Consecutive Integers and Data Sufficiency (Avoiding Algebra)

By: Rich Zwelling (Apex GMAT Instructor)
Date: 25 March 2021

Last time, we left off with the following GMAT Official Guide problem, which tackles the Number Theory property of consecutive integers. Try the problem out, if you haven’t already, then we’ll get into the explanation:

The sum of 4 different odd integers is 64. What is the value of the greatest of these integers?
(1) The integers are consecutive odd numbers
(2) Of these integers, the greatest is 6 more than the least.

Explanation (NARRATIVE or GRAPHIC APPROACHES):

Remember that we talked about avoiding algebra if possible, and instead taking a narrative approach or graphic approach if possible. By that we meant to look at the relationships between the numbers and think critically about them, rather than simply defaulting to mechanically setting up equations.

(This is especially helpful on GMAT Data Sufficiency questions, on which you are more interested in the ability to solve than in actually solving. In this case, once you’ve determined that it’s possible to determine the greatest of the four integers, you don’t have to actually figure out what that integer is. You know you have sufficiency.)

Statement (1) tells us that the integers are consecutive odd numbers. Again, it may be tempting to assign variables or something similarly algebraic (e.g. x, x+2, x+4, etc). But instead, how about we take a NARRATIVE and/or GRAPHIC approach? Paint a visual, not unlike the slot method we were using for GMAT combinatorics problems:

___ + ___ +  ___ + ___  =  64

Because these four integers are consecutive odd numbers, we know they are equally spaced. They also add up to a definite sum.

This is where the NARRATIVE approach pays off: if we think about it, there’s only one set of numbers that could fit that description. We don’t even need to calculate them to know this is the case.

You can use a scenario-driven approach with simple numbers to see this. Suppose we use the first four positive odd integers and find the sum:

_1_ + _3_ +  _5_ + _7_  =  16

This will be the only set of four consecutive odd integers that adds up to 16. 

Likewise, let’s consider the next example:

_3_ + _5_ +  _7_ + _9_  =  24

This will be the only set of four consecutive odd integers that adds up to 24. 

It’s straightforward from here to see that for any set of four consecutive odd integers, there will be a unique sum. (In truth, this principle holds for any set of equally spaced integers of any number.) This essentially tells us [for Statement (1)] that once we know that the sum is set at 64 and that the integers are equally spaced, we can figure out exactly what each integer is. Statement (1) is sufficient.

(And notice that I’m not even going to bother finding the integers. All I care about is that I can find them.)

Similarly, let’s take a graphic/narrative approach with Statement (2) by lining the integers up in ascending order:

_ + __ +  ___ + ____  =  64

But very important to note that we must not take Statement (1) into account when considering Statement (2) by itself initially, so we can’t say that the integers are consecutive. 

Here, we clearly represent the smallest integer by the smallest slot, and so forth. We’re also told the largest integer is six greater than the smallest. Now, again, try to resist the urge to go algebraic and instead think narratively. Create a number line with the smallest (S) and largest (L) integers six apart:

S—————|—————|—————|—————|—————|—————L

Narratively, where does that leave us? Well, we know that the other two numbers must be between these two numbers. We also know that each of the four numbers is odd. Every other integer is odd, so there are only two other integers on this line that are odd, and those must be our missing two integers (marked with X’s here):

S—————|—————X—————|—————X—————|—————L

Notice anything interesting? Visually, it’s straightforward to see now that we definitely have consecutive odd integers. Statement (2) actually gives us the same information as Statement (1). Therefore, Statement (2) is also sufficient. The correct answer is D

And again, notice how little actual math we did. Instead, we focused on graphic and narrative approaches to help us focus more on sufficiency, rather than actually solving anything, which isn’t necessary.

Next time, we’ll make a shift to my personal favorite GMAT Number Theory topic: Prime Numbers…

Find other GMAT Number Theory topics here:
Odds and Ends (…or Evens)
Consecutive Integers (plus more on Odds and Evens)
Consecutive Integers and Data Sufficiency (Avoiding Algebra)
GMAT Prime Factorization (Anatomy of a Problem)
A Primer on Primes

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