Quarter Wit Quarter Wisdom: How to Read GMAT Questions Carefully

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe all know that we need to be very careful while reading GMAT questions – that every word is important. Even small oversights can completely change an answer for you. This is what happens with many test takers who try to tackle this official question. Even though the question looks very simple, the way it is worded causes test-takers to often ignore one word, which changes the solution entirely. Let’s look at this question now:

Alice’s take-home pay last year was the same each month, and she saved the same fraction of her take-home pay each month. The total amount of money that she had saved at the end of the year was 3 times the amount of that portion of her monthly take-home pay that she did NOT save. If all the money that she saved last year was from her take-home pay, what fraction of her take-home pay did she save each month?

(A) 1/2
(B) 1/3
(C) 1/4
(D) 1/5
(E) 1/6

Let’s consider the question stem sentence by sentence:

“Alice’s take-home pay last year was the same each month, and she saved the same fraction of her take-home pay each month.”

Say Alice’s take-home pay last year was $100 each month. She saves a fraction of this every month – let the amount saved be x.

“The total amount of money that she had saved at the end of the year was 3 times the amount of that portion of her monthly take-home pay that she did NOT save.”

What would be “the total amount of money that she had saved at the end of the year”? Since Alice saves x every month, she would have saved 12x by the end of the year.

What would be “the amount of that portion of her monthly take-home pay that she did NOT save”? Note that this is going to be (100 – x). Many test takers end up using (100 – x)*12, however this equation is not correct. The key word here is “monthly” – we are looking for how much Alice does not save each month, not how much she does not save during the whole year.

The total amount of money that Alice saved at the end of the year is 3 times the amount of that portion of her MONTHLY take-home pay that she did not save. Now we know we are looking for:

12x = 3*(100 – x)
x = 20

“If all the money that she saved last year was from her take-home pay, what fraction of her take-home pay did she save each month?”

From our equation, we have determined that Alice saved $20 out of every $100 she earned every month, so she saved 20/100 = 1/5 of her take-home pay.

Therefore, the answer is D.

Often, test-takers make the mistake of writing the equation as:

12x = 3*(100 – x)*12
x = 300/4

However, this will give them the fraction (300/4)/100 = 3/4, and that’s when they will wonder what went wrong.

Be extra careful when reading GMAT questions so that precious minutes are not wasted on such avoidable errors.

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!

Advanced Number Properties on the GMAT – Part VII

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe have seen a number of posts on divisibility, odd-even concepts and perfect squares. Individually, each topic has very simple concepts but when they all come together in one GMAT question, it can be difficult to wrap one’s head around so many ideas. The GMAT excels at giving questions where multiple concepts are tested. Let’s take a look at one such Data Sufficiency question today:

If p, x, and y are positive integers, y is odd, and p = x^2 + y^2, is x divisible by 4?

1) When p is divided by 8, the remainder is 5.
2) x – y = 3

This Data Sufficiency question has a lot of information in the question stem.  First, we need to sort through this information before we move on to the statements.

We know that p, x and y are positive integers. y is an unknown odd number, so it can be written in the form 2n + 1. We also know that p = x^2 + y^2.

Because y is written in the form 2n + 1, y^2 can be written as:

y^2 =(2n + 1)^2

y^2 = 4n^2 + 4n + 1

y^2 = 4n(n + 1) + 1

An interesting thing to note here is that one case of n and (n+1) will be odd and the other will be even. In every case, n(n + 1) is even. Therefore, y^2 is 1 more than a multiple of 8. In other words, we can write it as y^2 = 8m + 1.

Now we can say p = x^2 + 8m + 1.

With this in mind, is x divisible by 4? Let’s examine the statements to find out:

Statement 1: When p is divided by 8, the remainder is 5.

Because y^2 = 8m + 1, we can see that when y^2 is divided by 8, the remainder will be 1. Therefore, to get a remainder of 5 when p is divided by 8, when x^2 is divided by 8, we should get a remainder of 4.

Now we know that x^2 can be written in the form 8a + 4 (i.e. we can make “a’” groups of 8 each and have 4 leftover).

x^2 = 4*(2a + 1)

So x = 2 * √(an odd number)

Note that square root of an odd number will be an odd number only. If there is no 2 in the perfect square, obviously there was no 2 in the number, too.

So, x = 2 * some other odd number, which means x will be a multiple of 2, but not of 4 definitely. This statement alone is sufficient.

Now let’s look at the next statement:

Statement 2: x – y = 3

Since y is odd, we can say that x will be even (an even – an odd = an odd). But whether x is divisible by 2 only or by 4 as well, we cannot say since we have no constraints on p.

This statement alone is not sufficient to answer the question. Therefore, our answer is A.

Test takers might feel that not every step in this solution is instinctive. For example, how do we know that we should put y^2 in the form 4n(n+1) + 1? Keep the target in mind – we know that we need to find whether x is divisible by 4. Hence, try to get everything in terms of multiples of 4 + a remainder.

See you next week!

(For more advanced number properties on the GMAT, check out Parts IIIIIIIV, V and VI of this series.)

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!

Using Special Formats on GMAT Variable Problems

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomIn today’s post, we will discuss some special formats when we assume variables on the GMAT. These will allow us to minimize the amount of manipulations and calculations that are required to solve certain Quant problems.

Here are some examples:

An even number: 2a
Logic: It must be a multiple of 2.

An odd number: (2a + 1) or (2a – 1)
Logic: It will not be a multiple of 2. Instead, it will be 1 more (or we can say 1 less) than a multiple of 2.

Two consecutive integers: 2a, (2a + 1) or (2a – 1), 2a
Logic: One number will be even and the other will be the next odd number (or the other way around).

Four consecutive odd numbers: (2a – 3), (2a – 1), (2a + 1), (2a + 3)
In this case, the sum of the numbers comes out to be a clean 8a. This can be very useful in many cases.

Five consecutive even numbers: (2a – 4), (2a – 2), 2a, (2a + 2), (2a + 4)
In this case, the sum of the numbers comes out to be a clean 10a. This can also be very useful in many cases.

A prime number: (6a+1) / (6a – 1)
Every prime number greater than 3 is of the form (6a + 1) or (6a – 1). Note, however, that every number of this form is not prime.

Three consecutive numbers:
If we know one number is even and the other two are odd, we will have: (2a – 1), 2a, (2a + 1).
Logic: They add up to give 6a.
In a more generic case, we will have: 3a, (3a+1), (3a+2).
This gives us some important information. It tells us that one of the numbers will definitely be a multiple of 3 and the other two numbers will not be. Note that the numbers can be in a different order such as (3a + 1), (3a + 2) and (3a + 3). (3a + 3) can be written as 3b, so the three numbers will still have the same properties.

Basically, try to pick numbers in a way that will make it easy for you to manage them. Remember, three numbers do not need to be a, b and c – there could be, and in fact often are, several other hints which will give you the relations among the numbers.

Now, let’s see how picking the right format of these numbers can be helpful using a 700-level GMAT question:

The sum of four consecutive odd numbers is equal to the sum of 3 consecutive even numbers. Given that the middle term of the even numbers is greater than 101 and lesser than 200, how many such sequences can be formed?

(A) 12
(B) 17
(C) 25
(D) 33
(E) 50

Let’s have the four consecutive odd numbers be the following, where “a” is any integer: (2a – 3), (2a – 1), (2a + 1), (2a + 3)

The sum of these numbers is: (2a – 3) + (2a – 1) + (2a + 1) + (2a + 3) = 8a

Now let’s have the three consecutive even numbers be the following, where “b” is any integer: (2b – 2), 2b, (2b + 2)

The sum of these numbers is: (2b – 2) + 2b + (2b + 2) = 6b

Note here that instead of 2a, we used 2b. There is no reason that the even numbers would be right next to the odd numbers, hence we used different variables so that we don’t establish relations that don’t exist between these seven numbers.

We are given that the sum 8a is equal to the sum 6b.

8a = 6b, or a/b = 3/4, where a and b can be any integers. So “a” has to be a multiple of 3 and “b” has to be a multiple of 4.

With this in mind, possible solutions for a and b are:

a = 3, b = 4;
a = 6, b = 8;
a = 9, b = 12
etc.

We are also given that the middle term of the even numbers is greater than 101 and less than 200.

So 101 < 2b < 200, i.e. 50.5 < b < 100.

B must be an integer, hence, 51 ≤ b ≤ 99.

Also, b has to be a multiple of 4, so the values that b can take are 52, 56, 60, 64 … 96

The number of values b can take = (Last term – First term)/Common Difference + 1 = (96 – 52)/4 + 1 = 12

For each of these 12 values of b, there will be a corresponding value of a and, hence, we will get 12 such sequences. Therefore, the answer to our question is A.

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!

How to Solve “Unsolvable” Equations on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomThe moment we see an equation involving the variable x, we have a habit of jumping right into attempting to solve it. But what happens when we are not able to solve it? Let’s say, for example, we have an equation such as x^2 + 1 = 0. How would we solve for x here? We can’t because x has no real value. Note that x^2 is non-negative – it would be either 0 or positive. 1, we know, is positive. So together, a positive number and a non-negative number cannot add up to 0.

In this example, it relatively easy to see that the equation has no real solution. In others, it may not be so obvious, so we will need to use other strategies.

We know how to solve third degree equations. The first solution is found by trial and error – we try simple values such as -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, etc. and are usually able to find the first solution. Then the equation of third degree is split into two factors, including a quadratic. We know how to solve a quadratic, and that is how we get all three solutions, if it has any.

But what if we are unable to find the first solution to a third degree equation by trial and error? Then we should force ourselves to wonder if we even need to solve the equation at all. Let’s take a look at a sample question to better understand this idea:

Is x < 0?
(1) x^3 + x^2 + x + 2 = 0
(2) x^2 – x – 2 < 0

In this problem, x can be any real number – we have no constraints on it. Now, is x negative?

Statement 1: x^3 + x^2 + x + 2 = 0

If we try to solve this equation as we are used to doing, look at what happens:

If you plug in x = 2, you get 16 = 0
If you plug in x = 1, you get 5 = 0
If you plug in x = 0, you get 2 = 0
If you plug in x = -1, you get 1 = 0
If you plug in x = -2, you get -4 = 0

We did not find any root for the equation. What should we do now? Note that when x goes from -1 to -2, the value on the left hand side changes from 1 to -4, i.e. from a positive to a negative. So, in between -1 and -2 there will be some value of x for which the left hand side will become 0. That value of x will not be an integer, but some decimal value such as -1.3 or -1.4, etc.

Even after we find the first root, making the quadratic will be very tricky and then solving it will be another uphill task. So we should ask ourselves whether we even need to solve this equation.

Think about it – can x be positive? If x is indeed positive, x^3, x^2 and x all will be positive. Then, if we add four positive numbers (x^3, x^2, x and 2) we will get a positive sum – we cannot get 0. Obviously x cannot be 0 since that will give us 2 = 0.

This means the value of x must be negative, but what it is exactly doesn’t matter. We know that x has to be negative, and that is sufficient to answer the question.

Statement 2: x^2 – x – 2 < 0

This, we can easily solve:

x^2 – 2x + x – 2 < 0
(x – 2)*(x + 1) < 0

We know how to solve this inequality using the method discussed here.

This this will give us -1 < x < 2.

Since x can be a non-integer value too, x can be negative, 0, or positive. This statement alone is not sufficient,and therefore, the answer is A.

To evaluate Statement 1, we didn’t need to solve the equation at all. We figured out everything we wanted to know by simply using some logic.

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!

GMAT Tip of the Week: Kanye, Wiz Khalifa, Twitter Beef…and GMAT Variables

GMAT Tip of the WeekThis week, the internet exploded with a massive Twitter feud between rappers Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa, with help from their significant others and exes. For days now, hashtags unpublishable for an education blog have topped the trending lists, all as a result of the epic social media confrontation. And all of THAT originated from a classic GMAT mistake from the Louis Vuitton Don – a man who so loves his hometown Kellogg School of Management that he essentially named his daughter Northwestern – himself:

Kanye didn’t consider all the possibilities when he saw variables.
A brief history of the beef: there was musical origin, as Wiz wanted a bit of credit for his young/wild/free friends for the term “Wave,” as Kanye changed his upcoming album title from Swish to Waves. But where things escalated quickly all stemmed from Wiz’s use of variables in the following tweet:

Hit this kk and become yourself.

Kanye, whose wife bears those exact initials, K.K., immediately interpreted those variables as a reference to Kim and lost his mind. But Wiz had intended those variables kk to mean something entirely different, a reference to his favorite drug of choice. And then…well let’s just say that things got out of hand.

So back to the GMAT: Kanye’s main mistake was that he didn’t consider alternate possibilities for the variables he saw in the tweet, and quickly built in some incorrect assumptions that led to disastrous results. Do not let this happen to you on the GMAT! Here’s how it could happen:

1) Forgetting about not-obvious numbers.
If a problem, for example, defines k as 10 < k < 12, you can’t just think “k = 11” because you don’t know that k has to be an integer. 11.9 or 10.1 are also possibilities. Similarly if k^2 = 121, you have to consider that k could be -11 as well as it could be 11.

Ultimately, that was Yeezy’s mistake: he saw KK and with tunnel vision saw the most obvious possibility. But why couldn’t “KK” have been Krispy Kreme or Kyle Korver or Kato Kaelin? Before you leap to conclusions on a GMAT variable, see if there’s anything else it could be.

2) Assuming that each variable must represent a different number.
This one is a bit more nuanced. Suppose you were asked:

For positive integers a and b, is the product ab > 1?

(1) a = 1

With that statement, you might start thinking, “Well if a is 1, b has to be something else…” but all the variable b really means is “a number we don’t know.” Just because a problem assigns two different variables does not mean that they represent two different numbers! B could also be 1…we just don’t know yet.

Where this manifests itself as a problem most often is on function problems. When people see the setup, for example:

The function f is defined for all values x as f(x) = x^2 – x – 1

They’ll often be confused when that’s paired with a question like, “Is f(a) > 1?” and a statement like:

(1) -2 < a < 2

“I know about f(x) but I don’t know anything about f(a),” they might say, but the way these variables work, f(x) means “the function of any number…we just don’t know which number” so when you then see f(a), a becomes that number you don’t know. You’ll do the same thing for a: f(a) = a^2 – a – 1. What goes in the parentheses is just “the number you perform the function on” – the function doesn’t just apply to the variable in the definition, but to any number, variable, or combination that is then put in the parentheses.

The real lesson here is this: variables on the GMAT are a lot like variables in Wiz Khalifa’s Twitter feed. You might think you know what they mean, but before you stake your reputation (or score) on your response to those variables, consider all the options. Hit this GMAT and become yourself.

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!

By Brian Galvin.

How to Choose the Right Number for a GMAT Variable Problem

Pi to the 36th digitWhen you begin studying for the GMAT, you will quickly discover that most of the strategies are, on the surface, fairly simple. It will not come as a terribly big surprise that selecting numbers and doing arithmetic is often an easier way of attacking a problem than attempting to perform complex algebra. There is, however, a big difference between understanding a strategy in the abstract and having honed that strategy to the point that it can be implemented effectively under pressure.

Now, you may be thinking, “How hard can it possibly be to pick numbers? I see an “x” and I decide x = 5. Not so complicated.” The art is in learning how to pick workable numbers for each question type. Different questions will require different types of numbers to create a scenario that truly is simpler than the algebra. The harder the problem, the more finesse that will be required when selecting numbers. Let’s start with a problem that doesn’t require much strategy:

If n=4p, where p is prime number greater than 2, how many different positive even divisors does n have, including n? 

(A) 2

(B) 3

(C) 4

(D) 6 

(E) 8 

Okay in this problem, “p” is a prime number greater than 2. So let’s say p = 3. If n = 4p, and 4p = 4*3 = 12. Let’s list out the factors of 12: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 12. The even factors here are 2, 4, 6, 12. There are 4 of them. So the answer is C. Not so bad, right? Just pick the first simple number that pops into your head and you’re off to the races. Bring on the test!

If only it were that simple for all questions. So let’s try a much harder question to illustrate the pitfalls of adhering to an approach that’s overly mechanistic:

The volume of water in a certain tank is x percent greater than it was one week ago. If r percent of the current volume of water in the tank is removed, the resulting volume will be 90 percent of the volume it was one week ago. What is the value of r in terms of x?

(A) x + 10

(B) 10x + 1

(C) 100(x + 10)

(D) 100 * (x+10)/(x+100)

(E) 100 * (10x + 1)/(10x+10)

You’ll notice quickly that if you simply declare that x = 10 and r =20, you may run into trouble. Say, for example, that the starting value from one week ago was 100 liters. If x = 10, a 10% increase will lead to a volume of 110 liters. If we remove 20% of that 110, we’ll be removing .20*110 = 22 liters, giving us 110-22 = 88 liters. But we’re also told that the resulting volume is 90% of the original volume! 88 is not 90% of 100, therefore our numbers aren’t valid. In instances like this, we need to pick some simple starting numbers and then calculate the numbers that will be required to fit the parameters of the question.

So again, say the volume one week ago was 100 liters. Let’s say that x = 20%, so the volume, after water is added, will be 100 + 20 = 120 liters.

We know that once water is removed, the resulting volume will be 90% of the original. If the original was 100, the volume, once water is removed, will be 100*.90 = 90 liters.

Now, rather than arbitrarily picking an “r”, we’ll calculate it based on the numbers we have. To summarize:

Start: 100 liters

After adding water: 120 liters

After removing water: 90 liters

We now need to calculate what percent of those 120 liters need to be removed to get down to 90. Using our trusty percent change formula [(Change/Original) * 100] we’ll get (30/120) * 100 = 25%.

Thus, when x = 20, r =25. Now all we have to do is substitute “x” with “20” in the answer choices until we hit our target of 25.

Remember that in these types of problems, we want to start at the bottom of the answer choice options and work our way up:

(E) 100 * (10x + 1)/(10x+10)

100 * (10*20 + 1)/(10*20+10) = 201/210. No need to simplify. There’s no way this equals 25.

(D) 100 * (x+10)/(x+100)

100 * (20+10)/(20+100) = 100 * (30/120) = 25. That’s it! We’re done. The correct answer is D.

Takeaways: Internalizing strategies is the first step in your process of preparing for the GMAT. Once you’ve learned these strategies, you need to practice them in a variety of contexts until you’ve fully absorbed how each strategy needs to be tweaked to fit the contours of the question. In some cases, you can pick a single random number. Other times, there will be multiple variables, so you’ll have to pick one or two numbers to start and then solve for the remaining numbers so that you don’t violate the conditions of the problem. Accept that you may have to make adjustments mid-stream. Your first selection may produce hairy arithmetic. There are no style point on the GMAT, so stay flexible, cultivate back-up plans, and remember that mental agility trumps rote memorization every time.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

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