Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: How to Find Composite Numbers on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe love to talk about prime numbers and their various properties for GMAT preparation, but composite numbers usually aren’t mentioned. Composite numbers are often viewed as whatever is leftover after prime numbers are removed from a set of positive integers (except 1 because 1 is neither prime, nor composite), but it is important to understand how these numbers are made, what makes them special and what should come to mind when we read “composite numbers.”

Principle: Every composite number is made up of 2 or more prime numbers. The prime numbers could be the same or they could be distinct.

For example:

2*2 = 4 (Composite number)

2*3*11 = 66 (Composite number)

5*23 = 115 (Composite number)

and so on…

Look at any composite number. You will always be able to split it into 2 or more prime numbers (not necessarily distinct). For example:

72 = 2*2*2*3*3

140 = 2*2*5*7

166 = 2*83

and so on…

This principle does look quite simple and intuitive at first, but when tested, we could face problems because we don’t think much about it. Let’s look at it with the help of one of our 700+ level GMAT questions:

x is the smallest integer greater than 1000 that is not prime and that has only one factor in common with 30!. What is x?

(A) 1009

(B) 1021

(C) 1147

(D) 1273

(E) 50! + 1

If we start with the answer choices, the way we often do when dealing with prime/composite numbers, we will get stuck. If we were looking for a prime number, we would use the method of elimination – we would find factors of all other numbers and the number that was left over would be the prime number.

But in this question, we are instead looking for a composite number – a specific composite number – and some of the answer choices are probably prime. Try as we might, we will not find a factor for them, and by the time we realize that it is prime, we will have wasted a lot of precious time. Let’s start from the question stem, instead.

We need a composite number that has only one factor in common with 30!. Every positive integer will have 1 as a factor, as will 30!, hence the only factor our answer and 30! will have in common is 1.

30! = 1*2*3*…*28*29*30

30! is the product of all integers from 1 to 30, so all prime numbers less than 30 are factors of 30!.

To make a composite number which has no prime factor in common with 30!, we must use prime numbers greater than 30. The first prime number greater than 30 is 31.

(As an aside, note that if we were looking for the smallest number with no factor other than 1 in common with 31!, we would skip to 37. All integers between 31 and 37 are composite and hence, would have factors lying between 1 and 31. Similarly, if we were looking for the smallest number with no factor other than 1 in common with 50!, 53 would be the answer.)

Let’s get back to our question. If we want to make a composite number without using any primes until 30, we must use two or more prime numbers greater than 30, and the smallest prime greater than 30 is 31. If we use two 31’s to get the smallest composite number, we get 31*31 = 961 But 961 is not greater than 1000, so it cannot be our answer.

So, let’s find the next prime number after 31 – it is 37. Multiplying 31 and 37, we get 31*37 = 1147. This is the smallest composite number greater than 1000 with no prime factors in common with 30! – the only factor it has in common with 30! is 1. Therefore, our answer is (C).

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!

It’s All Greek to Me: How to Use Greek Concepts to Beat the GMAT

Aero_img084The ancient Greeks were, to put it mildly, really neat. They created or helped to create the foundations of philosophy, theater, science, democracy, and mathematics – no small accomplishment for a small war-torn civilization from over two millennia ago. Many of our contemporary ideas, beliefs, and traditions are rooted in contributions made by Greek thinkers, and the GMAT is no exception.

A few months ago, I wrote about this difficult Data Sufficiency question.

When I first encountered this problem I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of mad scientist question-writer engineered it. Where would such an idea even come from? It turns out, it wasn’t a GMAC employee at all, but Archimedes, the famous Greek geometer and coiner of the phrase “Eureka!”

The question is based on his attempt to trisect an angle with only a straight edge and a compass. (Alas, Archimedes’ work, though ingenious, was not technically a correct solution to the problem, as it provides only an approximation.) The reader is hereby invited to contemplate the kind of person who encounters a proof by Archimedes and instinctively thinks, “This would make an excellent Data Sufficiency question on the GMAT!” We’d like to believe that the good folks at GMAC are just like you and me, but perhaps not.

So this got me thinking: what other interesting Greek contributions to mathematics might be helpful in analyzing GMAT questions? In Euclid’s work Elements, he offers a simple and elegant proof for why there is no largest prime number. The proof proceeds by positing a hypothetical largest prime number “p.” We can then construct a product that consists of every prime number 2*3*5*7….*p. We’ll call this product “q.”

The next consecutive number will be q + 1. Now, we know that “q” contains 2 as a factor, as “q,” supposedly, contains every prime as a factor. Therefore q +1 will not contain 2 as a factor. (The next number to contain 2 as a factor will be q + 2.) We know that “q” contains 3 as a factor. Therefore q + 1 will not contain 3 as a factor. (The next number to contain 3 as a factor will be q + 3.)

Uh oh. If “p” really is the largest prime number, we’ve got a problem, because q + 1 will not contain any of the primes between 2 and p as factors. So either q + 1 is itself prime, or there is some prime greater than p and less than q + 1 that we’ve failed to consider. Either way, we’ve proven that p can’t be the largest prime number – I told you the Greeks were neat.

One axiom that’s worth internalizing from Euclid’s proof is the notion that two consecutive numbers cannot have any factors in common aside from 1.  When q contains every prime from 2 to p as a factor, q + 1 contains none of those primes. How would this be helpful on the GMAT? Glad you asked. Check out this question:

x is the product of all even numbers from 2 to 50, inclusive. The smallest prime factor of x + 1 must be:

(A) Between 1 and 10

(B) Between 11 and 15

(C) Between 15 and 20

(D) Between 20 and 25

(E) Greater than 25

We’re given information about x, and we’re asked about x + 1. If x is the product of all even numbers from 2 to 50, we can write x = 2 * 4 * 6 …* 50. This is the same as (1*2) * (2*2) * (3*2)… (25*2), which means the product consists of all the integers from 1 to 25, inclusive, and a bunch of 2’s.

So now we know that every prime number between 2 and 25 will be a factor of x. What about x + 1? (Paging Euclid!) We know that 2 is not a factor of x + 1, as 2 is a factor of x, and so the next multiple of 2 would be x + 2. We know that 3 is also not a factor of x + 1, as 3 is a factor of x, and so the next multiple of 3 would be x + 3. And once we’ve internalized that two consecutive numbers cannot have any factors in common aside from 1, we know that if all the primes between 2 and 25 are factors of x, none of those primes can be factors of x + 1, meaning that the smallest prime of x, whatever is, will be greater than 25. The answer, therefore, is E.

Takeaway: One of the beautiful things about mathematics is that fundamental truths do not change over time. What worked for the Greeks will work for us. The same axioms that allowed ancient mathematicians to grapple with problems two millennia ago will allow us to unravel the toughest GMAT questions. Learning a few of these axioms is not only interesting – though I’d caution against bringing up Archimedes’ trisection proof at a dinner party – but also helpful on the GMAT.

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 by him here.

GMAT Tip of the Week

Prime Time

(This is one of a series of GMAT tips that we offer on our blog.)

A recent episode of “The Office” featured a classic, GMAT-relevant exchange, in which a cash-strapped Michael Scott asks his financial analyst to “crunch those numbers again”. The stunned analyst explains that, because the calculations were all done accurately using a computer program, there was no mechanism for “crunching” the numbers again, and even if there were, there would be no change.

Such is life in business nowadays. Sophisticated machines do a lot of the “number crunching” for us, and business managers are much more often in the business of analyzing numbers than of crunching them. The GMAT, in an attempt to determine the candidates best suited to thrive in such an environment, heavily features the analysis of numbers in similar ways, requiring you to think often about the properties of numbers.

A prime example of this is the examination of prime numbers on the GMAT. Prime numbers are those that have exactly two factors (itself and 1) – a seemingly simple definition that can often become cumbersome to employ on the GMAT. One such way in which prime numbers can lead to frustration is a question like the following:

How many prime numbers are between 110 and 120?

It’s unlikely that you’ll have memorized the list of prime numbers up in to the triple-digits, so you will probably approach this question by taking the set of numbers and eliminating any numbers that are not prime. Even numbers, by definition, are divisible by 2, so the even numbers in this set are definitely not prime, leaving us with a set of:


It’s also relatively easy to eliminate 115, because a number ending in 5 is divisible by 5, so we’re down to four numbers remaining. 111 and 117 are each divisible by 3 (there’s a trick for making that determination that we’ll probably feature in an upcoming GMAT Tip of the Week), so we’re left to test:


This is where it may get tricky, as in order to prove that a number is prime, we need to prove that it is not divisible by anything but itself and 1. With a 3-digit number, this process could be time consuming without these two principles:

1) You don’t need to test for divisibility by anything other than prime numbers.

If a number is divisible by, say, 4, it needs to also be divisible by 2, because 4 is divisible by 2. So, if you’ve already determined that 113 is not divisible by 2, you don’t need to test to see if it is divisible by 4 (or 6, or 8, etc.).

2) You don’t need to test a number by anything higher than the square root of the next-highest perfect square.

This is probably best illustrated by an example. With 113, the next highest square above it is 121, and we know that 121 is the same as 11*11. So, logically speaking, in order for a number greater than 11 to multiply with another integer to produce a number smaller than 121, that other integer must be less than 11. If it were greater than 11, the product would be higher than 121.

If we test 113 by the other primes (7 and 11), we find that it’s not divisible by 7 (7*10 = 70 and 7*6 = 42, so 7*16 is 112, meaning that 113 cannot be divisible by 7… but also that 119 is divisible by 7. So, our work with 119 is done.).

It’s also not divisible by 11 (11 * 10 = 110, so we know that 113 is not a multiple of 11).

Now, because we’ve already tested everything up to 11, we’re done…we know that 113 is prime. Again, if 113 were to be divisible by 13, it would also have to be divisible by something less than 11, because we know that 11*11 is already too high. So, there’s no need to test 113 for divisibility by anything other than what we already have, and we can prove that the answer to the overall question is 1.

If you’re getting ready to take the big test soon, try our free practice GMAT. And, as always, be sure to follow us on Twitter!