The basics of GMAT Combinatorics
Posted on
24
Jun 2021

The Basics of GMAT Combinatorics

By: Apex GMAT
Contributor: Svetozara Saykova
Date: 24th June 2021

Combinatorics can seem like one of the most difficult types of questions to come across on the GMAT. Luckily there are not many of them within the exam. Still these questions make up the top level of scoring on the test and therefore it is best if you are well equipped to solve them successfully, especially if you are aiming for a 700+ score. The most important rule to follow when considering this question type is the “Fundamental Counting Principle” also known as the “Counting Rule.” This rule is used to calculate the total number of outcomes given by a probability problem. 

The most basic rule in Combinatorics is “The Fundamental Counting Principle”. It states that for any given situation the number of overall outcomes is equal to the product of the number of each discrete outcome.

Let’s say you have 4 dresses and 3 pairs of shoes, this would mean that you have 3 x 4 = 12 outfits. The Fundamental Counting Principle also applies for more than 2 options. For example, you are at the ice cream shop and you have a variety of 5 flavors, 3 types of cones and 4 choices for toppings. That means you have 5 x 3 x 4 = 60 different combinations of single-scoop ice creams. 

The Fundamental Counting Principle applies only for choices that are independent of one another. Meaning that any option can be paired with any other option and there are no exceptions. Going back to the example, there is no policy against putting sprinkles on strawberry vanilla ice cream because it is superb on its own. If there were, that would mean that this basic principle of Combinatorics would not apply because the combinations (outcomes) are dependent. You could still resort to a reasoning solution path or even a graphical solution path since the numbers are not so high. 

Let’s Level Up a Notch

The next topic in Combinatorics is essential to a proper GMAT prep is  permutations. A permutation is a possible order in which you put a set of objects.

Permutations

There are two subtypes of permutations and they are determined by whether repetition is allowed or not.

  • Permutations with repetition allowed

When there are n options and r number of slots to fill, we have n x n x …. (r times) = nr permutations. In other words, there are n possibilities for the first slot, n possibilities for the second and so on and so forth up until n possibilities for position number r.

The essential mathematical knowledge for these types of questions is that of exponents

To exemplify this let’s take your high school locker. You probably had to memorize a 3 digit combination in order to unlock it. So you have 10 options (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) for 3 available slots. The total number of locker passwords you can have is 103 = 1,000. 

  • Permutation without repetition allowed 

When repetition is restricted in the given GMAT problem, we would have to reduce the number of available choices for each position. 

Let’s take the previous example and add a restriction to the password options – you cannot have repeating numbers in your locker password. Following the “we reduce the options available each time we move to the next slot” rule, we get 10x9x8 = 720 options for a locker combination (or mathematically speaking permutation). 

To be more mathematically precise and derive a formula we use the factorial function (n!). In our case we will take all the possible options 10! for if we had 10 positions available  and divide them by 7!, which are the slots we do not have. 

10! =  10 x 9 x 8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 

7! =  7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 

And when we divide them (7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1) cancels and we are left with 10 x 9 x 8 = 720. 

Pro tip: Taking problems and deeply examining them by running different scenarios, and changing some of the conditions or numbers is a great way to train for the GMAT. This technique will allow you to not only deeply understand the problem but also the idea behind it, and make you alert for what language and piece of information stands for which particular concept. 

So those are the fundamentals, folks. Learning to recognize whether order matters and whether repetition is allowed is essential when it comes to Combinatorics on the GMAT. Another vital point is that if you end up with an endless equation which confuses you more than helps, remember doing math on the GMAT Quant section is not the most efficient tactic. In fact, most of the time visualizing the data by putting it into a graph or running a scenario following your reasoning are far more efficient solution paths. 

Feeling confident and want to test you GMAT Combinatorics skills? Check out this GMAT problem and try solving it. Let us know how it goes!

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Permutations with Restrictions GMAT Article
Posted on
02
Mar 2021

Permutations with Restrictions

By: Rich Zwelling, Apex GMAT Instructor
Date: 2nd March, 2021

So far, we’ve covered the basics of GMAT combinatorics, the difference between permutations and combinations, some basic permutation and combination math, and permutations with repeat elements. Now, we’ll see what happens when permutation problems involve conceptual restrictions that can obscure how to approach the math.

To illustrate this directly, let’s take a look at the following Official Guide problem:

The letters D, G, I, I , and T can be used to form 5-letter strings as DIGIT or DGIIT. Using these letters, how many 5-letter strings can be formed in which the two occurrences of the letter I are separated by at least one other letter?

A) 12
B) 18
C) 24
D) 36
E) 48

Did you catch the restriction? Up until the end, this is a standard permutation with repeats combinatorics problem, since there are five letters and two repeats of the letter ‘I’. However, we’re suddenly told that the two I’s must be separated by at least one other letter. Put differently, they are not allowed to be adjacent.

So how do we handle this? Well, in many cases, it’s helpful to set aside what we want and instead consider what we don’t want. It seems counterintuitive at first, but if we consider the number of ways in which the two I’s can appear together (i.e. what is not allowed) and then subtract that number from the total number of permutations without any restrictions, wouldn’t we then be left with the number of ways in which the two I’s would not appear together (i.e. what is allowed)? 

Let’s demonstrate: 

In this case, we’ll pretend this problem has no restrictions. In the word “DIGIT,” there are five letters and two I’s. Using the principle discussed in our Permutations with Restrictions post, this would produce 5! / 2! = 60 permutations. 

However, we now want to subtract out the permutations that involve the two I’s side by side, since this condition is prohibited by the problem. This is where things become less about math and more about logic and conceptual understanding. Situationally, how would I outline every possible way the two I’s could be adjacent? Well, if I imagine the two I’s grouped together as one unit, there are four possible ways for this to happen:

II DGT

D II GT

DG II T

DGT II

For each one of these four situations, however, the three remaining letters can be arranged in 3*2*1 = 6 ways. 

That produces a total of 6*4 = 24 permutations in which the two I’s appear side by side.

Subtract that from the original 60, and we have: 60 – 24 = 36. The correct answer is D

As you can see, this is not about a formula or rote memorization but instead about logic and analytical skills. This is why tougher combinatorics questions are more likely to involve restrictions.

Here’s another Official Guide example. As always, give it a shot before reading on:

Of the 3-digit integers greater than 700, how many have 2 digits that are equal to each other and the remaining digit different from the other 2 ?

(A) 90
(B) 82
(C) 80
(D) 45
(E) 36

Explanation

This is a classic example of a problem that will tie you up in knots if you try to brute force it. You could try writing up examples that fit the description, such as 717, 882, 939, or 772, trying to find some kind of pattern based on what does work. But as with the previous problem, what if we examine conceptually what doesn’t work?

This will be very akin to how we handle some GMAT probability questions. The situation desired is 2 digits equal and 1 different. What other situations are there (i.e. the ones not desired)?  Well, if you take a little time to think about it, there are only two other possibilities: 

  1. The digits are all the same
  2. The digits are all different

If we can figure out the total number of permutations without restrictions and subtract out the number of permutations in the two situations just listed, we will have our answer. 

First, let’s get the total number of permutations without restrictions. In this case, that’s just all the numbers from 701 up to 999. (Be careful of the language. Since it says “greater than 700”, we will not include 700.)

To get the total number of terms, we must subtract the two numbers then add one to account for the end point. So there are (999-701)+1 = 299 numbers in total without restrictions.

(Another way to see this is that the range between 701 and 999 is the same as the range between 001 and 299, since we simply subtracted 700 from each number, keeping the range identical. It’s much easier to see that there are 299 numbers in the latter case.)

Now for the restrictions. How many of these permutations involve all the digits being the same? Well, this is straightforward enough to brute force: there are only 3 cases, namely 777, 888, and 999. 

How about all the digits being different? Here’s where we have to use our blank (or slot) method for each digit:

___ ___ ___

How many choices do we have for the first digit? The only choices we have are 7, 8, and 9. That’s three choices:

_3_  ___ ___

Once that first digit is in place, how many choices do we have left for the second slot? Well, there are 10 digits, but we have to remove the one already used in the first slot from consideration, as every digit must be different. That means we have nine left:

_3_  _9_  ___

Using the same logic, that leaves us eight for the final slot:

_3_  _9_  _8_

Multiplying them together, we have 3*9*8 = 216 permutations in which the digits are different.

So there are 216+3 = 219 restrictions, or permutations that we do not want. We can now subtract that from the total of 299 total permutations without restrictions to get our final answer of 299-219 = 80. The correct answer is C.

Next time, we’ll take a look at a few examples of combinatorics problems involving COMBINATIONS with restrictions.

Permutations and Combinations Intro
A Continuation of Permutation Math
An Intro To Combination Math
Permutations With Repeat Elements
Permutations With Restrictions
Combinations with Restrictions
Independent vs Dependent Probability
GMAT Probability Math – The Undesired Approach
GMAT Probability Meets Combinatorics: One Problem, Two Approaches

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Posted on
25
Feb 2021

What Happens When Permutations Have Repeat Elements?

As promised in the last post, today we’ll discuss what happens when we have a PERMUTATIONS situation with repeat elements. What does this mean exactly? Well, let’s return to the basic example in our intro post on GMAT combinatorics:

If we have five distinct paintings, and we want to know how many arrangements can be created from those five, we simply use the factorial to find the answer (i.e. 5! = 5*4*3*2*1 = 120). Let’s say those paintings were labeled A, B, C, D, and E. 

Now, each re-arrangement of those five is a different PERMUTATION, because the order is different:

ABCDE
EBADC
CADBE


etc

Remember, there are 120 permutations because if we use the blank (or slot) method, we would have five choices for the first blank, and once that painting is in place, there would be four left for the second blank, etc…

_5_  _4_  _3_  _2_  _1_ 

…and we would multiply these results to get 5! or 120.

However, what if, say we suddenly changed the situation such that some of the paintings were identical? Let’s replace painting C with another B and E with another D:

ABBDD

Suddenly, the number of permutations decreases, because some paintings are no longer distinct. And believe it or not, there’s a formulaic way to handle the exact number of permutations. All you have to do is take the original factorial, and divide it by the factorials of each repeat. In this case, we have 5! for our original five elements, and we now must divide by 2! for the two B’s and another 2! for the two D’s:

  5!
——
2! 2!     

= 5*4*3*2*1
   ————-
  (2*1)(2*1)

= 5*2*3
= 30 permutations

As another example, try to figure out how many permutations you can make out of the letters in the word BOOKKEEPER? Give it a shot before reading the next paragraph.

In the case of BOOKKEEPER, there are 10 letters total, so we start with a base of 10! 

We then have two O’s, two K’s and three E’s for repeats, so our math will look like this:

   10!
———
2! 2! 3! 

Definitely don’t calculate this, though, as GMAT math stays simple and likes to come clean. Remember, we’ll have to divide out the repeats. You are extremely unlikely to have to do this calculation for a GMAT problem, however, since it relies heavily on busy-work mechanics. The correct answer choice would thus look like the term above. 

Let’s now take a look at an Official Guide question in which this principle has practical use. I’ll leave it to you to discover how. As usual, give the problem a shot before reading on:

A couple decides to have 4 children. If they succeed in having 4 children and each child is equally likely to be a boy or a girl, what is the probability that they will have exactly 2 girls and 2 boys?

(A) 3/8
(B) 1/4
(C) 3/16
(D) 1/8
(E) 1/16

Quick Probability Review

Remember from our post of GMAT Probability that, no matter how complicated the problem, probability always boils down to the basic concept of:

    Desired Outcomes
———————————–
Total Possible Outcomes

In this case, each child has two equally likely outcomes: boy and girl. And since there are four children, we can use are blank method to realize that we’ll be multiplying two 4 times:

_2_  _2_  _2_  _2_   =  16 total possible outcomes (denominator)

This may give you the premature notion that C or E must be correct, simply because you see a 16 in the denominator, but remember, fractions can reduce! We could have 4 in the numerator, giving us a fraction of 4/16, which would reduce to 1/4. And every denominator in the answer choices contains a factor of 16, so we can’t eliminate any answers based on this. 

Now, for the Desired Outcomes component, we must figure out how many outcomes consist of exactly two boys and two girls. The trick here is to recognize that it could be in any order. You could have the two girls followed by the two boys, vice versa, or have them interspersed. Now, you could brute-force this and simply try writing out every possibility. However, you must be accurate, and there’s a chance you’ll forget some examples. 

What if we instead write out an example as GGBB for two girls and two boys? Does this look familiar? Well, this should recall PERMUATIONS, as we are looking for every possible ordering in which the couple could have two girls and two boys. And yes, we have two G’s and two B’s as repeats. Here’s the perfect opportunity to put our principle into play:

We have four children, so we use 4! for our numerator, then we divide by 2! twice for each repeat:

  4!
——
2! 2! 

This math is much simpler, as the numerator is 24, while the denominator is 4. (Remember, memorize those factorials up to 6!)

This yields 6 desired outcomes of two boys and two girls. 

With 6 desired outcomes of 16 total possible outcomes, our final probability fraction is 6/16, which reduces to 3/8. The correct answer is A.

Next time, we’ll look into combinatorics problems that involve restrictions, which can present interesting conceptual challenges. 

Permutations and Combinations Intro
A Continuation of Permutation Math
An Intro To Combination Math
Permutations With Repeat Elements
Permutations With Restrictions
Combinations with Restrictions
Independent vs Dependent Probability
GMAT Probability Math – The Undesired Approach
GMAT Probability Meets Combinatorics: One Problem, Two Approaches

 

By: Rich Zwelling, Apex GMAT Instructor
Date: 25th February, 2021

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Posted on
18
Feb 2021

A Continuation of Permutation Math

Review of Example From Last Post

Last time, when we started our discussion of GMAT Combinatorics, we gave a brief example of GMAT permutations in which we had five paintings and asked how many arrangements could be made on a wall with those paintings. As it turns out, no complicated combinatorics formula is necessary. You can create an easy graph with dashes and list five options for the first slot, leaving four for the second slot, and so on:

_5_  _4_ _3_ _2_ _1_

Then multiply 5*4*3*2*1 to get 120 arrangements of the five paintings. Remember you could see this notationally as 5!, or 5 factorial. (It’s helpful to memorize factorials up to 6!)

More Permutation Math

But there could be fewer slots then items. Take the following combinatorics practice problem:

At a cheese tasting, a chef is to present some of his best creations to the event’s head judge. Due to the event’s very bizarre restrictions, he must present exactly three or four cheeses. He has brought his best cheddar, brie, gouda, roquefort, gruyere, and camembert. How many potential orderings of cheeses can the chef create to present to the judge?

A) 120
B) 240
C) 360
D) 480
E) 600

First, as a review, how do we know this is a PERMUTATION and not a COMBINATION? Because order matters. In the previous problem, the word “arrangements” gave away that we care about the order in which items appear. In this problem, we’re told that we’re interested in the “orderings” of cheeses. Cheddar followed by gouda would be considered distinct from gouda followed by cheddar. (Look for signal words like “arrangements” or “orderings” to indicate a PERMUTATION problem.)

In this case, we must consider the options of three or four cheeses separately, as they are independent (i.e. they cannot both happen). But for each case, the process is actually no different from what we discussed last time. We can simply consider each case separately and create dashes (slots) for each option. In the first case (three cheeses), there are six options for the first slot, five for the second, and four for the third:

_6_  _5_  _4_

We multiply those together to give us 6*5*4 = 120 possible ways to present three cheeses. We do likewise for the four-cheese case:

_6_  _5_  _4_  _3_

We multiply those together to give us 6*5*4*3 = 360 possible ways to present four cheeses.

Since these two situations (three cheeses and four cheeses) are independent, we simply add them up to get a final answer of 120+360 = 480 possible orderings of cheeses, and the correct answer is D. 

You might have also noticed that there’s a sneaky arithmetic shortcut. You’ll notice that you have to add 6*5*4 + 6*5*4*3. Instead of multiplying each case separately, you can factor out 6*5*4 from the sum, as follows:

6*5*4 + 6*5*4*3

= 6*5*4 ( 1 + 3)

= 6*5*4*4

= 30*16 OR 20*24

= 480

Develop the habit of looking for quick, efficient ways of doing basic arithmetic to bank time. It will pay off when you have to do more difficult questions in the latter part of the test. 

Now that we have been through GMAT permutations, next time, I’ll give this problem a little twist and show you how to make it a COMBINATION problem. Until then…

Permutations and Combinations Intro
A Continuation of Permutation Math
An Intro To Combination Math
Permutations With Repeat Elements
Permutations With Restrictions
Combinations with Restrictions
Independent vs Dependent Probability
GMAT Probability Math – The Undesired Approach
GMAT Probability Meets Combinatorics: One Problem, Two Approaches

 

By: Rich Zwelling, Apex GMAT Instructor
Date: 16th February, 2021

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