3 Ways to Solve a 750+ Level GMAT Question About Irregular Polygons

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe have examined how to deal with polygons when you encounter them on a GMAT question in a previous post. Today, we will look at a relatively difficult polygon question, however we would like to remind you here that the concepts being tested in this question are still very simple (although we won’t give away exactly which concepts they are yet). First, take a look at the question itself:

The hexagon above has interior angles whose measures are all equal. As shown, only five of the six side lengths are known: 10, 15, 4, 18, and 7. What is the unknown side length?

 

 

 

 

(A) 7
(B)10
(C) 12
(D) 15
(E) 16

There are various ways to solve this question, but each takes a bit of effort. Note that the polygon we are given is not a regular polygon, since the side lengths are not all equal. The angles, however, are all equal. Let’s first find the measure of each one of those angles using the formula discussed in this previous post.

(n – 2)*180 = sum of all interior angles
(6 – 2)*180 = 720
Each of the 6 angles = 720/6 = 120 degrees

Though we would like to point out here that if you see a question such as this one on the actual GMAT exam, you should already know that if each angle of a hexagon is equal, each angle must be 120 degrees, so performing the above calculation would not be necessary.

Method 1: Visualization
This is a very valid approach to obtaining the correct answer on this GMAT question since we don’t need to explain the reasoning or show our steps, however it may be hard to comprehend for the beginners. We will try to explain it anyway, since it requires virtually no work and will help build your math instinct.

Note that in the given hexagon, each angle is 120 degrees – this means that each pair of opposite sides are parallel. Think of it this way: Side 4 turns on Side 18 by 120 degrees. Then Side 15 turns on Side 4 by another 120 degrees. And finally, Side 10 turns on Side 15 by another 120 degrees. So Side 10 has, in effect, turned by 360 degrees on Side 18.

This means Side 10 is parallel to Side 18.

Now, think of the 120 degree angle between Side 4 and Side 15 – it has to be kept constant. Plus, the angles of the legs must also stay constant at 120 degrees with Sides 10 and 18. Since the slopes of each leg of that angle are negatives of each other (√3 and -√3), when one leg gets shorter, the other gets longer by the same length (use the image below as a visual of what we’re talking about).

 

 

 

 

Hence, the sum of the sides will always be 15 + 4 = 19. This means 7 + Unknown = 19, so Unknown = 12. Our answer is C.

If you struggled to understand the approach above, you’re not alone. This method involves a lot of intuition, and struggling to figure it out may not be the best use of your time on the GMAT, so let’s examine a couple of more tangible solutions!

Method 2: Using Right Triangles
As we saw in Method 1 above, AB and DE are parallel lines. Since each of the angles A, B, C, D, E and F are 120 degrees, the four triangles we have made are all 30-60-90 triangles. The sides of a 30-60-90 triangle can be written using the ratio 1:√(3):2.

 

 

 

 

 

AT = 7.5*√3 and ME = 2*√3, so the distance between the sides of length 10 and 18 is 9.5*√3. We know that DN = 3.5*√3, so BP = (9.5*√3) – (3.5*√3) = 6*√3.

Since the ratios of our sides should be 1:√(3):2, side BC = 2*6 = 12. Again, the answer is C. Let’s look at our third and final method for solving this problem:

Method 3: Using Equilateral Triangles
First, extend the sides of the hexagon as shown to form a triangle:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since each internal angle of the hexagon is 120 degrees, each external angle will be 60 degrees. In that case, each angle between the dotted lines will become 60 degrees too, and hence, triangle PAB becomes an equilateral triangle. This means PA = PB = 10. Triangle QFE  and triangle RDC also become equilateral triangles, so QF = QE = 4, and RD = RC = 7.

Now note that since angles P, Q, and R are all 60 degrees, triangle PQR is also equilateral, and hence, PQ = PR.

PQ = 10 + 15 + 4 = 29
PR = 10 + BC + 7 = 29
BC = 12 (again, answer choice C)

Note the geometry concepts that we used to solve this problem: regular polygon, parallel lines, angles, 30-60-90 right triangles, and equilateral triangles. We know all of these concepts very well individually, but applying them to a GMAT question can take some ingenuity!

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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!