A 750+ Level Question on SD

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom A couple of weeks back, we looked at a 750+ level question on mean, median and range concepts of Statistics. This week, we have a 750+ level question on standard deviation concept of Statistics. We do hope you enjoy checking it out.

Before you begin, you might want to review the post that discusses standard deviation: Dealing With Standard Deviation

So here goes the question.

Question: Given that set S has four odd integers and their range is 4, how many distinct values can the standard deviation of S take?
(A) 3
(B) 4
(C) 5
(D) 6
(E) 7

Solution: Recall what standard deviation is. It measures the dispersion of all the elements from the mean. It doesn’t matter what the actual elements are and what the arithmetic mean is – the standard deviation of set {1, 3, 5} will be the same as the standard deviation of set {6, 8, 10} since in each set there are 3 elements such that one is at mean, one is 2 below the mean and one is 2 above the mean. So when we calculate the standard deviation, it will give us exactly the same value for both sets. Similarly, standard deviation of set {1, 3, 3, 5, 6} will be the same as standard deviation of {10, 12, 12, 14, 15} and so on. But note that the standard deviation of set {25, 27, 29, 29, 30} will be different because it represents a different arrangement on the number line.

Let’s look at the given question now.

Set S has four odd integers such that their range is 4. So it could look something like this {1, x, y, 5} when the elements are arranged in ascending order. Note that we have taken just one example of what set S could look like. There are innumerable other ways of representing it such as {3, x, y, 7} or {11, x, y, 15} etc.

Now in our example, x and y can take 3 different values: 1, 3 or 5
x and y could be same or different but x would always be smaller than or equal to y.

– If x and y were same, we could select the values of x and y in 3 different ways: both could be 1; both could be 3; both could be 5

– If x and y were different, we could select the values of x and y in 3C2 ways: x could be 1 and y could be 3; x could be 1 and y could be 5; x could be 3 and y could be 5.

For clarification, let’s enumerate the different ways in which we can write set S:

{1, 1, 1, 5}, {1, 3, 3, 5}, {1, 5, 5, 5}, {1, 1, 3, 5}, {1, 1, 5, 5}, {1, 3, 5, 5}

These are the 6 ways in which we can choose the numbers in our example.

Will all of them have unique standard deviations? Do all of them represent different distributions on the number line? Actually, no!

Standard deviations of {1, 1, 1, 5} and {1, 5, 5, 5} are the same. Why?
Standard deviation measures distance from mean. It has nothing to do with the actual value of mean and actual value of numbers. Note that the distribution of numbers on the number line is the same in both cases. The two sets are just mirror images of each other.

For the set {1, 1, 1, 5}, mean is 2. Three of the numbers are distance 1 away from mean and one number is distance 3 away from mean.

For the set {1, 5, 5, 5}, mean is 4. Three of the numbers are distance 1 away from mean and one number is distance 3 away from mean.

The deviations in both cases are the same -> 1, 1, 1 and 3. So when we square the deviations, add them up, divide by 4 and then find the square root, the figure we will get will be the same.

Similarly, {1, 1, 3, 5} and {1, 3, 5, 5} will have the same SD. Again, they are mirror images of each other on the number line.

The rest of the two sets: {1, 3, 3, 5} and {1, 1, 5, 5} will have distinct standard deviations since their distributions on the number line are unique.

In all, there are 4 different values that standard deviation can take in such a case.

Answer (B)

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!