A few weeks back we discussed the kind of questions which beg you to think of the process of elimination – a strategy probably next only to number plugging in popularity.

Today we discuss the kind of questions which beg you to stay away from number plugging (but somehow, people still insist on using it because they see variables).

Not every question with variables is suitable for number plugging. If there are too many variables, it can be confusing and error prone. Then there are some other cases where number plugging is not suitable. Today we discuss an official question where you face two of these problems.

**Question**: If m, p , s and v are positive, and m/p < s/v, which of the following must be between m/p and s/v?

I. (m+s)/(p+v)

II. ms/pv

III. s/v – m/p

(A) None

(B) I only

(C) II only

(D) III only

(E) I and II both

**Solution**: The moment people see m, p, s and v variables, they jump to m = 1, p = 2 etc.

But two things should put you off number plugging here:

– There are four variables – just too many to plug in and manage.

– The question is a “must be true” question. Plugging in numbers is not the best strategy for ‘must be true’ questions. If you know that say, statement 1 holds for some particular values of m, p, s and v (say, 1, 2, 3 and 4), that’s fine but how do you know that it will be true for every set of valid values of m, p, s and v? You cannot try every set because the variables can take an infinite variety of values. If you find a set of values for the variables such that statement 1 does not hold, then you know for sure that it may not be true. In this case, number plugging does have some use but it may be a while before you can arrive at values which do not satisfy the conditions. In such questions, it is far better to take the conceptual approach.

We can solve this question using some number line and averaging concepts.

We are given that m/p < s/v

This means, this is how they look on the number line:

…………. 0 ……………….. m/p …………………… s/v ……………..

(since m, p, s and v are all positive (not necessarily integers though) so m/p and s/v are to the right of 0)

Let’s look at statement II and III first since they look relatively easy.

II. ms/pv

Think of the case when m/p and s/v are both less than 1. When you multiply them, they will become even smaller. Say .2*.3 = .06. So the product ms/pv may not lie between m/p and s/v.

Tip: When working with number properties, you should imagine the number line split into four parts:

- less than -1
- between -1 and 0
- between 0 and 1
- greater than 1

Numbers lying in these different parts behave differently. You should have a good idea about how they behave.

III. s/v – m/p

Think of a case such as this:

…………. 0 ………………………… m/p … s/v ……….

s/v – m/p will be much smaller than both m/p and s/v and will lie somewhere “here”:

…………. 0 ……… here ………………… m/p … s/v ……….

So the difference between them needn’t actually lie between them on the number line.

Hence s/v – m/p may not be between m/p and s/v.

I. (m+s)/(p+v)

This is a little tricky. Think of the four numbers as N1, N2, D1, D2 for ease and given fractions as N1/D1 and N2/D2.

(m+s)/(p+v)

= [(m+s)/2]/[(p+v)/2]

= (Average of N1 and N2)/(Average of D1 and D2)

Now average of the numerators will lie between N1 and N2 and average of the denominators will lie between D1 and D2. So (Average of N1 and N2)/(Average of D1 and D2) will lie between N1/D1 and N2/D2. Try to think this through.

We will try to explain this but you must take some examples to ensure that you understand it fully. When is one fraction smaller than another fraction?

When N1/D1 < N2/D2, one of these five cases will hold:

- N1 < N2 and D1 = D2 . For example: 2/9 and 4/9

Average of numerators/Average of denominators = 3/9 (between N1/D1 and N2/D2)

- N1 < N2 and D1 > D2. For example: 2/11 and 4/9

Average of numerators/Average of denominators = 3/10 (between N1/D1 and N2/D2)

- N1 << N2 and D1 < D2. For example: 2/9 and 20/19 i.e. N1 is much smaller than N2 as compared with D1 to D2.

Average of numerators/Average of denominators = 11/14 (between N1/D1 and N2/D2)

- N1 = N2 but D1 > D2. For example: 2/9 and 2/7

Average of numerators/Average of denominators = 2/8 (between N1/D1 and N2/D2)

- N1 > N2 but D1 >> D2. For example: 4/9 and 2/1

Average of numerators/Average of denominators = 3/5 (between N1/D1 and N2/D2)

In each of these cases, (average of N1 and N2)/(average of D1 and D2) will be greater than N1/D1 but smaller than N2/D2. Take some more numbers to understand why this makes sense. Note that you are not expected to conduct this analysis during the test. The following should be your takeaway from this question:

Takeaway: (Average of N1 and N2)/(Average of D1 and D2) will lie somewhere in between N1/D1 and N2/D2 (provided N1. N2, D1 and D2 are positive)

(m+s)/(p+v) must lie between m/p and s/v.

Answer (B)

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*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!*