Avoid Obtaining the Wrong Values in Percent Increase Questions

stressed-studentMany test takers make mistakes in percent increase quantitative GMAT questions, not because they do not understand the principle of percent increase, but rather, because they don’t evaluate the correct values.

A quick recap: percent increase questions can be identified (often literally) by the words “percent increase,” and tend to be word problems that don’t read in the most straightforward manner. The first step to take when working towards answering these questions is to be cautious and evaluate them carefully.

The second step is to, of course, use the percent increase formula – (new value – initial value) / (initial value) x 100%.

Let’s start by going through a sample GMAT practice problem:

In 2005, 25 percent of the math department’s 40 students were female, and in 2007, 40 percent of the math department’s 65 students were female. What was the percent increase from 2005 to 2007 in the number of female students in the department?

A) 15%
B) 50%
C) 62.5%
D) 115%
E) 160%

At first can be difficult to determine what the answer is for this question, but keep in mind that the best place to start looking is in the last sentence and/or the actual question that is posed. In this case, the new value is the number of female students in 2007, “the number of female students in the department?”

By working backwards through this problem, we would take  40% of 65 (our final value), which we can easily calculate as 0.4*65 (or 2/5*65), giving us a total of 26 students in 2007.

Our initial value must then be the number of female students in 2005, which we can get by calculating 25% of 40. 0.25*40 (or 1/4*40) leaves us with a total of 10 female students in 2005.

Breaking up the question up into smaller, more manageable chunks gives us the ability to plug 26 and 10 into the percent increase formula – (26‐10)/10 = 16/10 = 1.6 = 160%. Therefore, the correct answer is E.

This strategy of not trying to figure out the conclusion without evaluating all the separate parts of the question is important to tackle percent change GMAT problems, but can be applied across a variety of quantitative questions. Understanding that these questions can be much more manageable, and are more about strategy versus understanding complex math concepts, is the key to success on the Quantitative Section.

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By Ashley Triscuit, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston.