GMAT Tip of the Week: Taking Data Sufficiency to the Thrift Shop

As loyal readers of this space will know, if it’s a Friday in March that means it’s Hip Hop Month for GMAT tips, and the US government sequester will not slow us down! Although it may inspire us. As the government careens toward desperate austerity measures, frugality is in the air, both in Washington and on your radio. Which is good news – let’s pop some tags and talk about how going to the Thrift Shop, Macklemore style, can help you crush GMAT Data Sufficiency.

“Thrift Shop” may well be the first monster hip hop hit of 2013, and does so like few others have ever done – eschewing bling for savings, Thrift Shop is all about “looking for a come up”, finding a great deal that has more value than initially meets the eye. Which is absolutely crucial on Data Sufficiency – Data Sufficiency questions by their very nature are about value and efficiency, and they frequently come with massive rewards for those who find that come up.

Want proof? Try this sample question, and while you look at it pretend you only have “20 dollars in your pocket” – you don’t want to pay for more statements than you need.

Four GMAT students visited Macklemore’s thrift shop yesterday. Did any of the four purchase at least three shirts?

(1) No two students purchased the same number of shirts.

(2) Together they purchased a total of 8 shirts.

(A) Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked;
(B) Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked;
(C) Both statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are sufficient to answer the question asked; but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.
(D) EACH statement ALONE is sufficient to answer the question asked;
(E) Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient to answer the question asked, and additional data specific to the problem are needed.

How’d you do? Did you find that come up? Statistically, on this question (well, not *exactly* this question…the official question has a little less soul but the intent is exactly the same) more than 50% of examinees select C and only about 20% select A, the correct answer. Why? Most test-takers don’t see the reason to be frugal – they like having both statements together and don’t immediately see that one alone is sufficient, so they fall back on “let’s buy both statements”. And keep in mind – that’s really what you’re doing on the GMAT – you’re “buying” statements. If you don’t need both statements but you pick C, you’re wrong – you “spent” too much. This is a test for aspiring business managers – those who can control costs and maximize value will win. If you only need to buy statement 1 (A is correct) but you take both of them (you pick C), you’re wrong. When an answer like C or E comes easily, you *must* consider whether you could have approached the question more frugally.

And here you can – while there’s no single formula that you’d think to set up with statement 1, it guarantees the answer “yes”. If none of the four bought the same number of shirts, then the lowest total is 0, 1, 2, and 3 – which means that someone bought at least 3.

But most don’t see to to that immediately – they see statement 1 as “not mathematical”, then they try to set up an equation with statement 2 and realize they need a little extra information, so they pick C. Statement 1 is a classic “come up” in the Thrift Shop sense of the term – it’s sneaky valuable. And so that’s your job on many Data Sufficiency questions – like Macklemore you’re out there looking for a come up with a reminder that you have to be frugal. Much like most rappers like to make it rain and spend as much (or more) than they have, we all have a predisposition to selecting C – we love having more information, second opinions. But GMAT Data Sufficiency is written specifically so that you can’t take both pieces of information if just one alone will suffice. It pays to be frugal.

So how do you succeed on Data Sufficiency? Recognize that before you pick E or C, particularly if that answer comes to you quickly without much work, you must take a second to consider whether you’re leaving a “come up” statement on the table: Is there any value you’re not applying? The GMAT hides value in many DS statements (or in the question stems), setting up a reward for those who seek to cleverly apply it. One man’s trash – “no, this statement doesn’t say much” – is another man’s come up. Learn to see value in Data Sufficiency statements the way that Macklemore sees value in your granddad’s clothes and you’ll get to echo his famous line when you see your GMAT score report. “This is (pretty) awesome.”

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