GRE Arithmetic: Breaking Down Complex Fractions

GRE prep | Quantitative

Simplifying Complex Fractions on the GRE (Pictured: Fractured Rock)

Complex fractions are made up of one or more other fractions. For instance, a complex fraction could have ½ as its numerator or ¾ as its denominator—or both! You probably haven't thought much about complex fractions since elementary or primary school. After all, the further you get in your education, the more you get to lean on your calculator. But when the GRE hits you with a complex fraction full of variables, your calculator won't help. You'll have to get back to basics and simplify that fraction.

Compare these two groups of complex fractions. They're the same except that one group has variables where the other one doesn't.

1510418 2334

15n4x8 a3b4

Although the calculator you get on the GRE can crush complex fractions made of numbers, it can't simplify ones that have variables. But you can.

First, take the bar that separates the complex fraction's numerator from its denominator and make that bar a division operator. Then find the reciprocal of the denominator-turned-divisor and multiply rather than divide.

  • 15n      15 ÷ n1   ⇒   15 × 1n   ⇒   15n
  • 4x8   ⇒   41 ÷ x8   ⇒   41 × 8x   ⇒   32x
  • a3b4   ⇒   a3 ÷ b4   ⇒   a3 × 4b   ⇒   4a3b

These basic moves will simplify any complex fraction, variables or no variables. A fraction bar implies division, and when the numerator or denominator of a fraction is itself a fraction, the division is replaced with multiplication by the denominator's reciprocal.

Did you find this helpful? You can find more tips in the PowerScore GRE Quantitative Reasoning Bible!

Photo: "Cracks at Sunrise-on-Sea, Eastern Cape" by Gregory David Harington (user Gregorydavid) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons.

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