GMAT Tip of the Week: Evolving Your GMAT Quant Score with Help from The Evolution Of Rap

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf it’s March, it must be Hip Hop Month at the GMAT Tip of the Week space, where this year we’ve been transfixed by Vox’s video on the evolution of rhyme schemes in the rap world.

The video below (which is absolutely worth a watch during a designated study break) explores the way that rap has evolved from simple rhyme schemes (yada yada yada Bat, yada yada yada Hat, yada yada yada Rat, yada yada yada Cat…) to the more complex “wait did he just say what I thought he said?” inside-out rhyme schemes that make you rewind an Eminem or Kendrick Lamar track because your ears must be playing tricks on you.

And if you don’t have the study break time right now, we’ll summarize. While a standard rhyme might have a one-syllable rhyme at the end of each bar (do you like green eggs and HAM, yes I like them Sam I AM), rappers have continued to evolve to the point where nowadays each bar can contain multiple rhyme schemes. Consider Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”:

Snap back to reality, oh there goes gravity
Oh there goes Rabbit he choked, he’s so mad but he won’t
Give up that easy, nope, he won’t have it he knows
His whole back’s to these ropes, it don’t matter he’s dope
He knows that but he’s broke, he’s so stagnant he knows…

Where “gravity,” “Rabbit, he,” “mad but he,” “that easy,” “have it he,” “back’s to these,” “matter he’s,” “that but he’s,” and “stagnant, he” all rhyme with one another, the list of goes/goes/choked/so/won’t/knows/whole/ropes/don’t/dope… keeps that hard “O” sound rhyming consistently throughout, too. And that was 15 years ago…since them, Eminem, Kendrick, and others have continued to build elaborate rhyme schemes that reward those listeners who don’t just listen for the simple rhyme at the end of each bar, but pick up the subtle rhyme flows that sometimes don’t come back until a few lines later.

So what does this have to do with your GMAT score?

One of the most common study mistakes that test-takers make is that they study skills as individual, standalone entities, and don’t look for the subtle ways that the GMAT testmaker can layer in those sophisticated Andre-3000-style combinations. Consider an example of an important GMAT skill, the “Difference of Squares” rule that (x + y)(x – y) = x^2 – y^2. A standard (think early 1980s Sugarhill Gang or Grandmaster Flash) GMAT question might test it in a relatively “obvious” way:

What is the value of (x + y)?

(1) x^2 – y^2 = 0
(2) x does not equal y

Here if you factor Statement 1 you’ll get (x + y)(x – y) = 0, and then Statement 2 tells you that it’s not (x – y) that equals zero, so it must be x + y. This Data Sufficiency answer is C, and the test is essentially just rewarding you for knowing the Difference of Squares.

The GMAT it cares
’bout the Difference of Squares
When there’s squares and subtraction
Put this rule into action

A slightly more sophisticated question (think late 1980s/early 1990s Rob Bass or Run DMC) won’t so obviously show you the Difference of Squares. It might “hide” that behind a square that few people tend to see as a square, the number 1:

If y = 2^(16) – 1, the greatest prime factor of y is:

(A) Less than 6
(B) Between 6 and 10
(C) Between 10 and 14
(D) Between 14 and 18
(E) Greater than 18

Here, many people don’t recognize 1 as a perfect square, so they don’t see that the setup is 2^(16) – 1^(2), which can be factored as:

(2^8 + 1)(2^8 – 1)

And that 2^8 – 1 can be factored again, since 1 remains 1^2:

(2^8 + 1)(2^4 + 1)(2^4 – 1)

And that ultimately you could do it again with 2^4 – 1 if you wanted, but you should know that 2^4 is 16 so you can now get to work on smaller numbers. 2^8 is 256 and 2^4 is 16, so you have:

257 * 17 * 15

And what really happens now is that you have to factor out 257 to see if you can break it into anything smaller than 17 as a factor (since, if not, you can select “greater than 18”). Since you can’t, you know that 257 must have a prime factor greater than 18 (it turns out that it’s prime) and correctly select E.

The lesson here? This problem directly tests the Difference of Squares (you don’t want to try to calculate 2^16, then subtract 1, then try to factor out that massive number) but it does so more subtly, layering it inside the obvious “prime factor” problem like a rapper might embed a secondary rhyme scheme in the middle of each bar.

But in really hard problems, the testmaker goes full-on Greatest of All Time rapper, testing several things at the same time and rewarding only the really astute for recognizing the game being played. Consider:

The size of a television screen is given as the length of the screen’s diagonal. If the screens were flat, then the area of a square 21-inch screen would be how many square inches greater than the area of a square 19-inch screen?

(A) 2
(B) 4
(C) 16
(D) 38
(E) 40

Now here you KNOW you’re dealing with a geometry problem, and it also looks like a word problem given the television backstory. As you start calculating, you’ll know that you have to take the diagonal of each square TV and use that to determine the length of each side, using the 45-45-90 triangle ratio, where the diagonal = x√2. So the length of a side of the smaller TV is 19/√2 and the length of a side of the larger TV is 21/√2.

Then you have to calculate the area, which is the side squared, so the area of the smaller TV is (19/√2)^2 and the area of the larger TV is (21/√2)^2. This is starting to look messy (Who knows the squares for 21 and 19 offhand? And radicals in denominators never look fun…) UNTIL you realize that you have to subtract the two areas. Which means that your calculation is:

(21/√2)^2 – (19/√2)^2

This fits perfectly in the Difference of Squares formula, meaning that you can express x^2 – y^2 as (x + y)(x – y). Doing that, you have:

[(21 + 19)/√2][(21-19)/√2]

Which is really convenient because the math in the numerators is easy and leaves you with:

(40/√2) * (2/√2)

And when you multiply them, the √2 terms in the denominators square out to 2, which factors with the 2 in the numerator of the right-side fraction, and everything simplifies to 40. And then, in classic “oh this guy’s effing GOOD” hip-hop style (like in the Eminem lyric “you’re witnessing a massacre like you’re watching a church gathering take place” and you realize that he’s using “massacre” and “mass occur” – the church gathering taking place – simultaneously), you realize that you should have seen it coming all along. Because when you subtract the area of one square minus the area of another square you’re LITERALLY taking the DIFFERENCE of two SQUARES.

So what’s the point?

Too often people study for the GMAT like they’d listen to 1980s rap. They expect the Difference of Squares to pair nicely at the end of an Algebra-with-Exponents bar, and the Isosceles Right Triangle formula to pair nicely with a Triangle question. They learn skills in distinct silos, memorize their flashcards in nice, tidy sets, and then go into the test and realize that they’re up against an exam that looks a lot more like a 2017 mixtape with layers of rhyme schemes and motives.

You need to be prepared to use skills where they don’t seem to obviously belong, to jot down and rearrange your scratchwork, label your unknowns, etc., looking for how you might reposition the math you’re given to help you bring in a skill or concept that you’ve used countless times, just in totally different contexts. The GMAT testmaker has a much more sophisticated flow than the one you’re likely studying for, so pay attention to that nuance when you study and you’ll have a much better chance of keeping your score 800.

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

By Brian Galvin.

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Beware of Sneaky Answer Choices on the GMAT!

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomTest-takers often ask for tips and short cuts to cut down the amount of work necessary to solve a GMAT problem. As such, the Testmaker might want to award the test-taker who pays attention to detail and puts in the required effort.

Today, we will look at an example of this concept – if it seems to be too easy, it is a trap!







In the figure given above, the area of the equilateral triangle is 48. If the other three figures are squares, what is the perimeter, approximately, of the nine-sided shape they form?

(A) 8√(2)
(B) 24√(3)
(C) 72√(2)
(D) 144√(2)
(E) 384

The first thing I notice about this question is that we have an equilateral triangle. So I am thinking, the area = s^2 * √(3)/4 and/or the altitude = s*√(3)/2.

The irrational number in play is √(3). There is only one answer choice with √(3) in it, so will this be the answer?

Now, it actually makes me uncomfortable that  there is only one option with √(3). At first glance, it seems that the answer has been served to us on a silver plate. But the question format doesn’t seem very easy – it links two geometrical figures together. So I doubt very much that the correct answer would be that obvious.

The next step will be to think a bit harder:

The area of the triangle has √(3) in it, so the side would be a further square root of √(3). This means the actual irrational number would be the fourth root of 3, but we don’t have any answer choice that has the fourth root of 3 in it.

Let’s go deeper now and actually solve the question.

The area of the equilateral triangle = Side^2 * (√(3)/4) = 48

Side^2 = 48*4/√(3)
Side^2 = 4*4*4*3/√(3)
Side = 8*FourthRoot(3)

Now note that the side of the equilateral triangle is the same length as the sides of the squares, too. Hence, all sides of the three squares will be of length 8*FourthRoot(3).

All nine sides of the figure are the sides of squares. Hence:

The perimeter of the nine sided figure = 9*8*FourthRoot(3)
The perimeter of the nine sided figure =72*FourthRoot(3)

Now look at the answer choices. We have an option that is 72√(2). The other answer choices are either much smaller or much greater than that.

Think about it – the fourth root of 3 = √(√(3)) = √(1.732), which is actually very similar to √(2). Number properties will help you figure this out. Squares of smaller numbers (that are still greater than 1) are only a bit larger than the numbers themselves. For example:

(1.1)^2 = 1.21
(1.2)^2 = 1.44
(1.3)^2 = 1.69
(1.414)^2 = 2

Since 1.732 is close to 1.69, the √(1.732) will be close to the √(1.69), i.e. 1.3. Also, √(2) = 1.414. The two values are quite close, therefore, the perimeter is approximately 72√(2). This is the reason the question specifically requests the “approximate” perimeter.

We hope you see how the Testmaker could sneak in a tempting answer choice – beware the “easiest” option!

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: Squares and Square Roots on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomIn today’s post, we will try to clear up your doubts regarding positive and negative solutions in the case of squares and square roots. We will explain the reasons behind each case, which will help you recall the fundamentals when you need to use them. While preparing for the GMAT, you have probably come across a discussion that says x^2 = 4 has two roots, 2 and -2, while √4 has only one value, 2.

Now, let’s try to understand why this is so:

1) x^2 = 4
Basic algebra tells us that quadratics have two roots. Here, x can be either 2 or -2; each, when squared, will give you 4.

x^2 – 4 = 0 and (x + 2)*(x – 2) = 0 when x equals -2 or 2.

2) √x is positive, only
Now this is odd, right? √4 must be 2. Why is that? Shouldn’t it be 2 or -2. After all, when we square both 2 and -2, we get 4 (as discussed above). So, √4 should be 2 or -2.

Here is the concept: √x denotes only the principal square root. x has two square roots – the positive square root (or principal square root) written as √x and the negative square root written as -√x. Therefore, when you take the square root of 4, you get two roots: √4 and -√4, which  is 2 and -2 respectively.

On a GMAT question, when you see √x, this is specifically referring to the positive square root of the number. So √4 is 2, only.

3) (√x)^2 = x
This is fairly straightforward – since x has a square root, it must be non-negative. When you square it, just the square root sign vanishes and you are left with x.

4) √(x^2) = |x|
Now this isn’t intuitive either. √(x^2) should simply be x – why do we have absolute value of x, then? Again, this has to do with the principal square root concept. First you will square x, and then when you write √, it is by default just the principal square root. The negative square root will be written as -√(x^2). So, irrespective of whether x was positive or negative initially, √(x^2) will definitely be positive x. Therefore, we will need to take the absolute value of x.

Here’s a quick recap with some examples:

  • √9 = 3
  • x^2 = 16 means x is either 4 or -4
  • √(5^2) = 5
  • √(-5^2) = 5
  • (√16)^2 = 16
  • √100 = 10

To see this concept in action, let’s take a look at a very simple official problem:

If x is not 0, then √(x^2)/x =

(A) -1
(B) 0
(C) 1
(D) x
(E) |x|/x

We know that √(x^2) is not simply x, but rather |x|. So, √(x^2)/x = |x|/x.

Depending on whether x is positive or negative, |x|/x will be 1 or -1 – we can’t say which one. Hence, there is no further simplification that we can do, and our answer must be E.

Now that you are all warmed up, let’s examine a higher-level question:

Is √[(x – 3)^2] = (3 – x)?

Statement 1: x is not 3
Statement 2: -x * |x| > 0

We know that √(x^2) = |x|, so √[(x – 3)^2] = |x – 3|.

This means that our question is basically:

Is |x – 3| = 3 – x?

Note that 3 – x can also be written as -(x – 3).

Is |x – 3| = -(x – 3)?

Recall the definition of absolute values: |a| = a if a is greater than or equal to 0, and -a if a < 0.

So, “Is |x – 3| = -(x – 3)?” depends on whether (x – 3) is positive or negative. If (x – 3) is negative (or 0), then |x – 3| is equal to -(x – 3).

So our question now boils down to:

Is (x – 3) negative (or 0)?

Statement 1: x is not 3

This means we know that (x – 3) is not 0, but we still don’t know whether it is negative or positive. This statement is not sufficient.

Statement 2: -x * |x| > 0

|x| is always non-negative, so for the product to be positive, “-x” must also be positive. This means x must be negative. If x is negative, x – 3 must be negative, too.

If (x – 3) is negative, |x – 3| is equal to -(x – 3). Hence, this statement alone is sufficient, and our answer is B.

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!