The SBC GMAT Files

Introduction To GMAT Data Sufficiency

How is Data Sufficiency different?

Virtually all math (high school, SAT, and even GMAT Problem Solving) revolves around the find-the-answer paradigm.  Data Sufficiency is outside of that paradigm.  Instead of asking you to find the answer, the question is: given such-and-such information, could you find the answer?  Admittedly, sometimes the only way to know whether you could find the answer is to go through all the steps of finding it.  There are other times, though, when the elegant skill of Data Sufficiency is to recognize: OK, at this point, I know I could solve the problem, but I won’t bother to do that, because simply knowing that I could, in and of itself, answers the question.

Why does the GMAT ask Data Sufficiency?

The GMAT, of course, is a prerequisite for business school, and in business school folks learn how to be managers.  I would argue that everything the GMAT asks reflects, in some way, something about essential management skills.

Think about the two questions: (1) what is the answer? and (2) do we have enough information to determine the answer?  Question #1 is very much an engineer’s question: they are the nerdy types who love to crank through a challenging problem within the find-the-answer paradigm.  Finding the answer may well involve specialized expertise, the kind of expertise an engineer would have.  I would argue that Question #2 is more quintessentially a manager’s question.  Managers don’t have to be able to figure out all the answer ”“ they can always delegate that task to the engineers.  Managers need to be able to determine: this is a fruitful path for exploration, but that line of inquiry is not worth pursuing.  In any enterprise in the business world, overhasty leaps into the fray without proper facts can be disastrous, but the company that dawdles, gathering information forever, will obviously miss the crucial moment of opportunity.  Managers need to have a keen sense of when the cautious fact-finding phase must end and when the bold initial steps of actions have to begin.  “Exactly when do I know enough to draw a conclusion?” — right there is the exact skill that Data Sufficiency tests, and it is absolutely essential to the mindset of a manager.  That’s why the GMAT asks this question.


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