GRE Arithmetic: Mixtures, Again!
Last night I TA-ed a “GRE Bootcamp” online event hosted by Lee Weiss. We won’t be running that particular event again for a while, so I figured I’d cover what a lot of the 400+ attendees considered the most challenging problem of the evening. Lee did an excellent job explaining it, but even so we got lots of requests in the Q&A to “go back to that mixture problem again!”
If you were at the event: hi! You might remember me as “Kaplan GRE Expert Boris.” It so happens that I’ve written before about how to solve this very type of problem, but concepts that the GRE repeats are always worth a second look.
Here was the question that confounded so many of you:
Liquid X is composed of 30% alcohol and 70% water, while Liquid Y is composed of 18% alcohol and 82% water. The two liquids are combined to form Mixture Z, which is composed of 21% alcohol and 79% water. What is the ratio in Mixture Z of Liquid X to Liquid Y?
If you’ve already read my older entry, try to solve this one on your own before you keep reading!
Now let’s solve it together. We can start by cleaning up the problem a bit. If X has 30% alcohol, it’s redundant to say that it has 70% water — the GRE just puts that there to overwhelm you with extra numbers. Same goes for Y (18% alcohol) and mixture Z (21%) alcohol. You’ll find that you can usually summarize the information much better than the GRE does!
Liquid X: 30% alcohol
Liquid Y: 18% alcohol
Mixture Z (X + Y): 21% alcohol
The question is, what’s the ratio of X to Y? Note that for simplicity’s sake, I’ve left the choices out of the picture — you can find the answer straight-up.
To solve a problem like this, you can spare yourself a heck of a headache if you use the balance approach. Imagine you’re a mad scientist, adding “parts” of X and Y to a bubbling flask until you get just the right concentration of alcohol.
Every “part” of X you add gives 9% too much alcohol to the mixture. X is 30% alcohol, but the mixture is only 21%: 30 – 21 = 9.
Every “part” of Y you add gives you 3% too little alcohol. Y is 18% alcohol, and 21-18 = 3.
You need those 3′s and 9′s to cancel out if you want just the right percentage of alcohol. To do that, of course, you need three 3′s for every 9, since 3 × 3 = 9. This means that there’s one “part” of X for every three “parts” of Y — in other words, that the ratio of X to Y is 1:3.
(Sidenote: in the problem, one of the choices was 3:1, which is the ratio of Y:X, not X:Y. Always take care, when you finish solving a GRE quantitative problem, to confirm that you answered the question the test makers actually asked! Nothing is more heartbreaking than losing a GRE point because you got the right answer to the wrong question.)
Still got questions about mixtures? Let us know in the comments below!