Bunuel wrote:

Is a > bc?

(1) a/c > b

(2) c > 3

Kudos for a correct solution.

VERITAS PREP OFFICIAL SOLUTIONPlaying “middle school hearts”, many test-takers will run through this progression:

Step one: If you multiply both sides by c, you get a > bc so this looks sufficient*. The answer, then, would be A or D.

Step two: Forget everything you learned about statement 1 since you’ve already made your decision about it. Statement 2 is clearly insufficient on its own, so the answer must be A*.

(*we know the math here is slightly flawed; demonstration purposes only!)

But here’s how you’d play the game as an adult, or as a 700-level test-taker:

Step one: Same thing – if you multiply both sides by c you’ll get a > bc, so this one looks sufficient.

Step two: Wait a second – statement 2 is absolutely worthless. And statement one wasn’t *that* hard or interesting. Maybe the author of this question is “shooting the moon”…

Step three: Look at both statements together, reconsidering statement 1 by asking myself if statement 2 matters. If statement 2 is true and c is, say, 10, then a/10 > b would mean that a > 10b, so this still holds. But what if c is -10, and statement 2 is not true. a/(-10) > b would mean that when I multiply both sides by -10 I have to flip the sign, leaving a < -10b. This time it’s not true. Statement 2 *seems* worthless but in actuality it’s essential. Statement 1 is not sufficient alone; as it turns out I need statement 2.

What’s the difference between the two methodologies?

The 500-level, “middle school hearts” approach – NEVER consider the statements together unless they’re each insufficient alone – leaves you vulnerable to the author’s bait. On hard questions, authors love to shoot the moon…that’s their best chance of tricking savvy test-takers.

The 700-level, “playing hearts with grownups” approach seems counterintuitive, much like saving your king of hearts and knowingly accepting points in a hearts game would seem strange to a seventh-grader. But it’s important because it saves you from that bait. On a question like this, it’s easy to think that statement 1 is sufficient; abstract algebra is great at getting your mind away from numbers like negatives, zero, fractions… But statement 2′s worthlessness (ALONE) functions two ways: it’s a trap for the unsuspecting 500-level types, and it’s a reward for those who know how to play the game. That worthless statement 2 is akin to the author leading a high heart early in the game – the novice player sees it as a freebie; the expert considers “why did she do that?” and re-examines statement 1 by asking specifically “what if statement 2 weren’t true; would that change anything?”.

Remember, when you’re taking the GMAT you’re playing against other very-intelligent adults, and so the authors of these questions have a responsibility to “shoot the moon”. While the rules of the game dictate that you don’t want to consider the statements together until you’ve eliminated A, B, and D, there’s a caveat – if you have reason to believe that the author of the question is trying to trick you (which is very frequently the case on 600+ level questions), you have to consider what one statement might tell you about the other; you have to play the game.

_________________