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The Quantitative Reasoning section of the GMAT includes two question types. The first, called problem-solving questions, should be familiar to you if you’ve ever taken a standardized math test. These multiple-choice questions ask you to solve an equation or a word problem, read a table or graph, or calculate the answer to a geometric problem. You’ve seen questions like this since K-12 school.
And then there’s the second type, which almost certainly will not look familiar to you. They’re called data sufficiency questions, and they ask you not to solve a problem but rather to figure out whether you have enough information to solve a problem. It’s a weird and confusing question, especially when posed under strenuous, high-stakes test conditions.
The GMAT is administered in a computer-adaptive format only, with all quantitative reasoning questions asked in a single section. That means you can see either of these question types at any time, in any order, when you take the exam. You need to be prepared.
A data sufficiency question offers two statements followed by five answer choices.
Here’s an example of an easy data sufficiency question: What is the value of x?
(1) 2 + x = 4
(2) 10 – x = 8
To answer, look first at statement 1. Does it provide enough information to answer the question “What is the value of x?” Yes, it does; if you subtract 2 from both sides of the equation, you get x = 2.
What about statement 2? If you subtract 8 from both sides of the equation and then add x to both sides of the equation, you get 2 = x. So yes, statement 2 is also sufficient.
Which answer choice means “statements 1 and 2 are each sufficient on their own?” Answer choice D, so the correct answer to this question is D.
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OK, that was a pretty easy question, so the format didn’t trip us up too much. But these questions get significantly more difficult. As they do, the unfamiliarity and just plain weirdness of the format can cause some unforced errors.
And that’s the way to work through each and every data sufficiency question. By using this systematic approach, you will avoid the confusion caused by too much information at once, and you’ll avoid the all-too-common error of mixing up the meanings of the answer choices. Sadly, people get data sufficiency questions wrong all the time simply because they invert the meaning of answer choices C and D. Did we mention that this is a weird and confusing question format?
Here’s a mnemonic for the answer choice groupings: AD stands for “anno domini,” which is Latin for “the year of our Lord.” BCE stands for “before the Christian era,” an alternative to the designation BC (“before Christ”). So together the data sufficiency answer choice groupings cover all of Earth history: AD and BCE!
Now it’s time for you to try a question. Remember, these can get tricky.
Jada sold her house through a realtor. What was the sale price of Jada’s house?
(1) The realtor who sold the house earned a 3 percent commission of $10,500 on the sale.
(2) The sum of the sale price and the realtor’s commission was $360,500.
So, what happens when you look at statement 1 and realize “I have no idea whether this statement is sufficient to answer the question?” Without being able to make that determination, you can’t use AD-BCE.
The answer: you tweak your approach slightly. Instead of assessing statement 1’s sufficiency, assess statement 2. If it’s sufficient, the correct answer must be B or D. If it’s insufficient, the correct answer must be A, C, or E.
And yes, we have a mnemonic for these answer choice groupings too: in the comic strip Doonesbury, there’s a character named BD who was an ACE quarterback in college. Yeah, it’s not as good as the AD-BCE mnemonic because, well, not everyone reads Doonesbury, but it’s the best we could do. If you come up with a better one, please let us know. Our contact information is below.
You’ll need to practice to prepare for all GMAT questions, but you need to focus particularly on data sufficiency questions because, as we’ve noted repeatedly, the question format is so weird and confusing. The Official Guide to the GMAT contains lots and lots of practice questions — and entire practice tests — that actually appeared on real GMATs, which is what makes it the best (some would argue only) valuable test prep resource available. Get yourself a copy and start practicing a little every day; you should give yourself a minimum of four weeks to prepare for the test.
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