McKayla Maroney Is Not Impressed by This Data Sufficiency Statement

by on August 23rd, 2012

In what Veritas Prep staffers are calling the greatest internet meme since Cigar Guy, US gymnast McKayla Maroney’s silver-medal-podium “not impressed” face is sweeping across cyberspace.

With her amazing athletic abilities supplemented by an uncanny ability to laugh at herself, McKayla  has emerged as one of the breakout stars of the 2012 Olympics. Not only that – by virtue of being hard to impress, McKayla may just unlock the secret to Data Sufficiency for you.

How? McKayla’s “not impressed” meme works in two ways:

  1. You should not be immediately impressed by Data Sufficiency statements without digging a little deeper to make sure that they’re really as excellent/sufficient as they seem.
  2. The GMAT is “not impressed”, at least not as much as you think it is, by your ability to perform high-school-level math. Hard questions typically require some true thought and logical progression, and not just the rote application of a geometry rule or algebraic process.

Let’s take a look at a couple examples to see how being not impressed can vault your GMAT score to the top of the podium.

In isosceles triangle LMN, what is the measure of angle N?

(1) Side LN measures 4 inches
(2) Side MN measures 4*sqrt 2 inches

If you’re salivating right now at the opportunity to employ your knowledge of isosceles right triangles – the sides will have ratio x, x, x*sqrt 2 – that’s understandable. But remember – you shouldn’t be impressed by these statements and the GMAT isn’t overwhelmingly impressed by your ability to memorize that side ratio. And therein lies the trap and the reward here. You don’t know that this is a right triangle! Side LM could math either the 4 side (in which case this is a 45-45-90 triangle) OR it could match the 4sqrt2 side, in which case this is not a right triangle. And there’s no evidence either way.

The trap here is that the GMAT knows you’re in a hurry to use the knowledge that you’ve gained by studying content, but this is a reasoning test. They’ll reward you for being #notimpressed and for playing devil’s advocate. Are these statements really sufficient, or is the test baiting you into making an assumption? This is the thought process you need to have – don’t be easily impressed by the statements or by your own ability to remember geometry rules. The test, particularly at that “olympic” level above 650, is played on a higher level.

So with that in mind, let’s look at one more example:

The product of integers a, b, c, and d is 120. What is the value of integer d?

(1) a, b, c, and d are consecutive integers
(2) a > b > c > d

Again, you have an opportunity here to be impressed with your math ability. If you recognize 120 as 5! (or “5 factorial”), you can quickly see four consecutive integers that will multiply to 120: 2, 3, 4, and 5. So with both statements 1 and 2 you may see that the integers are 2, 3, 4, and 5, and that d is the smallest so it will be 2. Right?

McKayla is not impressed. And neither is McCombs (the University of Texas’ business school) or any other top 15 business school. Above the 600 level everyone can factor small numbers, so you shouldn’t be immediately impressed by having done just that. Think a little more about whether there’s a catch. And here there is: -2, -3, -4, and -5 are also four consecutive integers that multiply to 120, and that also means that d could be -5. The answer to this question is E, and those who are #notimpressed by their own math ability or by the possibility that the statements are sufficient will recognize that.

In a less meme-of-the-moment way, we call this strategy “Play Devil’s Advocate”. The most common trap on data sufficiency questions is one in which you think you have enough information, but you actually don’t. And you often don’t have as much information as you think you do because you’re making an assumption – that a triangle is right (because all the familiar symptoms are there); that a number is positive or an integer (because how often do you think of negative numbers or fractions?); that the variable you’re dividing out of an equation isn’t 0; etc. If you want to impress admissions committees with your GMAT score, you can’t be immediately impressed by Data Sufficiency statements – you need to dig deeper. The same will be true in business – proposals will always be designed to impress you, but you need to summon your inner McKayla and scowl in the face of almost-greatness.

10 comments

  • Thanks for such a great post. It will induce the spark in my head :)

  • Great article. Could you explain a little further why in the second question, statement 2 doesn't help you narrow it down? I figured that the four integers would be 2,3,4,5 from statement one, recognized that they could also be negative so didn't choose that one as sufficient, but doesn't statement 2 tell you that, combined with the information gathered from statement 1- (a > b > c > d)? -2 > -3 > -4 > -5. So I got C for this one. Please clarify as I'd like to learn why I made an error!

    • Hi Ryan,

      The answer to this question is E. How? Let us see

      Since you already sorted out that each statement (alone) isn't sufficient to answer the question, I will try to prove that C is not the answer.

      Case 1: Let a,b,c,d be 2,3,4 and 5 respectively.
      Does the case satisfy statement 1? Yes it does, because 2,3,4,5 are consecutive integers.
      Does the case satisfy statement 2? Yes it does, because 2<3<4<5.

      From Case 1, the value of d is 5.

      Case 2: Let a,b,c,d be -5,-4,-3 and -2 respectively.
      Does the case satisfy statement 1? Yes it does, because -5,-4,-3,-2 are consecutive integers.
      Does the case satisfy statement 2? Yes it does, because -5<-4<-3<-2.

      From Case 2, the value of d is -2.

      The value of d can be either -2 or 5. Hence both the statements together aren't sufficient to answer the question. Answer : E

      Let me know if that clears your doubt.

      p.s: Neat article!

  • Classic !

  • @ Anil - good explanation but a small clarification

    value of d in case 2 is -5

    As the value of d can be 5 or -5, only option E is true.

    • @ Anil - good explanation but a small clarification

      Value of d in case 1 is 2

      value of d in case 2 is -5

      As the value of d can be 2 or -5, only option E is true.

    • Thanks for the edit Rohan! 

  • great article!...I'm finding data sufficiency to be very tricky, at least right now.  so this is good stuff to keep in mind.  thanks!

  • This is great - can you perhaps update this or make a part II with "strategies for playing devils advocate"? Its hard to do anything on test day without having a strategy to employ. With so many other things to remember... Strategies help!

  • what is the answer for the first question in this article?
    "In isosceles triangle LMN, what is the measure of angle N?

    (1) Side LN measures 4 inches
    (2) Side MN measures 4*sqrt 2 inches"

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