Backsolving Problem Solving “Work” Questions

One way to do these type of question is to Backsolve, or essentially “try out” the answer choices. Let’s look at a problem:

Working together, each at his or her own constant rate, Jeff and Ashley painted their apartment in 6 hours. Working at his constant rate, Jeff could have painted the whole apartment in 10 hours. How many hours would it have taken Ashley, working at her constant rate, to paint the apartment?

A. 4
B. 12
C. 15
D. 16
E. 20

Let’s say it takes Ashley 15 hours (choosing answer choice (C)). Ashley would have a 1/15 rate and Jeff’s rate is 1/10 each hour. Working together they would do 1/15 + 1/10 each hour, or 2/30 + 3/30 = 5/30 = 1/6 in one hour. Then, yes, it does make sense that together the would do the job in 6 hours.

We got lucky here that (C) ended up being the correct answer, but if our answer had not matched the given information, then we probably could have discerned the correct answer based on how “too big” or “too small” we were.

While not required, sometimes we forget how useful leveraging the answer choices can be! :)