Video: The Secret Method for Overlapping Sets on GMAT

It’s no surprise that there are a lot of overlapping sets or Venn Diagram questions on the GMAT.

For many people it’s incredibly difficult to figure out whether to use a diagram, a table, or perhaps simple algebra.

The answer to this might be best chalked up to “feel,” but there are actually good reasons to use each of them.

Two Part Venn Diagram:

If it’s a standard overlapping sets question with Set A, Set B, and the overlap BandC, there’s no reason not to draw the picture.


Only two things? It's this easy.

Only two things? It’s this easy.

It’s probably easier to organize this graphically than it would be to set up an equation, despite the admonitions of the Official Guide.


If it’s a question that involves four or more variables with binary opposition (that is, YES/NO, ON/OFF, etc.): e.g., as in A, notA, B, and not B, then I would suggest a table.

Lots of Yes/No choices? Probably a table.

Lots of Yes/No choices? Probably a table.

Three Part Venn Diagram:

Many books only focus on the strict way to create these: in a lot of cases–especially in the Official Guide–this is an algebraic method as in Question 178 in the OG2015 or Question XXX in OG2016.

That would be this method:

However, there is a new species of Three-Part Venn Diagram question that “requires” a graphical explanation. While an algebraic explanation is possible, it’s thoroughly pointless and will take a good 5-7 minutes to solve!

This is a video on how to tackle one of these clever little monsters:


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About the author

Rowan Hand Head Coach Rowan Hand has been a GMAT tutor and content developer for more than 10 years. Rowan has coached hundreds of clients in private and group classes. Former clients have gone on to Harvard, LBS, INSEAD, Wharton, and other excellent business schools.