By: Rich Zwelling, Apex GMAT Instructor
Date: 6th January, 2021
45-45-90 Right Triangle
Another of the commonly tested triangles on the GMAT is the 45-45-90, also known as the isosceles right triangle. Know that term, as it could appear by name in a question.
As shown in the above diagram, the side lengths of this triangle always fit the same ratio (1 : 1 : √2) , where the legs are the same length and the hypotenuse length is √2 times the leg length. For example, if the leg lengths were 3 instead of 1, then the hypotenuse would be 3√2 instead of simply √2.
But likewise, don’t forget that you can go backwards and divide the hypotenuse length by √2 to get to the leg length. It may seem obvious, but it presents an important point: what’s more important than simply memorizing the ratio is understanding the mathematical relationship between the side lengths. This will help you avoid trouble if the GMAT happens to give you a problem that doesn’t conform to expectations.
For example, the following problem fits expectations quite nicely:
A yard in the shape of an isosceles right triangle has a hypotenuse of length 10√2. What is the area of this yard?
From this information, it’s easy enough to deduce that the leg length is 10, and we can draw a diagram that looks roughly like this:
From there, we can easily calculate the area, which is base*height / 2, or in this case 10*10/2 = 50.
But what happens if we give the problem a little twist:
A yard in the shape of an isosceles right triangle has a hypotenuse of length 10. What is the area of this yard?
Did you catch the twist? We’re used to the hypotenuse including a √2. This is what the GMAT will do. They’ll throw you off-center, and you’ll have to adjust. But this is also why we said earlier that what matters more than memorizing the ratio of sides is understanding the relationships between the sides of an isosceles right triangle…
Remember we said that, just as we multiply the leg length by √2 to get to the hypotenuse length, so we must divide the hypotenuse length by √2 to get to the leg length. That must mean each leg has length 10/√2.
You can then take 10/√2 and multiply it by √2/√2 to de-radicalize the denominator and get (10√2) / 2, or a leg length of 5√2:
Notice again that we have a more unfamiliar form, with the √2 terms in the legs and an integer in the hypotenuse. We can’t count on the GMAT to give us what we’re used to.
Now we can calculate the area:
Area = (base*height)/2 = (5√2)(5√2)/2 = (5*5)(√2*√2)/2 = (25)*(2) / 2 = 25
Now, to try this on your own, take a look at this Official Guide problem:
If a square mirror has a 20-inch diagonal, what is the approximate perimeter of the mirror, in inches?
This is a nice change-up, because it involves another shape. Did you notice that splitting a square along its diagonal creates two isosceles right triangles?
Once you realize this, you can divide 20 by √2 to get 20/√2, then multiply top and bottom by √2 to get x=10√2.
Since the question asks for perimeter, we can multiply this by four to get 40√2.
The final step is to realize that √2 is approximately 1.4. If we multiply 40 by 1.4, the only answer choice that possibly makes sense is 60, and thus the correct answer is B.
Obviously, practice is always the key for problems like this. All you need to do is remember the formulas we used above and try to tackle different kinds of problems that are related to this topic. In addition, working with a GMAT tutor can be a great addition to your GMAT prep. There are many strategies and techniques that they will provide you with which will make your GMAT journey smoother and more productive.
After reviewing the 45-45-90 triangle identity, these further articles in the triangle geometry series will take you through more identities, each of the specific triangles and how the GMAT uses them to test your critical and creative solving skills:
A Short Meditation on Triangles
The 30-60-90 Right Triangle
The 45-45-90 Right Triangle
The Area of an Equilateral Triangle
Triangles with Other Shapes
Isosceles Triangles and Data Sufficiency
3-4-5 Right Triangle
5-12-13 and 7-24-25 Right Triangles