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GMAT Distance and Work: Rate Formula


A rate is how fast something is growing, changing, or being performed.  The overarching rate formula is:

Amount = Rate x Time


When the rate is a speed, this simplifies to the familiar formula:

Distance = Speed x Time


In questions about speed, especially where an object travels at one speed for a while, then at another speed, keep in mind that you never find the numerical average of two different speeds.  If the question ask for average velocity for the whole trip, then you add the distances from both parts of the trip to find the total distance, and add the times of both parts of the trip to find the total time, and use those and the formula above to calculate the speed.

When the rate is a rate of work being done, then when two people work together, their combined rate is the sum of their respective individual rates.  Make sure what are you adding are the rates, not anything else.

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Practice Questions

1) A car drives 40 miles on local roads at 20 mph, and 180 miles on the highway at 60 mph, what is the average speed of the entire trip?

    (A) 36 mph
    (B) 40 mph
    (C) 44 mph
    (D) 52 mph
    (E) 58 mph


2) When Mary paints a house, it takes her 4 hours.  When Lisa joins Mary, and they work together, it takes them only 3 hours to paint a house of the same size.  How long would it take for Lisa to paint a house of the same size by herself?

    (A) 5 hr
    (B) 6 hr
    (C) 7 hr
    (D) 12 hr
    (E) 20 hr


Answers and Explanations

1) In phase #1 of the trip, the car traveled 40 mi at 20 mph.  That time of this phase was:

time = distance/rate = (40 mi)/(20 mph) = 2 hr


In phase #2 of the trip, the car traveled 180 mi at 60 mph. That time of this phase was:

time = distance/rate = (180 mi)/(60 mph) = 3 hr


The total distance of the trip = 40 mi + 180 mi = 220 mi

The total time of the trip = 2 hr + 3 hr = 5 hr

The average speed of trip is given by

speed = distance/time = (220 mi)/(5 hr) = 44 mph

Answer: C.


2) Here, the rate equation becomes:

(# of houses) = (painting rate) x (time)


When Mary paints a house, it takes her 4 hours. Thus

(1 house) = (Mary’s rate) x (4 hr)

so her rate is 1/4.


When Mary & Lisa paint together, it takes 3 hrs.  Thus

(1 house) = (combined rate) x (3 hr)

and the combined rate = 1/3.


To find a combined rate, we add individual rates.

(combined rate) = (Mary’s rate) + (Lisa’s rate)

1/3 = 1/4 +  (Lisa’s rate)

(Lisa’s rate) = {1/3}-{1/4}={1/3}*{4/4}-{1/4}*{3/3}={4/12}-{3/12}={1/12}

Lisa’s rate is 1/12 of a house every hour, or in other words, 1 house in 12 hrs.  Thus, it would take her 12 hours to paint a house of the same size.

Answer: D.

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8 Responses to GMAT Distance and Work: Rate Formula

  1. Neeraj September 20, 2015 at 10:37 am #

    Thank you very much Magoosh!

  2. Durga January 17, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    We can solve the second problem using the formula below


    where x= time taken by mary
    y=time taken by Lisa
    z=time taken by both

    therefore we can solve it as

    1/ (time taken by mary) +1/ ( time taken by Lisa)= 1/(time taken by both)

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike January 17, 2014 at 11:37 am #

      Dear Durga,
      While that’s true, rather than depend on formulas, it’s much more effective to understand the logic of problem solving. The GMAT penalizes students who rely too much on formulas.
      Mike 🙂

      • Kingsley March 19, 2019 at 9:44 pm #

        Good one

  3. jones December 22, 2012 at 8:43 am #

    nice tips but in gmat we need to do the math as fast we can.So we can do the 2nd math just
    (3*4)/(4-3)=12 in one step!!!

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike December 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

      Dear Jones,
      That’s a nifty trick *if* you have the formula memorize and *if* the scenario matches the formula. The trouble with memorizing a quick shortcut formula like this is — if the GMAT changes the problem format, as it regularly does, then the shortcut doesn’t work and you have no recourse. For the extra couple seconds the above method takes, I prefer students to have a full understanding of all the steps. In this post:
      I talk more about the difference between memory vs. memorizing.
      Thanks for sharing your perspective.
      Mike 🙂

  4. Ram February 2, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    In phase #2 of the trip, the car traveled 180 mi at 60 mph. That time of this phase was:

    time = distance/rate = (180 mi)/(60 mph) = 6 hr

    === Typo there


    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike February 3, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

      Ram: that’s a great catch. Thanks a bunch! We fixed it.

      That was very helpful. Thank you for calling it to our attention.

      Mike 🙂

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