Using Parallel Lines and Transversals to Your Advantage on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomToday, we will look at a Geometry concept involving parallel lines and transversals (a line that cuts through two parallel lines). This is the property:

The ratios of the intercepts of two transversals on parallel lines is the same.

Consider the diagram below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here, we can see that:

  • “a” is the intercept of the first transversal between L1 and L2.
  • “b” is the intercept of the first transversal between L2 and L3.
  • “c” is the intercept of the second transversal between L1 and L2.
  • “d” is the intercept of the second transversal between L2 and L3.

Therefore, the ratios of a/b = c/d. Let’s see how knowing this property could be useful to us on a GMAT question. Take a look at the following example problem:

In triangle ABC below, D is the mid-point of BC and E is the mid-point of AD. BF passes through E. What is the ratio of AF:FC ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

(A) 1:1
(B) 1:2
(C) 1:3
(D) 2:3
(E) 3:4

Here, the given triangle is neither a right triangle, nor is it an equilateral triangle. We don’t really know many properties of such triangles, so that will probably not help us. We do know, however, that AD is the median and E is its mid-point, but again, we don’t know any properties of mid-points of medians.

Instead, we need to think outside the box – parallel lines will come to our rescue. Let’s draw lines parallel to BF passing through the points A, D, and C, as shown in the diagram below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now we have four lines parallel to each other and two transversals, AD and AC, passing through them.

Consider the three parallel lines, “line passing through A”, “BF”, and “line passing through D”. The ratio of the intercepts of the two transversals on them will be the same.

AE/ED = AF/FP

We know that AE = ED since E is the mid point of AD. Hence, AE/ED = 1/1. This means we can say:

AE/ED = 1/1 = AF/FP
AF = FP

Now consider these three parallel lines: “BF”, “line passing through D”, and “line passing through C”. The ratio of the intercepts of the two transversals on them will also be the same.

BD/DC = FP/PC

We know that BD = DC since D is the mid point of BC. Hence, BD/DC = 1/1. This means we can also say:

BD/DC = 1/1 = FP/PC
FP = PC

From these two calculations, we will get AF = FP = PC, and hence, AF:FC = 1:(1+1) = 1:2.

Therefore, the answer is B. We hope you see that Geometry questions on the GMAT can be easily resolved once we bring in parallel lines.

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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!