Bunuel wrote:

Which of the following distribution of numbers has the greatest standard deviation?

(A) {-3, 1, 2}

(B) {-2, -1, 1, 2}

(C) {3, 5, 7}

(D) {-1, 2, 3, 4}

(E) {0, 2, 4}

For answer choice A, the mean = 0 and the deviations are 3, 1, 2

For answer choice B, the mean = 0 and the deviations are 2, 1, 1, 2

For answer choice C, the mean = 5 and the deviations are 2, 0, 2

For answer choice D, the mean = 2 and the deviations are 3, 0, 1, 2

For answer choice E, the mean = 2 and the deviations are 2, 0, 2

We don’t need to worry about the arithmetic means (they just help us calculate the deviation of each element from the mean); our focus should be on the deviations. The SD formula squares the individual deviations and then adds them, then the sum is divided by the number of elements and finally, we find the square root of the whole term. So if a deviation is greater, its square will be even greater and that will increase the SD.

If the deviation increases and the number of elements increases, too, then we cannot be sure what the final effect will be – an increased deviation increases the SD but an increase in the number of elements increases the denominator and hence, actually decreases the SD. The overall effect as to whether the SD increases or decreases will vary from case to case.

First, we should note that answers C and E have identical deviations and numbers of elements, hence, their SDs will be identical. This means the answer is certainly not C or E, since Problem Solving questions have a single correct answer.

Let’s move on to the other three options:

For answer choice A, the mean = 0 and the deviations are 3, 1, 2

For answer choice B, the mean = 0 and the deviations are 2, 1, 1, 2

For answer choice D, the mean = 2 and the deviations are 3, 0, 1, 2

Comparing answer choices A and D, we see that they both have the same deviations, but D has more elements. This means its denominator will be greater, and therefore, the SD of answer D is smaller than the SD of answer A. This leaves us with options A and B:

For answer choice A, the mean = 0 and the deviations are 3, 1, 2

For answer choice B, the mean = 0 and the deviations are 2, 1, 1, 2

Now notice that although two deviations of answers A and B are the same, answer choice A has a higher deviation of 3 but fewer elements than answer choice B. This means the SD of A will be higher than the SD of B, so the SD of A will be the highest. Hence, our answer must be A.

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Karishma

Veritas Prep GMAT Instructor

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