August 6, 2012
As anyone who has spent any time on GMAT Sentence Correction can tell you, the English language is complex. SC problems will frequently test idioms and tricky verb tenses, among other things. But despite a few exceptions (do you know the difference between economic and economical?), subtle shifts in the meanings of similar words aren’t usually tested in GMAT sentences. They are, however, tested on Critical Reasoning and Analytical Writing prompts.
Assumptions on the GMAT occur when the scope of discussion shifts between the evidence and the conclusion. In an earlier article, I discussed a stimulus involving burgers. One such “scope shift” in that article was that the evidence discussed cholesterol, while the conclusion discussed health in general; another involved evidence about a price reduction and a conclusion about increased consumption of burgers. Some of these are easier to spot than others, but all of them involve looking for changes in terms and terminology.
But sometimes, there is a change of meaning, even though the actual words are the same. Consider the following example:
Buddy claims he hurt his back lifting a heavy box of yogurt onto the store’s shelves. However, he was in the “diet” section of the store, stocking shelves with light yogurt. Clearly the only boxes he lifted were light; his claim for workers compensation must be a fabrication.
This argument is, of course, absurd! But if you’re locked into the GMAT mode of thinking (which is a good thing!) you might wonder why. This problem doesn’t seem to shift scope—both the evidence and the conclusion talk about the yogurt being light, right?
The key is that the author is “equivocating,” a technical term for using the same word with different meanings. “Light” here means “Diet” in the evidence but “Not Heavy” in the conclusion—that’s a pretty big gap, leading to deeply flawed reasoning. This pattern isn’t terribly common on GMAT problems, but it shows up from time to time, usually on Flaw questions. Keep your eyes peeled for words with multiple, ambiguous, or unclear meanings on the GMAT, and on today’s question of the day, an AWA prompt.
The following appeared in an internal memo for the Weekly Globe newspaper.
The proposal to reduce the celebrity section of our print edition from 6 pages weekly to 2 pages is misguided. The celebrity pages on our website average more hits per article than does any other section of our website; clearly the public is most interested in celebrity news. The proposed change would not only hurt our profits, but also betray our dedication to serving the public’s interests.
Discuss how well reasoned…
Post your analysis below, and we’ll let you know if there is anything you missed.
March 4, 2012
The GMAT tests your ability to focus on detail. And the GMAT frequently provides trap answer choices and distorted version of the text to mislead testers who aren’t paying attention. But as a general rule, assumptions on the Critical Reasoning section aren’t going to be traps; if the testmaker offers you a clear assumption, they want you to take it, not nitpick your way to a different answer. Consider the following prompt. Once you’ve done so, try to predict an answer before reading on.
A group of nutritionists have expressed alarm at a recent marketing campaign for the Big and Beefy, a hamburger notorious for it’s high cholesterol. The steeply reduced price of the Big and Beefy, they claim, will harm the nation’s health.
Which of the following is an assumption made by the nutritionists’ argument?
In a very subtle way, the authors shift the scope of the argument. They tell us that the burger is high in cholesterol, then go on to talk about negative health impact—skipping the step where they establish that cholesterol is unhealthy! And some GMAT assumptions do, in fact, rely on the omission of ‘obvious’ facts. But before you start looking for such subtleties with a fine tooth comb, make sure you’re not missing the forest for the trees.
There is a gaping hole in this argument: for a burger to hurt the nation’s health, people need to eat it. The nutritionists are assuming that the low price will induce people to set aside their salad forks and purchase a high-cholesterol burger. And until that assumption is addressed, details about cholesterol are unlikely to matter. When you’re predicting an answer and scanning for a match, the big assumption is the assumption that you should be looking for to save time and improve accuracy.
February 27, 2012
Sometimes you stumble upon something that is too full of coincidence to pass up. Inc. recently published an online article that seems written with the GMAT in mind: Have you checked your assumptions lately?
I have concluded that you’ll find this editorial particularly interesting because of two pieces of evidence: (1) you are reading a GMAT blog, and (2) the GMAT verbal section contains Critical Reasoning questions. Of course, now I have to ask why, based on those two pieces of evidence, have I come to the conclusion that you will find this Inc. e-snippet interesting? Well, the only way that this evidence will lead to this conclusion is because of my underlying assumptions. Can you tease out those assumptions? If so, then you are looking good for assumption family CR questions come Test Day. If not, let me help you…
For all Critical Reasoning arguments presented on the GMAT, the author always gives evidence and forms a conclusion based on that evidence (not necessarily in that order but those parts are always there). However, there is a third portion of an argument’s construction that the author does not give, and that third portion is precisely what test takers must identify in order to get 70% of GMAT CR questions correct: the assumptions.
In order for evidence to lead to a conclusion, an author must fundamentally believe certain things to be true. We are never explicitly told what those beliefs are, but we can identify them because of the two parts of the argument we are always given. Assumptions build a bridge between presented evidence and presented conclusion.
For me to conclude that you will like the article mentioned above as a result of the evidence I presented must mean that I assume you (1) reading a GMAT blog signals that you are interested in things I find interesting, at least in regard to the GMAT, and (2) you are at least somewhat familiar with what is on the GMAT itself and that familiarity is deep enough to mean you know about Critical Reasoning questions and the patterns within them—namely, the patterned way Assumption, Strengthen/Weaken, and Flaw questions are constructed and what it takes to deconstruct them. If I did not believe those two things were true, then I would have to come up with different evidence from which to derive my conclusion about your piqued interest. Get it? Great, now onto the article…
In the end, the author, a Harvard management professor by the name Robert S. KAPLAN (no relation, but what a great name), is simply making a case to identify and then weaken assumptions in order to avoid making poor decisions. Or, on the flip side, ensure that the decision you are making is a good one.
This is a lovely notion and it is one that studying for the GMAT will prepare you to undertake. It is always nice to be able to link, with support, items tested on the GMAT to real life beyond the admissions test. That sugar makes the medicine go down a little easier. See past posts for thoughts on GMAT Validity (here’s another), Sentence Correction, and the new Integrated Reasoning section. More to come on the usefulness and appropriateness of Data Sufficiency and Reading Comprehension questions.
September 5, 2011
GMAT critical reasoning questions fall into a number of specific categories and knowing which type of problem is confronting you will be key to answering these questions correctly. Below, you will find a roster of the question types that will appear on the GMAT.
Assumption questions will ask you to identify the unstated piece of information that must be true for the author’s evidence to lead to their conclusion. Remember, that the right answer will be information, that if it were not true, would cause the author’s argument to no longer make sense.
Strengthen questions require an answer choice that makes the argument more likely to be true. You want to find a new piece of evidence that provides support for the argument’s main point.
Weaken questions are the exact opposite of strengthen questions – you need to find an answer that makes the argument less likely to be true. The correct answer will be a piece of evidence that severs the link between the author’s evidence and conclusion.
Flaw questions are quite similar to weaken questions. However, instead of looking for an answer choice that introduces a new piece of evidence, you want to search for a choice that explains an inherent problem in the author’s reasoning.
Explain questions will present you with two pieces of evidence that appear to contradict each other. Your goal is to find the answer that explains why no contradiction actually exists.
Inference questions will provide you with a set of facts. You should accept these facts as true and assess each answer, looking for the choice that must also be true based on the evidence provided.
Bolded Statement Questions
Bolded statement questions will feature an argument, two portions of which are in boldface. Your goal is to identify the role in the argument played by each statement and the relationship between the statements. The role could be evidence, conclusion, conjecture, etc. and the statements could support each other or refute each other.