Dreaded Data Sufficiency Questions That Will Test Your Knowledge of Number Properties

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomHere is an often-repeated complaint we hear from test takers – Data Sufficiency questions that deal with number properties are very difficult to handle (even for people who find problem-solving number properties questions manageable)! They feel that such questions are time consuming and often involve too many cases.

Here is our advice – when solving number properties questions, imagine a number line. It reminds us that numbers behave differently “between 0 and 1”, “between -1 and 0”, “less than -1”, and “more than 1”, and that integers occur only at regular intervals and that there are infinite numbers in between them. The integers are, in turn, even and odd. Also, 0, 1 and -1 are special numbers, hence it is always a good idea to consider cases with them.

Let’s see how thinking along these lines can help us on a practice Data Sufficiency question:

If a and b are non-zero integers, is a^b an integer?

Statement 1: b^a is negative
Statement 2: a^b is negative

The answer to this problem does not lie in actually drawing a number line. The point is that we need to think along these lines: -1, 0, 1, ranges between them, integers, negatives-positives, even-odd, decimals and how each of these comes into play in this case.

What we know from the question stem is that a and b are non-zero integers, which means they occur at regular intervals on the number line. To answer the question, “Is a^b an integer?”, let’s first look at Statement 1:

Statement 1: b^a is negative

For a number to be negative, its base must be negative. But that is not enough – the exponent should not be an even integer. If the exponent is an even integer, the negative signs will cancel out. Since a and b are integers, if a is not an even integer, it must be an odd integer.

We know that the sign of the exponent is immaterial as far as the sign of the result is concerned (since a^(-n) is just 1/a^n). For b^a to be negative, then we know that b must be a negative integer and a must be an odd integer. Does this help us in deducing whether a^b is an integer? Not necessarily!

If b is negative, say -2, a^(-2) = 1/a^2. a could be 1, in which case 1/a^2 = 1 (an integer), or a could be 3, in which case 1/a^2 = 1/9 (not an integer). Because there are two possible answers, this statement alone is not sufficient.

Let’s look at Statement 2:

Statement 2: a^b is negative

Again, the logic remains the same – for a number to be negative, its base must also be negative and the exponent should not be an even integer. If the exponent is an even integer, the negative signs will cancel out. Since a and b are integers, if b is not an even integer, it must be an odd integer. Again, we know that the sign of the exponent is immaterial as far as the sign of the result is concerned (since a^(-n) is just 1/a^n).

For a^b to be negative, then we know that a must be a negative integer and b must be an odd integer. a could be -1/-2/-3/-4… etc, and b could be 1/3/5… or -1/-3/-5.

If a = -1 and b = 1, then a^b = -1 (an integer). If a = -2 and b = -3, then a^b = (-2)^(-3) = 1/(-2)^3 = -1/8 (not an integer). This statement alone is also not sufficient.

We hope you see how we are using values of 1 and -1 to enumerate our cases. Now, let’s consider using both statements together:

a is a negative, odd integer, so it can take values such as -1, -3, -5, -7, …
b is a negative, odd integer too, so it can also take values such as -1, -3, -5, -7, …

If a = -1 and b = -1, then a^b = -1 (an integer)
If a = -3 and b = -3, then a^b = (-3)^(-3) = -1/27 (not an integer)

Even using both statements together, we do not know whether a^b is an integer or not. therefore, our answer is E.

Thinking of a number line and knowing what it represents will help you tackle many Data Sufficiency questions that are about number properties.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: When Can You Divide by a Variable?

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe have often come across test takers confused about division by a variable. When is it allowed, when is it not allowed? Why is it allowed in some cases and not in others? What are the constraints we need to look out for?

For example:

Is division by x allowed here: x^2 = 10x?
Is division by x allowed here: y = 4x?
Is division by x allowed here: x^2 < 4x?

Let’s take a detailed look at all these questions today.

The basic guidelines:

  1. Division by 0 is not allowed, hence you cannot divide by a variable until and unless we know that it cannot be 0.
  2. In the case of an inequality, when you divide by a negative number, the sign of the inequality flips. So we cannot divide by a variable until and unless we know that it cannot be 0 AND whether it is positive or negative.

Let’s look at the three questions given above and try to solve them using these guidelines:

Is division by x allowed here: x^2 = 10x?

The first thing to find out here is whether or not x can equal 0.

Case 1: If no other information has been given, then x can be 0 and we cannot divide by it. This is how we proceed in that case:

x^2 – 10x = 0
x(x – 10) = 0
x = 0 or 10

Case 2: If the question stem tells us that x is not 0, then we can divide by x.

x^2/x = 10x/x
x = 10

Obviously, we don’t get the second solution (x = 0) in this case, as we already know that x cannot be 0. Now let’s look at the second problem:

Is division by x allowed here: y = 4x?

Again, this is an equation and we need to know whether or not x can equal 0.

Case 1: If x can be 0, you cannot divide by it. In this case, x = 0 and y = 0 is one of the infinite possible solutions.

Case 2: If the question stem states that x cannot be 0, then we can do the following:

y/x = 4

Now let’s look at the final question:

Is division by x allowed here: x^2 > -4x?

Here, we have an inequality. Before deciding whether we can divide by x or not, we need to know not only whether x can be equal to 0, but also whether x is positive or negative.

Case 1: If we know nothing about the possible values that x can take, then this is how we proceed:

x^2 + 4x > 0
x(x + 4) > 0

Now we can use the method discussed in the first problem to arrive at the range of x.

x > 0 or x < -4

Case 2: If we know that x is positive, then we can proceed like this:

x^2/x > -4x/x
x > -4

Since we are given that x is positive, we know that that x > 0 (looking at the two options above).

Case 3: If we know that x is negative, then this is how we will proceed:

x^2/x < -4x/x (we flip the sign of the inequality because we divide by x, which is negative)
x < -4

The results obtained are logical, right? When x can be anywhere on the number line, we get the range as x > 0 or x < -4.

If x has to be positive, the range is x > 0.
If x has to be negative, the range is x < -4.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomA 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:

QWQW

 

 

 

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!

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

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!