3.14 Reasons to Love Pi

Pie ChartEvery March 14, numerically expressed as 3/14, math nerds and test prep instructors celebrate the time-honored tradition of “Pi Day,” deriving plenty of happiness from the fact that the date looks like the number 3.14, the approximation of π. Pi (π) is, of course, the lynchpin value in all circle calculations. The area of a circle is π(r^2), and the circumference of a circle is 2πr or πd.

As you study for a major standardized test, you know that you’ll be working with circles at some point, so here are 3.14 reasons that you should learn to love the number π:

1) Pi should make you salivate.
On any standardized test question, if you see the value π, whether in the question itself of in the answer choices, that π tells you that you’re dealing with a circle. Some test questions disguise what they want you to do – you may have to draw in a triangle to find the diagonal of a square, for example – but circle problems cannot hide from you! π is a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with a circle, so like Pavlov’s Dog, when you see that signal, π, you should respond with a biological response and conjure up all your knowledge of circles immediately.

2) Pi can be easily cut into slices.
Whether you’re dealing with a section of the area of a circle or a section of the circumference (arc length), the fact that a circle is perfectly symmetrical makes the job of cutting that circle into slices an easy one. With arc length, all you end up doing is using the central angle to determine the proportion of that section (angle/360 = proportion of what you want), making it very easy to slice up a circle using π. With the area of a section, as long as the arms of that section are equal to the radius of the circle, you can do the exact same thing. Just like an apple pie or pizza pie, if you’re cutting into slices from the center of the circle, cutting that pie into slices is a relatively simple task.

3) You can take your pi to go.
You will almost never have to calculate the value of pi on a standardized test: almost always, the symbol π will appear in the answer choices (e.g. 5π, 7π, etc.), meaning that you can just carry π through your calculations and bring it with you to the answer choices. If, for example, you need to calculate the area of a circle with radius 3, you’ll plug the radius into your formula [π(3^2)] and just end up with 9π, which you’ll find in the answer choices. With most other symbols (x, y, r, etc.) you’ll need to do some work to turn them into numbers. Pi is great because you can take it to go.

3.14) The decimals in pi are just a sliver.
If you ever are asked to “calculate” pi (which typically means that the question is asking you to approximate a value, not to directly calculate it), you can use the fact that the .14 in 3.14 is a tiny sliver of a decimal. For example, if you had to estimate a value for 5π, 5 times 3 is clearly 15, but 5 times .14 is so small that it won’t require you to go all the way to 16. So if your answer choices were 15.7, 16.1, 16.4, etc., you could rely on the fact that the decimal .14 is so small that you can eliminate all the 16s.

Other irrational numbers like the square root of 2 and square root of 3 have decimal places more in the neighborhood of .5, so you will probably need to work a little harder to estimate how they’ll react when you multiply them even by relatively small numbers. But π’s decimals come in small slivers, allowing you to manage your calculations in bite size pieces.

So remember – there are 3.14 (and counting) reasons to love pi, and learning to love pi can help turn your test day into a piece of cake.

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By Brian Galvin.

How to Use the Pythagorean Theorem With a Circle

Pie ChartIt does not surprise anyone when they learn that the properties of circles are tested on the GMAT. Most test-takers will nod and rattle off the relevant equations by rote: Area = Π*radius ^2; Circumference  = 2Π* radius; etc. However, many of my students are caught off guard to learn that the equation for a circle on the coordinate plane is our good friend the Pythagorean theorem. Why on earth would an equation for a right triangle describe a circle?

Take a look at the following diagram in which a circle is centered on the origin (0,0) in the coordinate plane:

DG Circle 1








Designate a random point on the circle (x,y.) If we draw a line from the center of the circle to x,y, that line is a radius of the circle. Call it r. If we drop a line down from (x,y) to the x-axis, we’ll have a right triangle:

DG Blog 2









Note that the base of the triangle is x, and the height of the triangle is y. So now we have our Pythagorean theorem: x^2 + y^2 = r^2. This is also the equation for a circle centered on the origin on the coordinate plane. [The more general equation for a circle with a center (a,b) is (x-a)^2 + (y-b)^2 = r^2. When a circle is centered on the origin, (a,b) is simply (0,0.)]

This ends up being an immensely useful tool to use on the GMAT. Take the following question, for example:

A certain circle in the xy-plane has its center at the origin. If P is a point on the circle, what is the sum of the squares of the coordinates of P?

(1) The radius of the circle is 4
(2) The sum of the coordinates of P is 0

So let’s draw this, designating P as (x,y):

DG Blog 3







Now we draw our trust right triangle by dropping a line down from P to the x-axis, which will give us this:

DG Blog 4







We’re looking for x^2 + y^2. Hopefully, at this point, you notice what the question is going for – because we have a right triangle, x^2 + y^2 = r^2, meaning that all we need is the radius!

Statement 1 is pretty straightforward – if r = 4, we can insert this into our equation of x^2 + y^2 = r^2 to get x^2 + y^2 = 4^2. So x^2 + y^2 = 16. Clearly, this is sufficient.

Now look at Statement 2. If the sum of x and y is 0, we can say x = 1 and y = -1 or x = 2 and y = -2 or x = 100 and y = -100, etc. Each of these will yield a different value for x^2 + y^2, so this statement alone is clearly not sufficient. Our answer is A.

Takeaway: any shape can appear on the coordinate plane. If the shape in question is a circle, remember to use the Pythagorean theorem as your equation for the circle, and what would have been a challenging question becomes a tasty piece of baklava. (We are talking about principles elucidated by the ancient Greeks, after all.)

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By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles written by him here.

GMAT Tip of the Week: The Curry Twos Remind You To Keep The GMAT Simple

GMAT Tip of the WeekHappy Friday from Veritas Prep headquarters, where we’re actively monitoring the way that Twitter is reacting to UnderArmour’s release of the new Steph Curry shoes. What’s the problem with the Curry Twos? Essentially they’re too plain and buttoned up – much more Mickelson than Michael, son.

OK, so what? The Curry 2s are more like the Curry 401(k)s. Why should that matter for your GMAT score?

Because on the GMAT, you want to be as simple and predictable as a Steph Curry sneaker.

What does that mean? One of the biggest study mistakes that people make is that once they’ve mastered a core topic like “factoring” or “verb tenses,” they move on to more obscure topics and spend their valuable study time on those.

There are two major problems with this: 1) the core topics appear much more often and are much more repeatable, and 2) in chasing the obscure topics later in their study regimen, people spend the most valuable study time – that coming right before the test – feverishly memorizing things they probably won’t see or use at the expense of practicing the skills and strategies that they’ll need to use several times on test day.

Consider an example: much like Twitter is clowning the Curry Twos, a handful of Veritas Prep GMAT instructors were laughing this time last week about an explanation in a practice test (by a company that shall remain nameless…) for a problem similar to:

Two interconnected, circular gears travel at the same circumferential rate. If Gear A has a diameter of 30 centimeters and Gear B has a diameter of 50 centimeters, what is the ratio of the number of revolutions that Gear A makes per minute to the number of revolutions that Gear B makes per minute?

(A) 3:5
(B) 9:25
(C) 5:3
(D) 25:9
(E) Cannot be determined from the information provided

Now, the “Curry Two” approach – the tried and true, “don’t-overcomplicate-this-for-the-sake-of-overcomplicating-it” method – is to recognize that the distance around any circle (a wheel, a gear, etc.) is its circumference. And circumference is pi * diameter. So, if each gear travels the same circumferential distance, that distance for any given period of time is “circumference * number of revolutions.” That then means that the circumference of A times the number of revolutions of A is equal to the circumference of B times the number of revolutions for B, and you know that’s:

30π * A = 50π * B (where A = # of revolutions for A, and B = # of revolutions for B). Since you want the ratio of A:B, divide both sides by B and by 30, and you have A/B = 50/30, or A:B = 5:3 (answer choice C).

Why were our instructors laughing? The explanation began, “There is a simple rule for interconnected gears…” Which is great to know if you see a gear-based question on the test or become CEO of a pulley factory, but since the GMAT officially tests “geometry,” you’re much better off recognizing the relationship between circles, circumferences, and revolutions (for questions that might deal with gears, wheels, windmills, or any other type of spinning circles) than you are memorizing a single-use rule about gears.

Problems like this offer the “Curry Two” students a fantastic opportunity to reinforce their knowledge of circles, their ability to think spatially about shapes, etc. But, naturally, there are students who will add “gear formula” to their deck of flashcards and study that single-use rule (which 99.9% of GMAT examinees will never have the opportunity to use) with the same amount of time/effort/intensity as they revisit the Pythagorean Theorem (which almost everyone will use at least twice).

Hey, the Curry Twos are plain, boring, and predictable, as are the core rules and skills that you’ll use on the GMAT. But simple, predictable, and repeatable are what win on this test, so heed this lesson. As 73 regular season opponents learned this basketball season, Curry Twos lead to countless Curry 3s, and on the GMAT, “Curry Two” strategies will help you curry favor with admissions committees by leading to Curry 700+ scores.

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By Brian Galvin.