Both a test-taker at the 48 level and one at the 51 level in the GMAT Quant section, are conceptually strong – given an unlimited time frame, both will be able to solve most GMAT questions correctly. The difference lies in the two things a test-taker at the 51 level does skillfully:

1. Uses holistic, big-picture methods to solve Quant questions.

2. Handles questions he or she finds difficult in a timely manner.

We have been discussing holistic methods on this blog for a long time now and will continue discussing them.

Today we will focus on “handling the hard questions in a timely manner.” Note that we do not say “solving the hard questions in a timely manner.” Occasionally, one might be required to make a quick call and choose to guess and move on – but again, that is not the focus of this post. We are actually going to talk about the “lightbulb” moment that helps us save on time. There are many such moments for the 51 level test-taker – in fact, the 51 scorers often have time left over after attempting all these questions.

Test takers at the 48 level will also eventually reach the same conclusions but might need much more time. That will put pressure on them the next time they look at the ticking clock, and once their cool is lost, “silly errors” will start creeping in. So it isn’t about just that one question – one can end up botching many other questions too.

There are many steps that can be easily avoided by a lightbulb moment early on. This is especially true for Data Sufficiency questions.

Let’s take an official example:

*Pam owns an inventory of unopened packages of corn and rice, which she has purchased for $17 and $13 per package, respectively. How many packages of corn does she have ?*

*Statement 1: She has $282 worth of packages.*

*Statement 2: She has twice as many packages of corn as of rice.*

A high scorer will easily recognize that this question is based on the concept of “integral solutions to an equation in two variables.” Since, in such real world examples, x and y cannot be negative or fractional, these equations usually have a finite number of solutions.

After we find one solution, we will quickly know how many solutions the equation has, but getting the first set of values that satisfy the equation requires a little bit of brute force.

The good thing here is that this is a Data Sufficiency question – you don’t need to find the actual solution. The only thing we need is to establish that there is a single solution only. (Obviously, there has to be a solution since Pam does own $282 worth of packages.)

So, the test-taker will start working on finding the first solution (using the method discussed in this post).

We are told:

Price of a packet of corn = $17

Price of a packet of rice = $13

Say Pam has “x” packets of corn and “y” packets of rice.

*Statement 1: She has $282 worth of packages*

Using Statement 1, we know that 17x + 13y = 282.

We are looking for the integer values of x and y.

If x = 0, y will be 21.something (not an integer)

If x = 1, y = 20.something

If x = 2, y = 19.something

If x = 3, y = 17.something

This is where the 51 level scorer stops because they never lose sight of the big picture. The “lightbulb” switches on, and now he or she knows that there will be only one set of values that can satisfy this equation. Why? Because y will be less than 17 in the first set of values that satisfies this equation. So if we want to get the next set that satisfies, we will need to subtract y by 17 (and add 13 to x), which will make y negative.

So in any case, there will be a unique solution to this equation. We don’t actually need to find the solution and hence, nothing will be gained by continuing these calculations. Statement 1 is sufficient.

*Statement 2: She has twice as many packages of corn as of rice.*

Statement 2 gives us no information on the total number of packages or the total amount spent. Hence, we cannot find the total number of packages of corn using this information alone. Therefore, our answer is A.

I hope you see how you can be alert to what you want to handle these Quant questions in a timely manner.

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