GRE Lifesaver: The Combined Work Formula

February 1, 2013
Boris Dvorkin

GRE BlogDo you hate questions like this?

BOB can eat a cheesecake in THREE minutes. His sister JENNY can eat a cheesecake in TEN minutes. How long will it take the two of them, eating TOGETHER, to eat three cheesecakes?

If you’re anything like I used to be, these problems drive you nuts. But I say “used to be” because after I started teaching for Kaplan, I learned that there is actually a dirt-simple plug-and-chug formula that’ll spit out the answer for you. It’s call the combined work formula, and it’s this:

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A student in my class last night asked, “Why weren’t we taught this in high school?” Why, indeed. When I learned this formula was real, I wanted to go find my high school math teachers and smack ‘em.

So Bob and Jenny’s cheesecake addiction problem isn’t a hair-puller after all. Just plug their speeds into the formula…

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…and remember that this is the GRE, so there’ll always be a trap. Here, remember that the question asks for the time to eat THREE cheesecakes, so multiply the above by 3:

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And there’s your answer. In case you missed it in high school, don’t miss it now: the combined work formula is a mighty addition to your arsenal on Test Day!

Boris Dvorkin After picking up degrees in English and computer science from Case Western, Boris Dvorkin worked for six unfortunate months as a computer programmer before finding a home at Kaplan in May 2008. Boris was named Kaplan's Teacher of the Year for 2010 and worked on Kaplan's curriculum for the recent GRE revision. When he's not gushing about standardized test trivia, Boris enjoys playing obscure strategy board games, and is the proud owner of no less than three different board games about Portuguese spice merchants.

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