section, are conceptually strong – given an unlimited time frame, both will be able to solve most GMAT questions correctly. The difference lies in the two things a test-taker at the 51 level does skillfully:

  1. Uses holistic, big-picture methods to solve Quant questions.
  2. Handles questions he or she finds difficult in a timely manner.

We have been discussing holistic methods on this blog for a long time now and will continue discussing them. (Before you continue reading, be sure to check out parts I, II, III, IVV and VI of this series.)

Today we will focus on “handling the hard questions in a timely manner.” Note that we do not say “solving the hard questions in a timely manner.” Occasionally, one might be required to make a quick call and choose to guess and move on – but again, that is not the focus of this post. We are actually going to talk about the “lightbulb” moment that helps us save on time. There are many such moments for the 51 level test-taker – in fact, the 51 scorers often have time left over after attempting all these questions.

Test takers at the 48 level will also eventually reach the same conclusions but might need much more time. That will put pressure on them the next time they look at the ticking clock, and once their cool is lost, “silly errors” will start creeping in. So it isn’t about just that one question – one can end up botching many other questions too.

There are many steps that can be easily avoided by a lightbulb moment early on. This is especially true for Data Sufficiency questions.

Let’s take an official example:

Pam owns an inventory of unopened packages of corn and rice, which she has purchased for $17 and $13 per package, respectively. How many packages of corn does she have ?

Statement 1: She has $282 worth of packages.

Statement 2: She has twice as many packages of corn as of rice.

A high scorer will easily recognize that this question is based on the concept of “integral solutions to an equation in two variables.” Since, in such real world examples, x and y cannot be negative or fractional, these equations usually have a finite number of solutions.

After we find one solution, we will quickly know how many solutions the equation has, but getting the first set of values that satisfy the equation requires a little bit of brute force.

The good thing here is that this is a Data Sufficiency question – you don’t need to find the actual solution. The only thing we need is to establish that there is a single solution only. (Obviously, there has to be a solution since Pam does own $282 worth of packages.)

So, the test-taker will start working on finding the first solution (using the method discussed in this post). We are told:

Price of a packet of corn = $17
Price of a packet of rice = $13

Say Pam has “x” packets of corn and “y” packets of rice.

Statement 1: She has $282 worth of packages

Using Statement 1, we know that 17x + 13y = 282.

We are looking for the integer values of x and y.

If x = 0, y will be 21.something (not an integer)
If x = 1, y = 20.something
If x = 2, y = 19.something
If x = 3, y = 17.something

This is where the 51 level scorer stops because they never lose sight of the big picture. The “lightbulb” switches on, and now he or she knows that there will be only one set of values that can satisfy this equation. Why? Because y will be less than 17 in the first set of values that satisfies this equation. So if we want to get the next set that satisfies, we will need to subtract y by 17 (and add 13 to x), which will make y negative.

So in any case, there will be a unique solution to this equation. We don’t actually need to find the solution and hence, nothing will be gained by continuing these calculations. Statement 1 is sufficient.

Statement 2: She has twice as many packages of corn as of rice.

Statement 2 gives us no information on the total number of packages or the total amount spent. Hence, we cannot find the total number of packages of corn using this information alone. Therefore, our answer is A.

I hope you see how you can be alert to what you want to handle these Quant questions in a timely manner.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!

GMAT Tip of the Week: The Overly Specific Question Stem

GMAT Tip of the WeekFor most of our lives, we ask and answer relatively generic questions: “How’s it going?” “What are you up to this weekend?” “What time do the Cubs play tonight?”

And think about it, what if those questions were more specific: “Are you in a melancholy mood today?” “Are you and Josh going to dinner at Don Antonio’s tonight and ordering table-side guacamole?” “Do the Cubs play at 7:05 tonight on WGN?” If someone is asking those questions instead, you’re probably a bit suspicious. Why so specific? What’s your angle?

The same is true on the GMAT. Most of the question stems you see are relatively generic: “What is the value of x?” “Which of the following would most weaken the author’s argument?” So when the question stem get a little too specific, you should become a bit suspicious. What’s the test going for there? Why so specific?

The overly-specific Critical Reasoning question stem is a great example. Consider the problem:

Raisins are made by drying grapes in the sun. Although some of the sugar in the grapes is caramelized in the process, nothing is added.
Moreover, the only thing removed from the grapes is the water that evaporates during the drying, and water contains no calories or nutrients.
The fact that raisins contain more iron per food calorie than grapes do is thus puzzling.

Which one of the following, if true, most helps to explain why raisins contain more iron per calorie than do grapes?

(A) Since grapes are bigger than raisins, it takes several bunches of grapes to provide the same amount of iron as a handful of raisins does.
(B) Caramelized sugar cannot be digested, so its calories do not count toward the food calorie content of raisins.
(C) The body can absorb iron and other nutrients more quickly from grapes than from raisins because of the relatively high water content of grapes.
(D) Raisins, but not grapes, are available year-round, so many people get a greater share of their yearly iron intake from raisins than from grapes.
(E) Raisins are often eaten in combination with other iron-containing foods, while grapes are usually eaten by themselves.

Look at that question stem: a quick scan naturally shows you that you need to explain/resolve a paradox, but the question goes into even more detail for you. It reaffirms the exact nature of the paradox – it’s not about “iron,” but instead that that raisins contain more iron per calorie than grapes do. By adding that extra description into the question stem, the testmaker is practically yelling at you, “Make sure you consider calories…don’t just focus on iron!” And therefore, you should be prepared for the correct answer B, the only one that addresses calories, and deftly avoid answers A, C, D, and E, which all focus only on iron (and do so tangentially to the paradox).

Strategically speaking, if a Critical Reasoning question stem gets overly specific, you should pay particular attention to the specificity there…it’s most likely directing you to the operative portion of the argument.

Overly specific questions are most helpful in Data Sufficiency questions (and that same logic will help on Problem Solving too, as you’ll see). The testmaker knows that you’ve trained your entire algebraic life to solve for individual variables. So how can a question author use that lifetime of repetition against you? By asking you to solve for a specific combination that doesn’t require you to find the individual values. Consider this example, which appears courtesy the Official Guide for GMAT Quantitative Review:

If x^2 + y^2 = 29, what is the value of (x – y)^2?

(1) xy = 10
(2) x = 5

Two major clues should stand out to you that you need to Leverage Assets on this problem. For one, using both statements together (answer choice C) is dead easy. If xy = 10 and x = 5 then y = 2 and you can solve for any combination of x and y that anyone could ever ask for. But secondly and more subtly, the question stem should jump out as a classic way-too-specific, Leverage Assets question stem. They asked for a really, really specific value: (x – y)^2.

Now, immediately upon seeing that specificity you should be thinking, “That’s too specific…there’s probably a way to solve for that exact value without getting x and y individually.” That thought process alone tells you where to spend your time – you want to really leverage Statement 1 to try to make it work alone.

And if you’re still unconvinced, consider what the specificity does: the “squared” portion removes the question of negative vs. positive from the debate, removing one of the most common reasons that a seemingly-sufficient statement just won’t work. And, furthermore, the common quadratic (x – y)^2 shares an awful lot in common with the x^2 and y^2 elsewhere in the question stem. If you expand the parentheses, you have “What is x^2 – 2xy + y^2?” meaning that you’re already 2/3 of the way there (so to speak), since they’ve spotted you the sum x^2 + y^2.

The important strategy here is that the overly-specific question stem should scream “LEVERAGE ASSETS” and “You don’t need to solve for x and y…there’s probably a way to solve directly for that exact combination.” Since you know that you’re solving for the expanded x^2 – 2xy + y^2, and you already know that x^2 + y^2 = 29, you’re really solving for 29 – 2xy. Since you know from Statement 1 that xy = 20, then 29 – 2xy will be 29 – 2(10), which is 9.

Statement 1 alone is sufficient, even though you don’t know what x and y are individually. And one of the major signals that you should recognize to help you get there is the presence of an overly specific question stem.

So remember, in a world of generic questions, the oddly specific question should arouse a bit of suspicion: the interrogator is up to something! On the GMAT, you can use that to your advantage – an overly specific Critical Reasoning question usually tells you exactly which keywords are the most important, and an overly specific Data Sufficiency question stem begs for you to leverage assets and find a way to get the most out of each statement.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

Don’t Swim Against the Arithmetic Currents on the GMAT Quant Section

MalibuWhen I was a child, I was terrified of riptides. Partially, this was a function of having been raised by unusually neurotic parents who painstakingly instilled this fear in me, and partially this was a function of having inherited a set of genes that seems to have predisposed me towards neuroticism. (The point, of course, is that my parents are to blame for everything. Perhaps there is a better venue for discussing these issues.)

If there’s a benefit to fears, it’s that they serve as potent motivators to find solutions to the troubling predicaments that prompt them. The solution to dealing with riptides is to avoid struggling against the current. The water is more powerful than you are, so a fight is a losing proposition – rather, you want to wait for an opportunity to swim with the current and allow the surf to bring you back to shore. There’s a profound wisdom here that translates to many domains, including the GMAT.

In class, whenever we review a strategy, my students are usually comfortable applying it almost immediately. Their deeper concern is about when to apply the strategy, as they’ll invariably find that different approaches work with different levels of efficacy on different problems. Moreover, even if one has a good strategy in mind, the way the strategy is best applied is often context-dependent. When we’re picking numbers, we can say that x = 2 or x = 100 or x = 10,000; the key is not to go in with a single approach in mind. Put another way, don’t swim against the arithmetic currents.

Let’s look at some questions to see this approach in action:

At a picnic there were 3 times as many adults as children and twice as many women as men. If there was a total of x men, women, and children at the picnic, how many men were there, in terms of x?

A) x/2
B) x/3
C) x/4
D) x/5
E) x/6

The moment we see “x,” we can consider picking numbers. The key here is contemplating how complicated the number should be. Swim with the current – let the question tell you. A quick look at the answer choices reveals that x could be something simple. Ultimately, we’re just dividing this value by 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.

Keeping this in mind, let’s think about the first line of the question. If there are 3 times as many adults as children, and we’re keeping things simple, we can say that there are 3 adults and 1 child, for a total of 4 people. So, x = 4.

Now, we know that among our 3 adults, there are twice as many women as men. So let’s say there are 2 women and 1 man. Easy enough. In sum, we have 2 women, 1 man, and 1 child at this picnic, and a total of 4 people. The question is how many men are there? There’s just 1! So now we plug x = 4 into the answers and keep going until we find x = 1. Clearly x/4 will work, so C is our answer. The key was to let the question dictate our approach rather than trying to impose an approach on the question.

Let’s try another one:

Last year, sales at Company X were 10% greater in February than in January, 15% less in March than in February, 20% greater in April than in March, 10% less in May than in April, and 5% greater in June than in May. On which month were sales closes to the sales in January?

A) February
B) March
C) April
D) May
E) June

Great, you say. It’s a percent question. So you know that picking 100 is often a good idea. So, let’s say sales in January were 100. If we want the month when sales were closest to January’s level, we want the month when sales were closest to 100, Sales in February were 10% greater, so February sales were 110. (Remember that if sales increase by 10%, we can multiply the original number by 1.1. If they decrease by 10% we could multiply by 0.9, and so forth.)

So far so good. Sales in March were 15% less than in February. Well, if sales in Feb were 110, then the sales in March must be 110*(0.85). Hmm… A little tougher, but not insurmountable. Now, sales in April were 20% greater than they were in March, meaning that April sales would be 110*(0.85)*1.2. Uh oh.  Once you see that sales are 10% less in May than they were in April, we know that sales will be 110*(0.85)*1.2*0.9.

Now you need to stop. Don’t swim against the current. The arithmetic is getting hard and is going to become time-consuming. The question asks which month is closest to 100, so we don’t have to calculate precise values. We can estimate a bit. Let’s double back and try to simplify month by month, keeping things as simple as possible.

Our February sales were simple: 110. March sales were 110*0.85 – an unpleasant number. So, let’s try thinking about this a little differently. 100*0.85 = 85.  10*0.85 = 8.5. Add them together and we get 85 + 8.5 = 93.5.  Let’s make life easier on ourselves – we’ll round up, and call this number 94.

April sales are 20% more than March sales. Well, 20% of 100 is clearly 20, so 20% of 94 will be a little less than that. Say it’s 18. Now sales are up to 94 + 18 = 112. Still not close to 100, so we’ll keep going.

May sales are 10% less than April sales. 10% of 112 is about 11. Subtract 11 from 112, and you get 101. We’re looking for the number closest to 100, so we’ve got our answer – it’s D, May.

Takeaway: Don’t try to impose your will on GMAT questions. Use the structural clues of the problems to dictate how you implement your strategy, and be prepared to adjust midstream. The goal is never to conquer the ocean, but rather, to ride the waves to calmer waters.

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

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

How to Simplify Percent Questions on the GMAT

stressed-studentOne of the most confounding aspects of the GMAT is its tendency to make simple concepts seem far more complex than they are in reality. Percent questions are an excellent example of this.

When I introduce this topic, I’ll typically start by asking my class the following question: If you’ve completed 10% of a project how much is left to do?  I have never, in all my years of teaching, had a class that was unable to tell me that 90% of the project remains. It’s more likely that they’ll react as though I’m insulting their collective intelligence. And yet, when test-takers see this concept under pressure, they’ll often fail to recognize it.

Take the following question, for example:

Dara ran on a treadmill that had a readout indicating the time remaining in her exercise session. When the readout indicated 24 min 18 sec, she had completed 10% of her exercise session. The readout indicated which of the following when she had completed 40% of her exercise session.

(A) 10 min. 48 sec.
(B) 14 min. 52 sec.
(C) 14 min. 58 sec.
(D) 16 min. 6 sec.
(E) 16 min. 12 sec.

Hopefully, you’ve noticed that this question is testing the same simple concept that I use when introducing percent problems to my class. And yet, in my experience, a solid majority of students are stumped by this problem. The reason, I suspect, is twofold. First, that figure – 24 min. 18 sec. – is decidedly unfriendly. Painful math often lends itself to careless mistakes and can easily trigger a panic response. Second, anxiety causes us to work faster, and when we work faster, we’re often unable to recognize patterns that would be clearer to us if we were calm.

There’s interesting research on this. Psychologists, knowing that the color red prompts an anxiety response and that the color blue has a calming effect, conducted a study in which test-takers had to answer math questions – the questions were given to some subjects on paper with a red background and to other subjects on paper with a blue background. (The control group had questions on standard white paper.) The red anxiety-producing background noticeably lowered scores and the calming blue background boosted scores.

Now, the GMAT doesn’t give you a red background, but it does give you unfriendly-seeming numbers that likely have the same effect. So, this question is as much about psychology as it is about mathematical proficiency. Our job is to take a deep breath or two and rein in our anxiety before we proceed.

If Dara has completed 10% of her workout, we know she has 90% of her workout remaining. So, that 24 min. 18 sec. presents 90% of her total workout. If we designate her total workout time as “t,” we end up with the following equation:

24 min. 18 sec. = 0.90t

Let’s work with fractions to solve. 18 seconds is 18/60 minutes, which simplifies to 3/10 minutes. 0.9 is 9/10, so we can rewrite our equation as:

24 + 3/10 = (9/10)t
(243/10) = (9/10)t
(243/10)*(10/9) = t
27 = t

Not so bad. Dara’s full workout is 27 minutes long.

We want to know how much time is remaining when Dara has completed 40% of her workout. Well, if she’s completed 40% of her workout, we know she has 60% of her workout remaining. If her full workout is 27 minutes, then 60% of this value is 0.60*27 = (3/5)*27 = 81/5 = 16 + 1/5, or 16 minutes 12 seconds. And we’ve got our answer: E.

Now, let’s say you get this problem with 20 seconds remaining on the clock and you simply don’t have time to solve it properly. Let’s estimate.

Say, instead of 24 min 18 seconds remaining, Dara had 24 minutes remaining (so we know we’re going to underestimate the answer). If that’s 90% of her workout time, 24 = (9/10)t, or 240/9 = t.

We want 60% of this, so we want (240/9)*(3/5).

Because 240/5 = 48 and 9/3 = 3, (240/9)*(3/5) = 48/3 = 16.

We know that the correct answer is over 16 minutes and that we’ve significantly underestimated – makes sense to go with E.

Takeaway: Don’t let the question-writer trip you up with figures concocted to make you nervous. Take a breath, and remember that the concepts being tested are the same ones that, when boiled down to their essence, are a breeze when we’re calm.

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

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

GMAT Tip of the Week: The Least Helpful Waze To Study

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you drive in a large city, chances are you’re at least familiar with Waze, a navigation app that leverages user data to suggest time-saving routes that avoid traffic and construction and that shave off seconds and minutes with shortcuts on lesser-used streets.

And chances are that you’ve also, at some point or another, been inconvenienced by Waze, whether by a devout user cutting blindly across several lanes to make a suggested turn, by the app requiring you to cut through smaller streets and alleys to save a minute, or by Waze users turning your once-quiet side street into the Talladega Superspeedway.

To its credit, Waze is correcting one of its most common user complaints – that it often leads users into harrowing and time-consuming left turns. But another major concern still looms, and it’s one that could damage both your fender and your chances on the GMAT:

Beware the shortcuts and “crutches” that save you a few seconds, but in doing so completely remove all reasoning and awareness.

With Waze, we’ve all seen it happen: someone so beholden to, “I must turn left on 9th Street because the app told me to!” will often barrel through two lanes of traffic – with no turn signal – to make that turn…not realizing that the trip would have taken the exact same amount of time, with much less risk to the driver and everyone else on the road, had he waited a block or two to safely merge left and turn on 10th or 11th. By focusing so intently on the app’s “don’t worry about paying attention…we’ll tell you when to turn” features, the driver was unaware of other cars and of earlier opportunities to safely make the merge in the desired direction.

The GMAT offers similar pitfalls when examinees rely too heavily on “turn your brain off” tricks and techniques. As you learn and practice them, strategies like the “plumber butt” for rates and averages may seem quick, easy, and “turn your brain off” painless. But the last thing you want to do on a higher-order thinking test like the GMAT is completely turn your brain off. For example, a “turn your brain off” rate problem might say:

John drives at an average rate of 45 miles per hour. How many miles will he drive in 2.5 hours?

And using a Waze-style crutch, you could remember that to get distance you multiply time by rate so you’d get 112.5 miles. That may be a few seconds faster than performing the algebra by thinking “Rate = Distance over Time”; 45 = D/2.5; 45(2.5) = D; D = 112.5.

But where a shortcut crutch saves you time on easier problems, it can leave you helpless on longer problems that are designed to make you think. Consider this Data Sufficiency example:

A factory has three types of machines – A, B, and C – each of which works at its own constant rate. How many widgets could one machine A, one Machine B, and one Machine C produce in one 8-hour day?

(1) 7 Machine As and 11 Machine Bs can produce 250 widgets per hour

(2) 8 Machine As and 22 Machine Cs can produce 600 widgets per hour

Here, simply trying to plug the information into a simple diagram will lead you directly to choice E. You simply cannot separate the rate of A from the rate of B, or the rate of B from the rate of C. It will not fit into the classic “rate pie / plumber’s butt” diagram that many test-takers use as their “I hate rates so I’ll just do this trick instead” crutch.

However, those who have their critical thinking mind turned on will notice two things: that choice E is kind of obvious (the algebra doesn’t get you very close to solving for any one machine’s rate) so it’s worth pressing the issue for the “reward” answer of C, and that if you simply arrange the algebra there are similarities between the number of B and of C:

7(Rate A) + 11(Rate B) = 250
8(Rate A) + 22(Rate C) = 600

Since 11 is half of 22, one way to play with this is to double the first equation so that you at least have the same number of Bs as Cs (and remember…those are the only two machines that you don’t have “together” in either statement, so relating one to the other may help). If you do, then you have:

14(A) + 22(B) = 500
8(A) + 22(C) = 600

Then if you sum the questions (Where does the third 22 come from? Oh, 14 + 8, the coefficients for A.), you have:

22A + 22B + 22C = 1100

So, A + B + C = 50, and now you know the rate for one of each machine. The two statements together are sufficient, but the road to get there comes from awareness and algebra, not from reliance on a trick designed to make easy problems even easier.

The lesson? Much like Waze, which can lead to lack-of-awareness accidents and to shortcuts that dramatically up the degree of difficulty for a minimal time savings, you should take caution when deciding to memorize and rely upon a knee-jerk trick in your GMAT preparation.

Many are willing (or just unaware that this is the decision) to sacrifice mindfulness and awareness to save 10 seconds here or there, but then fall for trap answers because they weren’t paying attention or become lost when problems are more involved because they weren’t prepared.

So, be choosy in the tricks and shortcuts you decide to adopt! If a shortcut saves you a minute or two of calculations, it’s worth the time it takes to learn and master it (but probably never worth completely avoiding the “long way” or knowing the general concept). But if its time savings are minimal and its grand reward is that, “Hey, you don’t have to understand math to do this!” you should be wary of how well it will serve your aspirations of scores above around 600.

Don’t let these slick shortcut waze of avoiding math drive you straight into an accident. Unless the time savings are game-changing, you shouldn’t make a trade that gains you a few seconds of efficiency on select, easier problems in exchange for your awareness and understanding.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: The Curry Twos Remind You To Keep The GMAT Simple

GMAT Tip of the WeekHappy Friday from Veritas Prep headquarters, where we’re actively monitoring the way that Twitter is reacting to UnderArmour’s release of the new Steph Curry shoes. What’s the problem with the Curry Twos? Essentially they’re too plain and buttoned up – much more Mickelson than Michael, son.

OK, so what? The Curry 2s are more like the Curry 401(k)s. Why should that matter for your GMAT score?

Because on the GMAT, you want to be as simple and predictable as a Steph Curry sneaker.

What does that mean? One of the biggest study mistakes that people make is that once they’ve mastered a core topic like “factoring” or “verb tenses,” they move on to more obscure topics and spend their valuable study time on those.

There are two major problems with this: 1) the core topics appear much more often and are much more repeatable, and 2) in chasing the obscure topics later in their study regimen, people spend the most valuable study time – that coming right before the test – feverishly memorizing things they probably won’t see or use at the expense of practicing the skills and strategies that they’ll need to use several times on test day.

Consider an example: much like Twitter is clowning the Curry Twos, a handful of Veritas Prep GMAT instructors were laughing this time last week about an explanation in a practice test (by a company that shall remain nameless…) for a problem similar to:

Two interconnected, circular gears travel at the same circumferential rate. If Gear A has a diameter of 30 centimeters and Gear B has a diameter of 50 centimeters, what is the ratio of the number of revolutions that Gear A makes per minute to the number of revolutions that Gear B makes per minute?

(A) 3:5
(B) 9:25
(C) 5:3
(D) 25:9
(E) Cannot be determined from the information provided

Now, the “Curry Two” approach – the tried and true, “don’t-overcomplicate-this-for-the-sake-of-overcomplicating-it” method – is to recognize that the distance around any circle (a wheel, a gear, etc.) is its circumference. And circumference is pi * diameter. So, if each gear travels the same circumferential distance, that distance for any given period of time is “circumference * number of revolutions.” That then means that the circumference of A times the number of revolutions of A is equal to the circumference of B times the number of revolutions for B, and you know that’s:

30π * A = 50π * B (where A = # of revolutions for A, and B = # of revolutions for B). Since you want the ratio of A:B, divide both sides by B and by 30, and you have A/B = 50/30, or A:B = 5:3 (answer choice C).

Why were our instructors laughing? The explanation began, “There is a simple rule for interconnected gears…” Which is great to know if you see a gear-based question on the test or become CEO of a pulley factory, but since the GMAT officially tests “geometry,” you’re much better off recognizing the relationship between circles, circumferences, and revolutions (for questions that might deal with gears, wheels, windmills, or any other type of spinning circles) than you are memorizing a single-use rule about gears.

Problems like this offer the “Curry Two” students a fantastic opportunity to reinforce their knowledge of circles, their ability to think spatially about shapes, etc. But, naturally, there are students who will add “gear formula” to their deck of flashcards and study that single-use rule (which 99.9% of GMAT examinees will never have the opportunity to use) with the same amount of time/effort/intensity as they revisit the Pythagorean Theorem (which almost everyone will use at least twice).

Hey, the Curry Twos are plain, boring, and predictable, as are the core rules and skills that you’ll use on the GMAT. But simple, predictable, and repeatable are what win on this test, so heed this lesson. As 73 regular season opponents learned this basketball season, Curry Twos lead to countless Curry 3s, and on the GMAT, “Curry Two” strategies will help you curry favor with admissions committees by leading to Curry 700+ scores.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Squares and Square Roots on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomIn today’s post, we will try to clear up your doubts regarding positive and negative solutions in the case of squares and square roots. We will explain the reasons behind each case, which will help you recall the fundamentals when you need to use them. While preparing for the GMAT, you have probably come across a discussion that says x^2 = 4 has two roots, 2 and -2, while √4 has only one value, 2.

Now, let’s try to understand why this is so:

1) x^2 = 4
Basic algebra tells us that quadratics have two roots. Here, x can be either 2 or -2; each, when squared, will give you 4.

x^2 – 4 = 0 and (x + 2)*(x – 2) = 0 when x equals -2 or 2.

2) √x is positive, only
Now this is odd, right? √4 must be 2. Why is that? Shouldn’t it be 2 or -2. After all, when we square both 2 and -2, we get 4 (as discussed above). So, √4 should be 2 or -2.

Here is the concept: √x denotes only the principal square root. x has two square roots – the positive square root (or principal square root) written as √x and the negative square root written as -√x. Therefore, when you take the square root of 4, you get two roots: √4 and -√4, which  is 2 and -2 respectively.

On a GMAT question, when you see √x, this is specifically referring to the positive square root of the number. So √4 is 2, only.

3) (√x)^2 = x
This is fairly straightforward – since x has a square root, it must be non-negative. When you square it, just the square root sign vanishes and you are left with x.

4) √(x^2) = |x|
Now this isn’t intuitive either. √(x^2) should simply be x – why do we have absolute value of x, then? Again, this has to do with the principal square root concept. First you will square x, and then when you write √, it is by default just the principal square root. The negative square root will be written as -√(x^2). So, irrespective of whether x was positive or negative initially, √(x^2) will definitely be positive x. Therefore, we will need to take the absolute value of x.

Here’s a quick recap with some examples:

  • √9 = 3
  • x^2 = 16 means x is either 4 or -4
  • √(5^2) = 5
  • √(-5^2) = 5
  • (√16)^2 = 16
  • √100 = 10

To see this concept in action, let’s take a look at a very simple official problem:

If x is not 0, then √(x^2)/x =

(A) -1
(B) 0
(C) 1
(D) x
(E) |x|/x

We know that √(x^2) is not simply x, but rather |x|. So, √(x^2)/x = |x|/x.

Depending on whether x is positive or negative, |x|/x will be 1 or -1 – we can’t say which one. Hence, there is no further simplification that we can do, and our answer must be E.

Now that you are all warmed up, let’s examine a higher-level question:

Is √[(x – 3)^2] = (3 – x)?

Statement 1: x is not 3
Statement 2: -x * |x| > 0

We know that √(x^2) = |x|, so √[(x – 3)^2] = |x – 3|.

This means that our question is basically:

Is |x – 3| = 3 – x?

Note that 3 – x can also be written as -(x – 3).

Is |x – 3| = -(x – 3)?

Recall the definition of absolute values: |a| = a if a is greater than or equal to 0, and -a if a < 0.

So, “Is |x – 3| = -(x – 3)?” depends on whether (x – 3) is positive or negative. If (x – 3) is negative (or 0), then |x – 3| is equal to -(x – 3).

So our question now boils down to:

Is (x – 3) negative (or 0)?

Statement 1: x is not 3

This means we know that (x – 3) is not 0, but we still don’t know whether it is negative or positive. This statement is not sufficient.

Statement 2: -x * |x| > 0

|x| is always non-negative, so for the product to be positive, “-x” must also be positive. This means x must be negative. If x is negative, x – 3 must be negative, too.

If (x – 3) is negative, |x – 3| is equal to -(x – 3). Hence, this statement alone is sufficient, and our answer is B.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!

GMAT Rate Questions: Tackling Problems with Multiple Components

stopwatch-620A few posts ago, I tackled rate/work questions, which are invariably a source of consternation for GMAT test-takers. On the latest official practice tests that GMAC has released, these questions showed up with surprising frequency, so I thought it might be worthwhile to tackle a challenging incarnation of this question type: one in which a single machine begins a project and then multiple machines complete the partially-finished work.

To review, the key for dealing with this type of question is to apply the following rules:

  1. Rate * Time = Work
  2. Rates are additive in work questions.
  3. Rate and time have a reciprocal relationship.

For the questions involving partially completed jobs, we’ll throw in the addendum that a completed job can be designated as “1”’

And that’s it!

Here’s a question I saw on my recent practice test:

Working alone at its constant rate, pump X pumped out ¼ of the water in a tank in 2 hours. Then pumps Y and Z started working and the three pumps, working simultaneously at their respective constant rates, pumped out the rest of the water in 3 hours. If pump Y, working alone at its constant rate, would have taken 18 hours to pump out the rest of the water, how many hours would it have taken pump Z, working alone at its constant rate, to pump out all of the water that was pumped out of the tank?

A) 6
B) 12
C) 15
D) 18
E) 24

Okay, deep breath. Recall our three aforementioned rules. Next, let’s designate the rates for the pumps as x, y, and z, respectively.

If pump x can pump out ¼ of the water in 2 hours, then it would take 4*2 = 8 hours to pump out all the water alone. If pump x can complete 1 tank in 8 hours, then x = 1/8.

If x removes ¼ of the water on its own, then all three pumps working together have to remove the ¾ of the water left in the tank. We’re told that together they can do this in 3 hours. If x, y, and z together can do ¾ of the work in 3 hours, then x + y + z = (¾)/3 = 3/12 = ¼.

We’re told that y, alone, could have pumped out the rest of the water in 18 hours – again, there was ¾ of a tank left, so y = (¾)/18 = 1/24.

To summarize, we know that x = 1/8, y = 1/24, and x + y + z = ¼;  Not so hard to solve for z, right?

1/8 + 1/24 + z = ¼

Multiply everything by 24, and we get:

3 + 1 + 24z = 6

24z = 2

z = 1/12.

That’s z’s rate. If rate and time have a reciprocal relationship, we know that it would take z 12 hours to pump out all the water of one tank alone. The answer is, therefore, B.

Takeaway: The joy of seeing new material from GMAC (Is joy the right word?) is the realization that no matter how many additional layers of complexity the question-writers throw at us, the old verities hold true. So when you see tough questions, slow down. Remind yourself that the strategies you’ve cultivated will unlock even the toughest problems. Then, dive in and discover, yet again, that these questions are never quite as hard as they appear at first glance.

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

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

Avoid Obtaining the Wrong Values in Percent Increase Questions

stressed-studentMany test takers make mistakes in percent increase quantitative GMAT questions, not because they do not understand the principle of percent increase, but rather, because they don’t evaluate the correct values.

A quick recap: percent increase questions can be identified (often literally) by the words “percent increase,” and tend to be word problems that don’t read in the most straightforward manner. The first step to take when working towards answering these questions is to be cautious and evaluate them carefully.

The second step is to, of course, use the percent increase formula – (new value – initial value) / (initial value) x 100%.

Let’s start by going through a sample GMAT practice problem:

In 2005, 25 percent of the math department’s 40 students were female, and in 2007, 40 percent of the math department’s 65 students were female. What was the percent increase from 2005 to 2007 in the number of female students in the department?

A) 15%
B) 50%
C) 62.5%
D) 115%
E) 160%

At first can be difficult to determine what the answer is for this question, but keep in mind that the best place to start looking is in the last sentence and/or the actual question that is posed. In this case, the new value is the number of female students in 2007, “the number of female students in the department?”

By working backwards through this problem, we would take  40% of 65 (our final value), which we can easily calculate as 0.4*65 (or 2/5*65), giving us a total of 26 students in 2007.

Our initial value must then be the number of female students in 2005, which we can get by calculating 25% of 40. 0.25*40 (or 1/4*40) leaves us with a total of 10 female students in 2005.

Breaking up the question up into smaller, more manageable chunks gives us the ability to plug 26 and 10 into the percent increase formula – (26‐10)/10 = 16/10 = 1.6 = 160%. Therefore, the correct answer is E.

This strategy of not trying to figure out the conclusion without evaluating all the separate parts of the question is important to tackle percent change GMAT problems, but can be applied across a variety of quantitative questions. Understanding that these questions can be much more manageable, and are more about strategy versus understanding complex math concepts, is the key to success on the Quantitative Section.

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

By Ashley Triscuit, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston.

How to Simplify Sequences on the GMAT

SAT/ACTThe GMAT loves sequence questions. Test-takers, not surprisingly, do not feel the same level of affection for this topic. In some ways, it’s a peculiar reaction. A sequence is really just a set of numbers. It may be infinite, it may be finite, but it’s this very open-endedness, this dizzying level of fuzzy abstraction, that can make sequences so difficult to mentally corral.

If you are one of the many people who fear and dislike sequences, your main consolation should come from the fact that the main weapon in the question writer’s arsenal is the very fear these questions might elicit. And if you have been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know that the best way to combat this anxiety is to dive in and convert abstractions into something concrete, either by listing out some portion of the sequence, or by using the answer choices and working backwards.

Take this question for example:

For a certain set of numbers, if x is in the set, then x – 3 is also in the set. If the number 1 is in the set, which of the following must also be in the set? 

I. 4
II. -1
III. -5

A) I only
B) II only
C) III only
D) I and II
E) II and III

Okay, so let’s list out the elements in this set. We know that 1 is in the set. If x= 1, then x – 3 = -2. So -2 is in the set. If x = -2 is in the set, then x – 3 = -5. So -5 is in the set.

By this point, the pattern should be clear: each term is three less than the previous term, giving us a sequence that looks like this: 1, -2, -5, -8, -11….

So we look at our options, and see we that only III is true. And we’re done. That’s it. The answer is C.

Sure, Dave, you may say. That is much easier than any question I’m going to see on the GMAT. First, this is an official question, so I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that you’d never see a question like this. Second, you’d be surprised by how many test-takers get this wrong.

There is the temptation to assume that if 1 is in the set, then 4 must also be in the set. And note that this is, in fact, a possibility. If x = 4, then x – 3 = 1. But the question asks us what “must be” in the set. So it’s possible that 4 is in our set. But it’s also possible our set begins with 1, in which case 4 would not be included. This little wrinkle is enough to generate a substantial number of incorrect responses.

Still, surely the questions get harder than this. Well, yes. They do. So what are you waiting for? I’m not sure where this testy impatience is coming from, but if you insist:

The sequence a1, a2, a3, . . , an of n integers is such that ak = k if k is odd and ak = -ak-1 if k is even. Is the sum of the terms in the sequence positive?

1) n is odd

2) an is positive

Yikes! Hey, you asked for a harder one. This question looks far more complicated than the previous one, but we can attack it the same way. Let’s establish our sequence:

a1 is the first term in the sequence. We’re told that ak = k if k is odd. Well, 1 is odd, so now we know that a1 = 1. So far so good.

a2 is the second term in the sequence. We’re told that ak = -ak-1 if k is even. 2 is even, so a2 = -a2-1 , meaning that a2 = -a1. Well, we know that a1 = 1, so if a2 = -a1 then a2 = -1.

So, here’s our sequence so far: 1, -1…

Let’s keep going.

a3 is the third term in the sequence. Remember that ak = k if k is odd. 3 is odd, so now we know that a3 = 3.

a4 is the fourth term in the sequence. Remember that ak = -ak-1 if k is even. 4 is even, so a4 = -a4-1 , meaning that a4 = -a3We know that a3 = 3, so if a4 = -a3 then a4 = -3.

Now our sequence looks like this: 1, -1, 3, -3…

By this point we should see the pattern. Every odd term is a positive number that is dictated by its place in the sequence (the first term = 1, the third term = 3, etc.) and every even term is simply the previous term multiplied by -1.

We’re asked about the sum:

After one term, we have 1.

After two terms, we have 1 + (-1) = 0.

After three terms, we have 1 + (-1) + 3 = 3.

After four terms, we have 1 + (-1) + 3 + (-3) = 0.

Notice the trend: after every odd term, the sum is positive. After every even term, the sum is 0.

So the initial question, “Is the sum of the terms in the sequence positive?” can be rephrased as, “Are there an ODD number of terms in the sequence?”

Now to the statements. Statement 1 tells us that there are an odd number of terms in the sequence. That clearly answers our rephrased question, because if there are an odd number of terms, the sum will be positive. This is sufficient.

Statement 2 tells us that an is positive. an is the last term in the sequence. If that term is positive, then, according to the pattern we’ve established, that term must be odd, meaning that the sum of the sequence is positive. This is also sufficient. And the answer is D, either statement alone is sufficient to answer the question.

Takeaway: sequence questions are nothing to fear. Like everything else on the GMAT, the main obstacle we need to overcome is the self-fulfilling prophesy that we don’t know how to proceed, when, in fact, all we need to do is simplify things a bit.

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

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

Solving GMAT Standard Deviation Problems By Using as Little Math as Possible

GMATThe other night I taught our Statistics lesson, and when we got to the section of class that deals with standard deviation, there was a familiar collective groan – not unlike the groan one encounters when doing compound interest, or any mathematical concept that, when we learned it in school, involved an intimidating-looking formula.

So, I think it’s time for me to coin an axiom: the more painful the traditional formula associated with a given topic, the simpler the actual calculations will be on the GMAT. (Please note, though the axiom is awaiting official mathematical verification by Veritas’ hard-working team of data scientists, the anecdotal evidence in support of the axiom is overwhelming.)

So, let’s talk standard deviation. If you’re like my students, your first thought is to start assembling a list of increasingly frantic questions: Do we need to know that horrible formula I learned in Stats class? (No.) Do we need to know the relationship between variance and Standard deviation? (You just need to know that there is a relationship, and that if you can solve for one, you can solve for the other.) Etc.

So, rather than droning on about what we don’t need to know, let’s boil down what we do need to know about standard deviation. The good news – it isn’t much. Just make sure you’ve internalized the following:

  • The standard deviation is a measure of the dispersion the elements of the set around mean. The farther away the terms are from the mean, the larger the standard deviation.
  • If we were to increase or decrease each element of the set by “x,” the standard deviation would remain unchanged.
  • If we were to multiply each element of the set by “x,” the standard deviation would also be multiplied by “x.”
  • If the mean of a set is “m” and the standard deviation is “d,” then to say that something is within 3 standard deviations of a set is to say that it falls within the interval of (m – 3d) to (m + 3d.) And to say that something is within 2 standard deviations of the mean is to say that it falls within the interval of (m – 2d) to (m + 2d.)

That’s basically it. Not anything to get too worked up about. So, let’s see some of these principles in action to substantiate the claim that we won’t have to do too much arithmetical grinding on these types of questions:

If d is the standard deviation of x, y, z, what is the standard deviation of x+5, y+5, z+5 ? 

A) d
B) 3d
C) 15d
D) d+5
E) d+15

If our initial set is x, y, z, and our new set is x+5, y+5, and z+5, then we’re adding the same value to each element of the set. We already know that adding the same value to each element of the set does not change the standard deviation. Therefore, if the initial standard deviation was d, the new standard deviation is also d. We’re done – the answer is A. (You can see this with a simple example. If your initial set is {1, 2, 3} and your new set is {6, 7, 8} the dispersion of the set clearly hasn’t changed.)

Surely the questions get harder than this, you say. They do, but if you know the aforementioned core concepts, they’re all quite manageable. Here’s another one:

Some water was removed from each of 6 tanks. If standard deviation of the volumes of water at the beginning was 10 gallons, what was the standard deviation of the volumes at the end? 

1) For each tank, 30% of water at the beginning was removed
2) The average volume of water in the tanks at the end was 63 gallons 

We know the initial standard deviation. We want to know if it’s possible to determine the new standard deviation after water is removed. To the statements we go!

Statement 1: If 30% of the water is removed from each tank, we know that each term in the set is multiplied by the same value: 0.7. Well, if each term in a set is multiplied by 0.7, then the standard deviation of the set is also multiplied by 0.7. If the initial standard deviation was 10 gallons, then the new standard deviation would be 10*(0.7) = 7 gallons. And we don’t even need to do the math – it’s enough to see that it’s possible to calculate this number. Therefore, Statement 1 alone is sufficient.

Statement 2: Knowing the average of a set is not going to tell us very much about the dispersion of the set. To see why, imagine a simple case in which we have two tanks, and the average volume of water in the tanks is 63 gallons. It’s possible that each tank has exactly 63 gallons and, if so, the standard deviation would be 0, as everything would equal the mean. It’s also possible to have one tank that had 126 gallons and another tank that was empty, creating a standard deviation that would, of course, be significantly greater than 0. So, simply knowing the average cannot possibly give us our standard deviation. Statement 2 alone is not sufficient to answer the question.

And the answer is A.

Maybe at this point you’re itching for more of a challenge. Let’s look at a slightly tougher one:

7.51; 8.22; 7.86; 8.36 
8.09; 7.83; 8.30; 8.01
7.73; 8.25; 7.96; 8.53 

A vending machine is designed to dispense 8 ounces of coffee into a cup. After a test that recorded the number of ounces of coffee in each of 1000 cups dispensed by the vending machine, the 12 listed amounts, in ounces, were selected from the data above. If the 1000 recorded amounts have a mean of 8.1 ounces and a standard deviation of 0.3 ounces, how many of the 12 listed amounts are within 1.5 standard deviations of the mean? 

B) Six
C) Nine
D) Ten
E) Eleven

Okay, so the standard deviation is 0.3 ounces. We want the values that are within 1.5 standard deviations of the mean. 1.5 standard deviations would be (1.5)(0.3) = 0.45 ounces, so we want all of the values that are within 0.45 ounces of the mean. If the mean is 8.1 ounces, this means that we want everything that falls between a lower bound of (8.1 – 0.45) and an upper bound of (8.1 + 4.5). Put another way, we want the number of values that fall between 8.1 – 0.45 = 7.65 and 8.1 + 0.45 = 8.55.

Looking at our 12 values, we can see that only one value, 7.51, falls outside of this range. If we have 12 total values and only 1 falls outside the range, then the other 11 are clearly within the range, so the answer is E.

As you can see, there’s very little math involved, even on the more difficult questions.

Takeaway: remember the axiom that the more complex-looking the formula is for a concept, the simpler the calculations are likely to be on the GMAT. An intuitive understanding of a topic will always go a lot further on this test than any amount of arithmetical virtuosity.

*GMATPrep questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

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

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

How to Avoid Trap Answers On GMAT Data Sufficiency Questions

GMAT TrapsWhen I’m not teaching GMAT classes or writing posts for our fine blog, I am, unfortunately, writing fiction. Anyone who has taken a stab at writing fiction knows that it’s hard, and because it’s hard, it is awfully tempting to steer away from pain and follow the path of least resistance.

This tendency can manifest itself in any number of ways. Sometimes it means producing a cliché rather than straining for a more precise and original way to render a scene. More often, it means procrastinating – cleaning my desk or refreshing for the 700th time – rather than doing any writing at all. The point is that my brain is often groping for an easy way out. This is how we’re all wired; it’s a dangerous instinct, both in writing and on the GMAT.

This problem is most acute on Data Sufficiency questions. Most test-takers like to go on auto-pilot when they can, relying on simple rules and heuristics rather than proving things to themselves – if I have the slope of a line and one point on that line, I know every point on that line; if I have two linear equations and two variables I can solve for both variables, etc.

This is not in and of itself a problem, but if you find your brain shifting into path-of-least-resistance mode and thinking that you’ve identified an answer to a question within a few seconds, be very suspicious about your mode of reasoning. This is not to say that you should simply assume that you’re wrong, but rather to encourage you to try to prove that you’re right.

Here’s a classic example of a GMAT Data Sufficiency question that appears to be easier than it is:

Joanna bought only $.15 stamps and $.29 stamps. How many $.15 stamps did she buy?

1) She bought $4.40 worth of stamps
2) She bought an equal number of $.15 stamps and $.29 stamps

Here’s how the path-of-least-resistance part of my brain wants to evaluate this question. Okay, for Statement 1, there could obviously be lots of scenarios. If I call “F” the number of 15 cent stamps and “T” the number of 29 cent stamps, all I know is that .15F + .29T = 4.40. So that statement is not sufficient. Statement 2 is just telling me that F = T. Clearly no good – any number could work. And together, I have two unique linear equations and two unknowns, so I have sufficiency and the answer is C.

This line of thinking only takes a few seconds, and just as I need to fight the urge to take a break from writing to watch YouTube clips of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver because it’s part of my novel “research,” I need to fight the urge to assume that such a simple line of reasoning will definitely lead me to the correct answer to this question.

So let’s rethink this. I know for sure that the answer cannot be E – if I can solve for the unknowns when I’m testing the statements together, I clearly have sufficiency there. And I know for sure that the answer cannot be that Statement 2 alone is sufficient. If F = T, there are an infinite number of values that will work.

So, let’s go back to Statement 1. I know that I cannot purchase a fraction of a stamp, so both F and T must be integer values. That’s interesting. I also know that the total amount spent on stamps is $4.40, or 440 cents, which has a units digit of 0. When I’m buying 15-cent stamps, I can spend 15 cents if I buy 1 stamp, 30 cents if I buy two, etc.

Notice that however many I buy, the units digit must either be 5 or 0. This means that the units digit for the amount I spend on 29 cent stamps must also be 5 or 0, otherwise, there’d be no way to get the 0 units digit I get in 440. The only way to get a units digit of 5 or 0 when I’m multiplying by 29 is if the other number ends in 5 or 0 . In other words, the number of 29-cent stamps I buy will have to be a multiple of 5 so that the amount I spend on 29-cent stamps will end in 5 or 0.

Here’s the sample space of how much I could have spent on 29-cent stamps:

Five stamps: 5*29 = 145 cents
Ten stamps: 10*29 = 290 cents
Fifteen stamps: 15* 29 = 435 cents

Any more than fifteen 29-cent stamps and I ‘m over 440, so these are the only possible options when testing the first statement.

Let’s evaluate: say I buy five 29-cent stamps and spend 145 cents. That will leave me with 440 – 145 = 295 cents left for the 15-cent stamps to cover. But I can’t spend exactly 295 cents by purchasing 15-cent stamps, because 295 is not a multiple of 15.

Say I buy ten 29-cent stamps, spending 290 cents. That leaves 440 – 290 = 150. Ten 15-cent stamps will get me there, so this is a possibility.

Say I buy fifteen 29-cent stamps, spending 435 cents. That leaves 440 – 435 = 5. Clearly that’s not possible to cover with 15-cent stamps.

Only one option works: ten 29-cent stamps and ten 15-cent stamps. Because there’s only one possibility, Statement 1 alone is sufficient, and the answer here is actually A.

Takeaway: Don’t take the GMAT the way I write fiction. Following the path of least-resistance will often lead you right into the trap the question writer has set for unsuspecting test-takers. If something feels too easy on a Data Sufficiency, it probably is.

*Official Guide question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

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

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

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Using the Standard Deviation Formula on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe have discussed standard deviation (SD) in detail before. We know what the formula is for finding the standard deviation of a set of numbers, but we also know that GMAT will not ask us to actually calculate the standard deviation because the calculations involved would be way too cumbersome. It is still a good idea to know this formula, though, as it will help us compare standard deviations across various sets – a concept we should know well.

Today, we will look at some GMAT questions that involve sets with similar standard deviations such that it is hard to tell which will have a higher SD without properly understanding the way it is calculated. Take a look at the following question:

Which of the following distribution of numbers has the greatest standard deviation? 

(A) {-3, 1, 2} 
(B) {-2, -1, 1, 2} 
(C) {3, 5, 7} 
(D) {-1, 2, 3, 4} 
(E) {0, 2, 4}

At first glance, these sets all look very similar. If we try to plot them on a number line, we will see that they also have similar distributions, so it is hard to say which will have a higher SD than the others. Let’s quickly review their deviations from the arithmetic means:

For answer choice A, the mean = 0 and the deviations are 3, 1, 2
For answer choice B, the mean = 0 and the deviations are 2, 1, 1, 2
For answer choice C, the mean = 5 and the deviations are 2, 0, 2
For answer choice D, the mean = 2 and the deviations are 3, 0, 1, 2
For answer choice E, the mean = 2 and the deviations are 2, 0, 2

We don’t need to worry about the arithmetic means (they just help us calculate the deviation of each element from the mean); our focus should be on the deviations. The SD formula squares the individual deviations and then adds them, then the sum is divided by the number of elements and finally, we find the square root of the whole term. So if a deviation is greater, its square will be even greater and that will increase the SD.

If the deviation increases and the number of elements increases, too, then we cannot be sure what the final effect will be – an increased deviation increases the SD but an increase in the number of elements increases the denominator and hence, actually decreases the SD. The overall effect as to whether the SD increases or decreases will vary from case to case.

First, we should note that answers C and E have identical deviations and numbers of elements, hence, their SDs will be identical. This means the answer is certainly not C or E, since Problem Solving questions have a single correct answer.

Let’s move on to the other three options:

For answer choice A, the mean = 0 and the deviations are 3, 1, 2
For answer choice B, the mean = 0 and the deviations are 2, 1, 1, 2
For answer choice D, the mean = 2 and the deviations are 3, 0, 1, 2

Comparing answer choices A and D, we see that they both have the same deviations, but D has more elements. This means its denominator will be greater, and therefore, the SD of answer D is smaller than the SD of answer A. This leaves us with options A and B:

For answer choice A, the mean = 0 and the deviations are 3, 1, 2
For answer choice B, the mean = 0 and the deviations are 2, 1, 1, 2

Now notice that although two deviations of answers A and B are the same, answer choice A has a higher deviation of 3 but fewer elements than answer choice B. This means the SD of A will be higher than the SD of B, so the SD of A will be the highest. Hence, our answer must be A.

Let’s try another one:

Which of the following data sets has the third largest standard deviation?

(A) {1, 2, 3, 4, 5} 
(B) {2, 3, 3, 3, 4} 
(C) {2, 2, 2, 4, 5} 
(D) {0, 2, 3, 4, 6} 
(E) {-1, 1, 3, 5, 7}

How would you answer this question without calculating the SDs? We need to arrange the sets in increasing SD order. Upon careful examination, you will see that the number of elements in each set is the same, and the mean of each set is 3.

Deviations of answer choice A: 2, 1, 0, 1, 2
Deviations of answer choice B: 1, 0, 0, 0, 1 (lowest SD)
Deviations of answer choice C: 1, 1, 1, 1, 2
Deviations of answer choice D: 3, 1, 0, 1, 3
Deviations of answer choice E: 4, 2, 0, 2, 4 (highest SD)

Obviously, option B has the lowest SD (the deviations are the smallest) and option E has the highest SD (the deviations are the greatest). This means we can automatically rule these answers out, as they cannot have the third largest SD.

Deviations of answer choice A: 2, 1, 0, 1, 2
Deviations of answer choice C: 1, 1, 1, 1, 2
Deviations of answer choice D: 3, 1, 0, 1, 3

Out of these options, answer choice D has a higher SD than answer choice A, since it has higher deviations of two 3s (whereas A has deviations of two 2s). Also, C is more tightly packed than A, with four deviations of 1. If you are not sure why, consider this:

The square of deviations for C will be 1 + 1+ 1 + 1  + 4 = 8
The square of deviations for A will be 4 + 1 + 0 + 1 + 4 = 10

So, A will have a higher SD than C but a lower SD than D. Arranging from lowest to highest SD’s, we get: B, C, A, D, E. Answer choice A has the third highest SD, and therefore, A is our answer

Although we didn’t need to calculate the actual SD, we used the concepts of the standard deviation formula to answer these questions.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!

Breaking Down Changes in the New Official GMAT Practice Tests: Unit Conversions in Shapes

QuadrilateralRecently, GMAC released two more official practice tests. Though the GMAT is not going to test completely new concepts – if the test changed from year to year, it wouldn’t really be standardized – we can get a sense of what types of questions are more likely to be emphasized by noting how official materials change over time. I thought it might be interesting to take these practice tests and break down down any conspicuous trends I detected.

In the Quant section of the first new test, there was one type of question that I’d rarely encountered in the past, but saw multiple times within a span of 20 problems. It involves unit conversions in two or three-dimensional shapes.

Like many GMAT topics, this concept isn’t difficult so much as it is tricky, lending itself to careless mistakes if we work too fast. If I were to draw a line that was one foot long, and I asked you how many inches it was, you wouldn’t have to think very hard to recognize that it would be 12 inches.

But what if I drew a box that had an area of 1 square foot, and I asked you how many square inches it was? If you’re on autopilot, you might think that’s easy. It’s 12 square inches. And you better believe that on the GMAT, that would be a trap answer. To see why it’s wrong, consider a picture of our square:






We see that each side is 1 foot in length. If each side is 1 foot in length, we can convert each side to 12 inches in length. Now we have the following:

DG blog pic 2






Clearly, the area of this shape isn’t 12 square inches, it’s 144 square inches: 12 inches * 12 inches = 144 inches^2.

Another way to think about it is to put the unit conversion into equation form. We know that 1 foot = 12 inches, so if we wanted the unit conversion from feet^2 to inches^2, we’d have to square both sides of the equation in order to have the appropriate units. Now (1 foot)^2 = (12 inches)^2, or 1 foot^2 = 144 inches^2.  So converting from square feet to square inches requires multiplying by a factor of 144, not 12.

Let’s see this concept in action. (I’m using an older official question to illustrate – I don’t want to rob anyone of the joy of encountering the recently released questions with a fresh pair of eyes.)

If a rectangular room measures 10 meters by 6 meters by 4 meters, what is the volume of the room in cubic centimeters? (1 meter = 100 centimeters)

A) 24,000
B) 240,000
C) 2,400,000
D) 24,000,000
E) 240,000,000

First, we can find the volume of the room by multiplying the dimensions together: 10*6*4 = 240 cubic meters. Now we want to avoid the trap of thinking, “Okay, 100 centimeters is 1 meter, so 240 cubic meters is 240*100 = 24,000 cubic centimeters.”  Remember, the conversion ratio we’re given is for converting meters to centimeters – if we’re dealing with 240 cubic meters, or 240 meters^3, and we want to find the volume in cubic centimeters, we’ll need to adjust our conversion ratio accordingly.

If 1 meter = 100 centimeters, then (1 meter)^3 = (100 centimeters)^3, and 1 meter^3 = 1,000,000 centimeters^3. [100 = 10^2 and (10^2)^3 = 10^6, or 1,000,000.] So if 1 cubic meter = 1,000,000 cubic centimeters, then 240 cubic meters = 240*1,000,000 cubic centimeters, or 240,000,000 cubic centimeters, and our answer is E.

Alternatively, we can do all of our conversions when we’re given the initial dimensions. 10 meters = 1000 centimeters. 6 meters = 600 centimeters. 4 meters  = 400 centimeters. 1000 cm * 600 cm * 400 cm = 240,000,000 cm^3. (Notice that when we multiply 1000*600*400, we can simply count the zeroes. There are 7 total, so we know there will be 7 zeroes in the correct answer, E.)

Takeaway: Make sure you’re able to do unit conversions fluently, and that if you’re dealing with two or three-dimensional space, that you adjust your conversion ratios accordingly. If you’re dealing with a two-dimensional shape, you’ll need to square your initial ratio. If you’re dealing with a three-dimensional shape, you’ll need to cube your initial ratio. The GMAT is just as much about learning what traps to avoid as it is about relearning the elementary math that we’ve long forgotten.

*GMATPrep question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

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

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