Data Sufficiency Questions: How to Know When Both Statements Together Are Not Sufficient

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomToday we will discuss a problem we sometimes face while attempting to solve Data Sufficiency questions for which the answer is actually E (when both statements together are not sufficient to answer the question). Ideally, we would like to find two possible answers to the question asked so that we know that the data of both statements is not sufficient to give us a unique answer. But what happens when it is not very intuitive or easy to get these two distinct cases?

Let’s try to answer these questions in today’s post using using one of our own Data Sufficiency questions.

A certain car rental agency rented 25 vehicles yesterday, each of which was either a compact car or a luxury car. How many compact cars did the agency rent yesterday?

(1) The daily rental rate for a luxury car was $15 higher than the rate for a compact car.
(2) The total rental rates for luxury cars was $105 higher than the total rental rates for compact cars yesterday

We know from the question stem that the total number of cars rented is 25. Now we must find how many compact cars were rented.

There are four variables to consider here:

  1. Number of compact cars rented (this is what we need to find)
  2. Number of luxury cars rented
  3. Daily rental rate of compact cars
  4. Daily rental rate of luxury cars

Let’s examine the information given to us by the statements:

Statement 1: The daily rental rate for a luxury car was $15 higher than the rate for a compact car.

This statement gives us the difference in the daily rental rates of a luxury car vs. a compact car. Other than that, we still only know that a total of 25 cars were rented. We have no data points to calculate the number of compact cars rented, thus, this statement alone is not sufficient. Let’s look at Statement 2:

Statement 2: The total rental rates for luxury cars was $105 higher than the total rental rates for compact cars yesterday.

This statement gives us the difference in the total rental rates of luxury cars vs. compact cars (we do not know the daily rental rates). Again, we have no data points to calculate the number of compact cars rented, thus, this statement alone is also not sufficient.

Now, let’s try to tackle both statements together:

The daily rate for luxury cars is $15 higher than it is for compact cars, and the total rental rates for luxury cars is $105 higher than it is for compact cars. What constitutes this $105? It is the higher rental cost of each luxury car (the extra $15) plus adjustments for the rent of extra/fewer luxury cars hired. That is, if n compact cars were rented and n luxury cars were rented, the extra total rental will be 15n. But if more  luxury cars were rented, 105 would account for the $15 higher rent of each luxury car and also for the rent of the extra luxury cars.

Event with this information, we still should not be able to find the number of compact cars rented. Let’s find 2 cases to ensure that answer to this question is indeed E – the first one is quite easy.

We start with what we know:

The total extra money collected by renting luxury cars is $105.

105/15 = 7

Say out of 25 cars, 7 are luxury cars and 18 are compact cars. If the rent of compact cars is $0 (theoretically), the rent of luxury cars is $15 and the extra rent charged will be $105 (7*15 = 105) – this is a valid case.

Now how do we get the second case? Think about it before you read on – it will help you realize why the second case is more of a challenge.

Let’s make a slight change to our current numbers to see if they still fit:

Say out of 25 cars, 8 are luxury cars and 17 are compact cars. If the rent of compact cars is $0 and the rent of luxury cars is $15, the extra rent charged should be $15*8 = $120, but notice, 9 morecompact cars were rented than luxury cars. In reality, the extra total rent collected is $105 – the $15 reduction is because of the 9 additional compact cars. Hence, the daily rental rate of each compact car would be $15/9 = $5/3.

This would mean that the daily rental rate of each luxury car is $5/3 + $15 = $50/3

The total rental cost of luxury cars in this case would be 8 * $50/3 = $400/3

The total rental cost of compact cars in this case would be 17 * $5/3 = $85/3

The difference between the two total rental costs is $400/3 – $85/3 = 315/3 = $105

Everything checks out, so we know that there is no unique answer to this question – for any number of compact cars you use, you will come up with the same answer. Thus, Statements 1 and 2 together are not sufficient.

The strategy we used to find this second case to test is that we tweaked the numbers we were given a little and then looked for a solution. Another strategy is to try plugging in some easy numbers. For example:

Instead of using such difficult numbers, we could have tried an easier split of the cars. Say out of 25 cars, 10 are luxury and 15 are compact. If the rent of compact cars is $0 and the rent of luxury cars is $15, the extra rent charged should be 10*$15 = $150 extra, but it is actually only $105 extra, a difference of $45, due to the 5 additional compact cars. The daily rental rent of 5 extra compact cars would be $45/5 = $9. Using these numbers in the calculations above, you will see that the difference between the rental costs is, again, $105. This is a valid case, too.

Hence, there are two strategies we saw in action today:

  • Tweak the numbers slightly to see if you will get the same results
  • Go for the easy split when choosing numbers to plug in

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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!