# The Holistic Approach to Absolute Values – Part V

We will continue our holistic approach to absolute values and add more complications to these types of questions. This article should set you up for any question of this kind. Note that this is a 750+ level concept, so if you are targeting a lower score, it may not be necessary for you to know.

(Before you continue reading, be sure to check out Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of this lesson.)

Let’s look at the following GMAT question:

For how many integer values of x, is |x – 6| > |3x + 6|?

(A) 1
(B) 3
(C) 5
(D) 7
(E) Infinite

In this question, we are given the inequality |x – 6| > 3*|x + 2|

Using the same logic as we did in the previous two posts, we will word the inequality like this: the distance from 6 should be more than three times the distance from -2.

At x = -2, the distance from 6 is 8 and the distance from -2 is 0. This means the distance from 6 is more than three times the distance from -2.

At x = -1, the distance from 6 is 7 and the distance from -2 is 1. Three times the distance from -2 is 3. This means the distance from 6 is more than three times the distance from -2.

At some point on the right of -1, the distance from 6 will be equal to three times the distance from -2. The distance between -2 and 6 is 8. If we split this 8 into 4 equal parts to get to x = 0, the distance from 6 will be equal to three times the distance from -2.

Now for every point to the right of 0, the distance from 6 will be less than three times the distance from -2.

Let’s try to go to the left of -2 instead. Will there be a point to the left of -2 where the distance from 6 will be equal to three times the distance from -2? Say that point is “a” units away from -2. -2 must then be 2a units away from 6 to ensure that 6 is a total of 3a units away from that point.

The distance between -2 and 6 is 8 – this 8 needs to be equal to 2a, so “a” must be 4 units.

The point where the distance from 6 will be equal to three times the distance from -2 will be 4 units to the left of -2, i.e. at -6. So at points to the right of -6 (but left of 0), the distance from 6 will be more than three times the distance from -2.

Note that for all values to the left of -6, the distance from 6 will be less than three times the distance from -2.

Hence, our x will lie in the range from -6 to 0.

-6 < x < 0

With these parameters, we will have 5 integer solutions: -5, -4, -3, -2 and -1. Hence, our answer is C.

Let’s look at a second question:

For how many integer values of x, is |x – 8| + |5 – x| > |x + 7|?

(A) 1
(B) 3
(C) 5
(D) 7
(E) Infinite

Now the true value of this method is visible, as we have three or more terms. The arduous algebra involved in this given inequality makes our logical approach much more attractive.

First note that we have the term |5 – x|. This is the same as |x – 5| because |x| = |-x|.

We will word the inequality like this: the distance from 5 + the distance from 8 should be greater than the distance from -7.

Let’s find the point where the sum of the distance from 5 and the distance from 8 is equal to distance from -7. Say that point is “a” units to the left of 5.

a + a + 3 = 12 – a
a = 3

So the point is 3 units to the left of 5, which means it is at 2. For all points to the left of 2, the sum of the distance from 5 and the distance from 8 will be greater than the distance from -7.

How about the points that are to the right of 8? Say there is a point “b” units away from 8 where the sum of the distance from 5 and the distance from 8 is equal to the distance from -7.

3 + b + b = 15 + b
b = 12

So if we go 12 units to the right of 8, i.e. at x = 20, the sum of the distance from 5 and the distance from 8 is equal to the distance from -7.

For all points to the right of 20, the sum of the distance from 5 and the distance from 8 is greater than the distance from -7, so there will be infinite points for which the sum of the distance from 5 and the distance from 8 is greater than the distance from -7. Therefore, our answer is E.

Using this concept, try to answer the following question on your own: For how many integer values of x, is |x – 6| – |3x + 6| > 0?

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!

# The Holistic Approach to Absolute Values – Part IV

Last week, we looked at some absolute value questions involving inequalities. Today, we’ll continue this discussion by adding some more complications to our questions. Consider the question: What is the minimum value of the expression |x – 3| + |x + 1| + |x|? Technically, |x – 3| + |x + 1| + |x| is the sum of “the distance of x from 3,” “the distance of x from -1” and “the distance of x from 0.” To make solving such questions simpler, we’ll often use a parallel situation:

Imagine that there are 3 friends with houses at points -1, 0 and 3 in a straight line. They decide to meet at the point x.

• |x – 3| will be the distance covered by the friend at 3 to reach x.
• |x + 1| will be the distance covered by the friend at -1 to reach x.
• |x| will be the distance covered by the friend at 0 to reach x.

So, the total distance the friends will cover to meet at x will be |x – 3| + |x + 1| + |x|.

Now we can choose to minimize this total distance, bring it to some particular value or make it more or less than some particular value.

If we want to minimize the total distance, we just make the friends meet at the second guy’s house, i.e. at the point 0. The friend at 3 and the friend at -1 need to travel 4 units total to meet anyway, so there’s no point in making the guy at 0 travel any distance at all. So the minimum total distance would be 4, which would then be the minimum value of |x – 3| + |x + 1| + |x|. This minimum value is given by the expression at x = 0.

With this in mind, when we move to the right or to the left of x = 0, the total distance will increase and, hence, the value of the expression |x – 3| + |x + 1| + |x| will also increase.

Thereafter, it is easy to solve for |x – 3| + |x + 1| + |x| = 10 or |x – 3| + |x + 1| + |x| < 10, etc., as seen in our previous post.

Today, let’s look at how to solve a more advanced GMAT question using the same logic:

For how many integer values of x, is |x – 5| + |x + 1| + |x|  + |x – 7| < 15?

(A) 0
(B) 2
(C) 4
(D) 6
(E) Infinite

In our parallel situation of friends and houses, we now have 4 friends with houses at points -1, 0, 5 and 7.

The friends at -1 and 7 are 8 units apart, so they will need to cover at least this total distance together to meet. It doesn’t matter where they meet between -1 and 7 (inclusive), they will need to cover exactly 8 units.

The friends at 0 and 5 will need to travel a minimum distance of 5 to meet. They can meet anywhere between 0 and 5 (inclusive) and the distance they will cover will still be 5.

So, all four friends can meet anywhere between 0 and 5 (inclusive) and the total distance covered will be 8 + 5 = 13. This would be the minimum total distance, and hence, the minimum value of the expression |x – 5| + |x + 1| + |x|  + |x – 7|.

When we move to the left of 0 or to the right of 5, the total distance covered will be more than 13. At any point between -1 and 7, the total distance covered by the friends at -1 and 7 will be only 8. When we move 1 unit to the left of 0 and reach -1, the total distance covered by the friends at 0 and 5 will be 1 + 6 = 7. So to meet at -1, the total distance traveled by all friends together will be 8 + 7 = 15.

Similarly, when we move 1 unit to the right of 5 and reach 6, the total distance covered by the four friends will be again 8 + 7 = 15. So at points x = -1 and x = 6, the value of the expression will be 15. Between these two points (excluding the points themselves), the value of the expression will be less than 15.

So now we know -1 < x < 6. With these parameters, x can take 6 integer values: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Therefore, the answer is D.

Note that when we had 3 points on the number line, the minimum total distance was found at the second point. Now when we have 4 points on the number line, the minimum total distance has been found to be in the range between second and third points.

Let’s look at another question:

For how many integer values of x, is |2x – 5| + |x + 1| + |x| < 10?

(A) 1
(B) 2
(C) 4
(D) 5
(E) Infinite

|2x – 5| + |x + 1| + |x| < 10

2*|x – 5/2| + |x + 1| + |x| < 10

In this sum, now the distance from 5/2 is added twice.

In our parallel situation, this is equivalent to two friends living at 5/2, one living at 0 and one living at -1. Now note that the expression may not take the minimum value of x = 0 because there are 2 people who will need to travel from 5/2.

We have four friends in all, so we can expect to get a range in which we will get the minimum value of the expression. The second and third people are at 0 and 5/2, respectively.

The total distance at x = 0 will be 1 + 2*(5/2) = 6. The total distance at x = 5/2 will be 7/2 + 5/2 = 6.

So if we move to the left of 0 or to the right of 5/2, the total distance will increase. If we move 1 unit to the right of 5/2 and reach 7/2, the total distance covered by the four friends will be 9/2 + 7/2 + 2 = 10. If we move 1 unit to the left of 0 and reach -1, the total distance covered by the four friends will be 0 + 1 + 2*(7/2) = 8. Now all four friends are at -1. To cover a distance of another 2, they should move another 0.5 units to the left of -1 to reach -1.5.

Now the total distance covered by the four friends will be 0.5 + 1.5 + 2*4 = 10, so the total distance when x lies between the points -1.5 and 3.5 (excluding the points themselves) will be less than 10.

Now we know -1.5 < x < 3.5. With these parameters, x can take 5 integer values: -1, 0, 1, 2 and 3. Therefore, the answer is D.

Now use these concepts to solve the following question: For how many integer values of x, is |3x – 3| + |2x + 8| < 15?

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!

# The Holistic Approach to Absolute Values – Part III

A while back, we discussed some holistic approaches to answering absolute value questions. Today, we will enhance our understanding of absolute values with some variations that you might see on the GMAT.

Instead of looking at how to solve equations, like we did in our previous post, we will look at how to solve inequalities using the same concept.

A quick review:

• |x| = The distance of x from 0 on the number line. For example, if |x| = 4, x is 4 away from 0. So x can be 4 or -4.
• |x – 1| = The distance of x from 1 on the number line. For example, if |x – 1| = 4, x is 4 away from 1. so x can be 5 or  -3.
• |x| + |x – 1| = The sum of distance of x from 0 and distance of x from 1 on the number line. for example, if x = 5, the distance of x from 0 is 5 and the distance of x from 1 is 4. The sum of the distances is 5 + 4 = 9. So |x| + |x – 1| = 5 + 4 = 9.

Let’s move ahead now and see how we can use these concepts to solve inequalities:

For how many integer values of x, is |x – 3| + |x + 1| + |x| < 10?

(A) 0
(B) 2
(C) 4
(D) 6
(E) Infinite

In the previous post, we saw the a similar question, except it involved an equation rather than an inequality. For that problem, we found that the two points where the total distance is equal to 10 are -2.667 and 4:

What will be the total distance at any value of x between these two points?

Say, x = 0
|x – 3| + |x + 1| + |x|
= 3 + 1 + 0
= 4

Say, x = 3
|x – 3| + |x + 1| + |x|
0 + 4 + 3
= 7

In both cases, we see that the total distance covered is less than 10. Note that the minimum distance covered will be 4 at x = 0 (discussed in the previous post) so by moving to the right of 0 or to the left of 0 on the number line, we get to the points where the distance increases to 10. So for every point in between, the total distance will be less than 10 (the entire red region).

Hence, at integer points x = -2, -1, 0, 1, 2 and 3 (which are all between -2.667 and 4), the total distance will be less than 10. The total distance will be less than 10 for all non-integer points lying between -2.667 and 4 too, but the question only asks for the integer values, so that is all we need to focus on. (Of course, there are infinite non-integer points between any two distinct points on the number line.) Hence, the answer will be 6 points, or D.

Along the same lines, consider a slight variation of this question:

For how many integer values of x, is |x – 3| + |x + 1| + |x| > 10?

(A) 0
(B) 2
(C) 4
(D) 6
(E) Infinite

What will the answer be here? We hope you immediately jumped to answer choice E – for every integer value of x to the right of 4 or to the left of -2.667, the total distance will be more than 10 (the blue regions). So there will be infinite such integer points (all integers greater than 4 or less than -2.667). Thus, the answer is E.

We hope this logic is clear. We will look at some other variations of this concept next week!

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!

# Understanding Absolute Values with Two Variables

We have looked at quite a few absolute value and inequality concepts. (Check out our discussion on the basics of absolute values and inequalities, here, and our discussion on how to handle inequalities with multiple absolute value terms in a single variable, here.) Today let’s look at an absolute value concept involving two variables. It is unlikely that you will see such a question on the actual GMAT, since it involves multiple steps, but it will help you understand absolute values better.

Recall the definition of absolute value:

|x| = x if x ≥ 0

|x| = -x if x < 0

So, to remove the absolute value sign, you will need to consider two cases – one when x is positive or 0, and another when it is negative.

Say, you are given an inequality, such as |x – y| < |x|. Here, you have two absolute value expressions: |x – y| and |x|. You need to get rid of the absolute value signs, but how will you do that?

You know that to remove the absolute value sign, you need to consider the two cases. Therefore:

|x – y| = (x – y) if (x – y) ≥ 0

|x – y| = – (x – y) if (x – y) < 0

But don’t forget, we also need to remove the absolute value sign that |x| has. Therefore:

|x| = x if x ≥ 0

|x| = -x if x < 0

In all we will get four cases to consider:

Case 1: (x – y) ≥ 0 and x ≥ 0

Case 2: (x – y) < 0 and x ≥ 0

Case 3: (x – y) ≥ 0 and x < 0

Case 4: (x – y) < 0 and x < 0

Let’s look at each case separately:

Case 1: (x – y) ≥ 0 (which implies x ≥ y) and x ≥ 0

|x – y| < |x|

(x – y) < x

-y < 0

Multiply by -1 to get:

y > 0

In this case, we will get 0 < y ≤ x.

Case 2: (x – y) < 0 (which implies x < y) and x ≥ 0

|x – y| < |x|

-(x – y) < x

2x > y

x > y/2

In this case, we will get 0 < y/2 < x < y.

Case 3: (x – y) ≥ 0 (which implies x ≥ y) and x < 0

|x – y| < |x|

(x – y) < -x

2x < y

x < y/2

In this case, we will get y ≤ x < y/2 < 0.

Case 4: (x – y) < 0 (which implies x < y) and x < 0

|x – y| < |x|

-(x – y) < -x

-x + y < -x

y < 0

In this case, we will get x < y < 0.

Considering all four cases, we get that both x and y are either positive or both are negative. Case 1 and Case 2 imply that if both x and y are positive, then x > y/2, and Case 3 and Case 4 imply that if both x and y are negative, then x < y/2. With these in mind, there is a range of values in which the inequality will hold. Both x and y should have the same sign – if they are both positive, x > y/2, and if they are both negative, x < y/2.

Here are some examples of values for which the inequality will hold:

x = 4, y = 5

x = 8, y = 2

x = -2, y = -1

x = -5, y = -6

etc.

Here are some examples of values for which the inequality will not hold:

x = 4, y = -5 (x and y have opposite signs)

x = 5, y = 15 (x is not greater than y/2)

x = -5, y = 9 (x and y have opposite signs)

x = -6, y = -14 (x is not less than y/2)

etc.

As said before, don’t worry about going through this method during the actual GMAT exam – if you do get a similar question, some strategies such as plugging in values and/or using answer choices to your advantage will work. Overall, this example hopefully helped you understand absolute values a little better.