Take for example, the following question:
If 3x4y = 177,147 and x – y = 11, then x =?
Where do we begin here? 177,147 is a large (not familiar) number and there are not one, but two exponents in the equation. Looking at the answer choices, we can see that D and E cannot be the answer as they are too large, so at least now we have a starting point. Additionally, we can see that our choices come down to some mixture of x and y, all y, or all x.
If x = 0, then we can say that 177, 147 is not divisible by 3 and is divisible by 4, so checking the divisibility rule is the ticket! Knowing that to be divisible by 4, the last two digits must be divisible by 4, we can see that 177,147 is not divisible by 4, so 4y becomes irrelevant and we realize y must equal 0. The sum of the digits of 177, 147 is 27, which is divisible by 3, so we can see that the 3x portion of the equation is relevant. We can now (correctly) conclude that the correct answer is answer choice C, x = 11.
Answer choices are little used resources by GMAT test takers. In the heat of battle, we become so focused on solving the problems in front of us that we forget to utilize all of the information at our disposal. Another way the answer choices can help you is by plugging them back into the problem to see if they work.
This “back-plugging” is useful when the problem to be solved is algebraic in nature and the answer choices are numbers (not variables). You may find it is easier on a certain problem to arithmetically calculate 2, 3 or even 5 answers by plugging in the answer choices, than in creating and manipulating a complex algebraic equation. In these cases, plugging in answer choice C first will help you to eliminate up to 60% of the answers on the first calculation.
Many times, just understanding what the correct answer should “look like” by employing some reasoning on the front end will allow you to eliminate some, if not all of the incorrect answers. Consider this problem:
((-1.9)(o.6) – (2.6)(1.2))/6.0 = ?
This is not a difficult problem by any measure, and some test takers will not hesitate to jump in and begin multiplying and dividing decimals. However, by spending a little bit of time looking at the big picture of this problem, an astute test taker would see that the answer must be negative. The first term is negative and we are subtracting a larger number from it. Therefore, the correct answer must be A.
So, instead of jumping in and crunching numbers on the GMAT, you can save yourself some time and brain power by using the answer choices to assist you in reasoning your way to the correct answer – or at least in eliminating several of the incorrect answers.
By Dennis Cashion, a Veritas Prep instructor based in Denver.