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 Boris scored in the 99th percentile on the PSAT, was a National Merit finalist, and went on to earn two degrees from Case Western Reserve University. Boris has since helped many students achieve their goals as a two-time Kaplan Teacher of the Year and is known for his sense of humor in the classroom. When Boris isn’t helping students tackle tests, he loves playing strategy board games.

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