GMAT Word Problems: Pay Close(r) Attention to the Words
Most test takers don’t give Word Problems enough credit—simple words with simple calculations, right? The reality is that the GMAT tosses in Word Problems when they hope you are not paying close attention, like when you figure you’ve got it in the bag for a 700 or you work through the question too quickly, either overthinking or overlooking a tiny component of the question.
Let’s work through two Word Problems that have this challenge:
Other than gas, a gas station sells on average 12 coffees for $1.25 each, 3 candy bars for 90 cents each, and other products worth $15 every hour. If the gas station has 30 customers an hour and each customer purchases exactly one item what are its average sales, excluding gas, per customer?
Believe it or not, the calculations are very straightforward here, if we break the word problem down line by line.
12 coffees x $1.25 = $15 spent on coffee
3 candy bars x $0.90 = $2.70 spent on candy bars
Plus $15 on “other products” every hour.
This last calculation is one that many test takers miss—the $15 is hidden in the second line, and it matches the amount of dollars spent on coffee. “How could it possibly be $15 x 2? It must be a trick, right!?” or “Aren’t they just restating an earlier part of the problem??”
But here, the $15 is an additional component we need to consider. $15 + $2.70 + $15 = somewhere a little above $30 ($32.70 to be exact). If we have read the second part of the problem carefully, then we will know there are 30 customers per hour, so that average amount a customer spends on items that are not gas at a gas is a little over $1 per person, so the correct answer choice is A) $1.09
Let’s look at another problem that has a similar challenge:
A machine in a factory uses between 150 and 220 kilowatt-hours of electricity, inclusive, to produce two widgets. What is the maximum number of widgets the machine could produce using 3,450 kilowatt-hours of electricity?
Okay, so we are going to leave you to do calculations on your own for this one. Practice makes perfect, right? But, the key here is that the vast majority of test takers—running on auto-pilot—totally fail to read the all-important word “two” in this problem. Produce two widgets over one widget is quite different, right? In theory, if you know what the GMAT means by widget!
Widgets aside, the key point here is that all GMAT Quantitative questions are created equal, including Word Problems. The GMAT has zero intentions of letting you off easy, so take everything it throws at you seriously.