January 15, 2013
If you have not yet started reading www.PoetsandQunats.com and you are interested in pursuing a graduate management degree, then you need to start
right after you read this blog post. It was actually one of my Kaplan GMAT students who first turned me onto it and it has been a regular feature in my internet reading ever since.
How about the Wall Street Journal? Have you ever heard of that? I know, I know… absurd question. Here’s the problem, though: according to poetsandquants.com founder and regular contributor, John A. Byrne, WSJ is promulgating some unfortunate misinformation. As popular as I know P&Q is, Mr. Byrne’s article, titled “Silly News,” will reach a very small fraction of those who have read the WSJ article it is attacking.
In sum, the Journal makes a classic argumentative flaw; one that is tested profusely on the GMAT. It is called ‘representativeness.’ For those of you who have studied Critical Reasoning questions, specifically those CR questions within the argument family (aka, the assumption family), you may well have heard of this flaw.
We know that when we are presented with an argument on the GMAT, we will always be given two of the three component parts of an argument. We will always be given a conclusion and we will always be given evidence that presumably allows the author to reach that conclusion. What we will never be given is the author’s assumption(s). They are of course inherent in the argument, but we can only derive them by using the primary core competency tested by the GMAT: critical thinking. Incidentally, representativeness is such a common flaw, pattern recognition (another of the GMAT four core competencies) is all you’ll need after this and several other flaw types are on your radar.
Basically, if an argument uses statistical data as evidence to drive a conclusion, your immediate question should be, “Is the group studied representative of the group in the conclusion?” Think about size of the study, time duration of the study, who specifically was studied, and whether there might be any inherent biases in how the study was set up or conducted.
In the real life example provided by the exchange between WSJ and P&Q, John Byrne identifies a mismatch between the group in the study and the group in the conclusion. I want you to read both articles. In fact, I want you to read the WSJ article first and try to derive the critical question that weakens the argument. In other words, try to identify how John Byrne is going to attack it. This will be excellent practice for making predictions—a requisite skill for Critical Reasoning question success! Then, read the PoetsandQuants.com article. Finally, come back here and post your comments!!
December 21, 2012
At this time of year, a lot of folks out there are stressing over an impending GMAT test date or looming admission decisions. Most likely, it’s both. ‘Tis the season for aspirant graduate students to hurry to meet application deadlines only to have to wait weeks (if not months) to receive word from their targeted MBA programs.
Although the end-of-year holidays usually mean time off work, too much eating and drinking, and gifts from friends and family, it is certainly not a time devoid of its own inherent stressors. And, if that stress was not enough, the myriad facets of b-school admissions serving as compounding factors can leave many of us curled up in our beds under the weight of it all.
Of course, nail-biting shrouded in an electric blanket does us no good and, in fact, makes things worse. Here are some ideas on how to push back at stress and set up for success:
- Study. Yes, I know you are doing that, but thorough preparation is all you can do, and it’s good enough.
- List, on paper, GMAT stressors according to two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic stressors are things about the test itself. For example, data sufficiency questions, strategic reading, properly identifying Critical Reasoning question types, time management, etc. Extrinsic stressors are those that are out of your control in the immediate but nonetheless affect you now. Examples are getting into b-school, the desire to please or make proud your parents/spouse/friends/self, the cost of everything, your future with or without an MBA, etc.Of these two types of stressors, preparation is the only thing you can do to overcome them. Intrinsic stressors are removed or otherwise ameliorated by prep, and prep is the only thing you can do to take your mind off of the extrinsic stressors while simultaneously positioning yourself for the best possible outcome on most or all of these extrinsic buggers.
- Plan the post-test celebration well in advance of Test Day. You need to have really fun things to do with really fun people locked, loaded, and ready to go as soon as you step out of that testing center. No matter the result—good, bad, great, or other—you are going to have a fantastic time and congratulate yourself copiously for all the hard work you’ve put in. (Just don’t get arrested.)
- On test day, remind yourself that you are ready—you have seen all this stuff before and you’ve already swung this bat a thousand times with the expressed function of perfecting that swing. Test Day is different, but the game is the same. Play it like you know how to play it.
Here, I’ll turn to clinical psychologist and co-author of Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness (Ballantine Books, revised 2004), Edward A. Charlesworth. Bloomberg Businessweek recently leveraged Mr. Charlesworth’s ideas in a column and they are worth a read. The column is titled How to Handle MBA Admissions Anxiety and you can find it here.
After considering these two lists, please let us know how you handle stress. Chances are, your approach will help someone else! And Happy Holidays!!!
August 25, 2012
As you likely know, with the inclusion of the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section came the exclusion of the one of the previously required essays. Before the test change, GMAT test takers built their Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) score on the backs of two essays: Analysis of an Argument and Analysis of an Issue. These two essays would be scored independently—by one human and one computer—then those two scores would be averaged for a total AWA score on a 0-6 point scale in ½-point increments. In order to keep total testing time at 3.5 hours, test makers decided to cut the thirty-minute Analysis of an Issue essay and insert a thirty-minute Integrated Reasoning section.
So what can we make of this decision? Now, let’s not bicker about the Integrated Reasoning section here; it is what it is and we all have to deal with it. Rather, let’s focus on the essay left standing. Since we still have to write, are we better off with the Argument essay over the Issue essay? And, if so, is there a way we can ensure a top-scoring essay on test day? Good news: yes and yes.
First, writing an Argument essay over an Issue essay is preferable because of all the work we do studying GMAT Critical Reasoning (CR) questions. Seventy percent of CR questions we will see on test day will come from what is known as the Assumption Family of question types (aka, the Argument Family). In each of these question types—Assumption, Strengthen, Weaken, and Flaw—we always approach in the exact same way. That is, we identify the Conclusion, then we identify the Evidence, and then we can tease out the author’s primary Assumption(s) by applying our highly tuned critical thinking skills. You see, a GMAT argument will always state both a conclusion and evidence for the conclusion. What we will never be given, what the author will never state explicitly, are the underlying assumptions that allow this evidence to lead to this conclusion. But, in order to answer Assumption Family questions we must identify what those unstated assumptions are.
The good news about the Argument essay can be summed up by “The Four Truths” present in every single essay prompt created:
- There will be a Conclusion.
- There will be Evidence.
- There will be Assumptions linking the Conclusion and Evidence.
- Those Assumptions will be flawed.
Beautiful, right? The better we get at Critical Reasoning, the easier deconstructing the AWA essay prompt will be. In the Issue essay, we had to come up with our own ideas, reasoning, and support for taking a particular position on an issue provided. However, in the Argument essay, all we need is tucked away within the prompt itself. Sure, we have to do some detective work to sniff it out, but it is comforting to know it’s there and that we definitely have developed the skill to find it.
OK, so what about the other question: Is there a sure-fire way to churn out a top-scoring essay no matter what the given argument is? You bet. Quite simply, you’ll open by restating the conclusion and evidence in your own words. Then, you’ll identify at least two flawed assumptions and explain why they are flawed—one assumption per paragraph. After that, you’ll talk about how the argument could be strengthened (here, you can just feed off of what you said was wrong with it), then you’ll wrap up with a conclusion. That’s it.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, your GMAT essay is going to be scored by one human and one computer. I suggest reading my previous post titled “GMAT essays: Computers score your work, and they are really good at it” to learn more about those computers. But just in case you’re running short on time, I’ll give you the gist…
When that human grader gets to your essay—you know, the one you toiled over for half an hour—what do you think that human had been doing right before your essay popped up on their screen? Grading essays. And what do you think that human is going to do after they finish with your essay? Grading essays. And how much time do you think they will devote to evaluating your little essay baby that you worked so hard to compose? Under two minutes, even as little as one. So, then, what is that human trying to do? Emulate a machine.
The aforementioned structure of an Analysis of an Argument might seem bland and formulaic, but you need to appreciate that you are writing for a machine and someone trying their darndest to act like one. Feed the machine and you will be rewarded.
Do you have more questions about the argument essay or the test change? Post them in the comments and we’ll tackle them one at a time.
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.
July 18, 2012
Listen to a politician speaking, and you’ll hear a lot of platitudes and vague statements. Occasionally, a senator or congressman will make a statement about a specific number or an exact proposal; rarely, those statements will even be correct. But mostly, you’ll hear things like, “the hidden costs will total billions,” or “this program will have far-reaching negative impacts,” or “some have suggested that this proposed law will do nothing but enrich corporations.”
When you think about it, these claims make perfect sense. With a claim as vague as the ones above, it’s hard to be proven wrong or caught in a lie. For instance, “hidden costs” could refer to net costs, but it also could refer to gross costs even if the proposal actually netted a profit. “Billions” could refer to two billion, or it could refer to two hundred billion!
In other words, the vaguer the claim, the more likely it is to be true. And on GMAT Critical Reasoning Inference questions, which ask you to identify what must be true on the basis of a short statement, the vaguest answer is most likely to be correct.
It may seem contradictory that strong words like “must” are rarely the answer to a question that asks what “must be true.” But when you think about it, it makes sense. It’s very, very easy to conclude something is possible. It’s much harder to prove something is certain. For instance, it can be easy to prove that a type of thing might have a certain quality—for instance, you can prove that some swans are white by pointing to a single white swan. But proving that all those things have that quality requires you to rule out every possible exception. Even if you show me 999 white swans, the 1,000th swan might turn out to be black!
You should always spend a few moments trying to predict the answer to an Inference question, even though it’s not always possible. And if the answer is too hard to predict, your next step should be to carefully check the answers for one that must be true. But sometimes, the computer adaptive test will give you a very high-difficulty problem, or you’ll be stuck between two answer choices, or you just won’t have time and need to guess strategically on a problem or two to beat the clock. And in those cases, picking the vaguest answer is one of the most reliable guessing strategies on the GMAT.
Consider the following GMAT practice problem. Without reading the text, can you figure out which answer is most likely correct? Then, go through the whole problem properly, and see why it’s a good fit. Good luck!
Randall: Many of the productions of my plays by
amateur theater groups are poorly done, and such
interpretations do not provide a true measure of my
skills as a dramatist.
Which one of the following can be properly inferred
from Randall’s statement?
(A) Some amateur theater groups’ productions of
Randall’s plays provide a true measure of his
skills as a dramatist.
(B) All amateur theater group productions of
Randall’s plays that are not poorly done provide
a true measure of his skills as a dramatist.
(C) All of the productions of Randall’s plays by
amateur theater groups that do not provide a
true measure of his skills as a dramatist are
(D) If a production of a dramatist’s play is well done,
then it provides a true measure of his or her
skills as a dramatist.
(E) At least some amateur theatrical groups’
productions of Randall’s plays fail to provide a
true measure of his skills as a dramatist.
Step 1: Identify the Question Type
The keywords “properly inferred” in
the question stem are a sure sign of an
Step 2: Untangle the Stimulus
Randall’s comments can be reduced
to an if/then statement: If productions
of his plays are poorly done, then they
don’t provide a true measure of his
skills as a dramatist. And many amateur
theater groups perform his plays poorly.
Step 3: Predict the Answer
While we may not be able to predict
what the correct answer choice will
infer, we can be certain that it is a
statement that must be true if we accept
Randall’s statement as true.
Step 4: Evaluate the Choices
Since many amateur productions
are poorly done, and no poorly done
production provides a true measure of
Randall’s skills, it must be true that at
least some amateur groups’ productions
do not provide a true measure of his
skills, so (E) is correct. Don’t be afraid
of (E) because it seems “obvious.” This
is not a test maker trick—an “obvious”
answer is one that must be true, so it
works as a valid Inference. (A) seriously
distorts Randall’s statement. Just
because some amateur productions
don’t do him justice doesn’t mean that
there are other productions that do. If
the GMAT tells you that some marbles
are red, you can’t automatically infer
that some are not red. (B) is another
sort of distortion. Randall’s statement
about certain poorly done productions
in no way guarantees anything about
productions that aren’t poorly done.
(C) is far too extreme. Randall does
establish a correlation between poor
production quality and failure to provide
a true measure of his skills, but that
correlation has only been established
for a certain set of productions and
can’t be extended to all productions.
(D) attempts to extract a broad principle
from Randall’s statement, but his
statement is too particular to allow this
kind of extrapolation.
The answer is (E).
July 11, 2012
You might guess that I’m on a diet, perhaps, or maybe that I’m lactose intolerant. Or maybe it’s not the milk that’s the problem; I could be deathly allergic to chocolate. Or, you might infer (correctly) that I just don’t like the flavor.
What could you infer if the GMAT told you that I don’t eat chocolate ice cream?
You can infer that if I eat ice cream, I will always choose a flavor other than chocolate. And that’s about it.
The Inference category of GMAT Critical Reasoning questions asks you to make logically supported inferences. You take the text of the stimulus at its word (recognize these questions by language such as “If the statements above are true”), and find the answer choice that must be true on the basis of the prompt.
In your GMAT prep, you will find that the biggest challenge to solving Inference questions is that there are lots of things that could be true. Sometimes, you can cleverly piece together a puzzle and make a solid prediction. But unlike argument-based Assumption questions, Inference Q’s don’t always lend themselves to knowing the answer before you look at the choices. For instance, if I don’t eat chocolate ice cream, you can infer that I wouldn’t eat chocolate ice cream cake (which contains chocolate ice cream), that a friend who knows my dietary preferences wouldn’t buy me a scoop of chocolate ice cream (which I wouldn’t eat), and that I am more likely to be seen eating vanilla ice cream than eating chocolate ice cream (because I may or may not eat vanilla ice cream, but I certainly will not eat chocolate ice cream). Since any of these would be an acceptable answer, but only one can appear in the answer choices, trying to pin down the right answer without looking at the choices can be inefficient. Inference questions are the only CR question type where you should plan to go through all five answer choices looking for one that sounds good.
But be aware of out-of-scope traps. You have to go by what the text tells you, and nothing else. And you must be able to determine the correct answer with certainty. In the chocolate ice cream example, you don’t know if the “chocolate” or the “ice cream” is the reason that I don’t eat chocolate ice cream (or something else entirely!). You might guess that I prefer vanilla ice cream, but maybe I can’t digest the milk in any type of ice cream. You might suppose that I don’t like chocolate, but it’s possible that chocolate only tastes bad to me in ice cream form and I’m fine with chocolate bars and chocolate chips. These are the types of reasonable suppositions you might make in real life, but not the type of Inference that the GMAT requires you to make.
A new electronic security system will only allow a single person at a time to pass
through a secure door. A computer decides whether or not to unlock a secure door
on the basis of visual clues, which it uses to identify people with proper clearance.
The shape of the head, the shape and color of the eyes, the shape and color of the
lips, and other characteristics of a person’s head and face are analyzed to determine
his or her identity. Only if the person trying to open a secure door has the required
clearance will the door unlock. Because this new system never fails, an unauthorized
person can never enter a secure door equipped with the system.
If the statements above are true, which of the following conclusions can be most
(A) The new system is sure to be enormously successful and revolutionize the
entire security industry.
(B) The new system can differentiate between people who are seeking to open a
secure door and people passing by a secure door.
(C) No two people have any facial features that are identical, for example,
(D) High costs will not make the new security system economically unviable.
(E) The new computer system is able to identify some slight facial differences
between people who look very similar, such as identical twins.
Step 1: Identify the Question Type
Since the stem asks us to accept the statements as true
and draw a conclusion on the basis of them, this is an
Step 2: Untangle the Stimulus
The stimulus tells us that a new electronic security system
is completely failsafe and will never allow an unauthorized
person through a door equipped with the system. And the
system allows an authorized person to enter solely on the
basis of the person’s appearance and facial features.
Step 3: Predict the Answer
Attempting to predict the correct inference could waste
time, but on the GMAT, to make an inference means to
determine what must be true, not just what could or might
be true. It’s crucial to approach the answer choices with
this in mind.
Step 4: Evaluate the Choices
(A) is out of scope. We have no evidence of how the
security industry is going to respond to the new system.
(B) doesn’t need to be true. The new system doesn’t need
to differentiate between people passing by the door and
people trying to enter, as long as it lets authorized people
in and keeps unauthorized people out.
(C) is too extreme.
We don’t know that any one feature cannot be the same.
All we know is that all of the features can’t be the same.
According to the stimulus, the security system examines
multiple facial features to determine identity.
(D), costs are outside the scope of this stimulus,
since the stimulus only discusses the likelihood that
unauthorized people will be able to get past the security
system and through a secure door.
(E) If one twin is authorized and the
other isn’t, we know the door must be able to tell them
apart, because the stimulus tells us that the security
system never fails. Thus, (E) must be true.
June 30, 2012
Often times, the portion of the GMAT most neglected by students is the writing sample. While this section of the test is certainly less important than your overall 200 to 800 score, you still want to make sure that you know how to handle it.
The essay is graded on a scale from 1 to 6 and most business schools are expecting you to achieve a score of 4 or higher. While the difference between a 4, 5, or 6 is not all that influential on your admissions prospects, receiving a score lower than a 4 can have a negative impact on your application.
While the integrated reasoning section, which was recently added to the GMAT, replaced the issue essay, the argument essay remains a part of the test. In fact, it will be the very first section you see on test day.
The key to the essay is answering the question that GMAT test maker is asking. This can be trickier than you would think. The writing sample is all about analyzing the argument made by the author, not providing your own viewpoint on the topic. Therefore, it is essential that you do not agree or disagree with the author’s opinion. Rather, you need to analyze the argument the author makes to reach his/her conclusion.
To do so, you will need to look for flaws in the author’s reasoning. Specifically, you will want to identify any faulty assumptions that the author makes. Additionally, you will want to offer potential strengtheners – facts that, if they were true, would make the argument more sound.
You may notice that these skills are similar to those employed in the critical reasoning portion of the verbal section. This is not a coincidence. Both parts of the test are all about breaking down the argument and not about the accuracy of the opinion presented.
In order to get an idea of the types of arguments that appear on the GMAT, you can visit the test makers website, mba.com, and view a complete list of possible essay topics. It is a good idea to practice taking a few of these arguments apart and writing essays before test day.
If you want feedback on how to identify the flaws in an argument, post the argument and a bulleted list of the flaws you notice in the comments below. We’ll help you fill in the gaps.
June 21, 2012
It’s an hour before deadline, and I’m supposed to be writing a GMAT blog on keywords. However,____________. In fact, ___________________________. It’s true that _________________________, but on closer inspection, _________________________.
Keywords are vital to improving your understanding of complex passages in several ways. First, they serve as “road signs” to _____________________________. ______ not only ______________________, but also _____________________________. Some keywords indicate _____________________, while others indicate _________________; still others ___________________________________.
Second, keywords can tell you what NOT to read. Contrast keywords such as _________________ indicate _____________, but ___________________ indicating continuation, such as ______________, _______in the most extreme cases, skipping ____________________________entirely. After all,_____________ ______________already read!
Then check out the completed thought:
It’s an hour before deadline. I’m supposed to be writing a GMAT blog on keywords. However, I’m going to leave some things blank to save time. In fact, I’m going to leave out most of the words. It’s true that this might seem confusing. But on closer inspection, the point of this blog will make itself clear.
Keywords are vital to improving your understanding of complex passages in several ways. First, they serve as “road signs” to GMAT reading comprehension passages. They not only connect paragraphs to one another, but also enable you to navigate the sentences within them. Some keywords indicate ideas that are similar, while others indicate an opposite or contrast; still others clue you in to the logical progression of cause and effect.
Second, keywords can tell you what NOT to read. Contrast keywords such as However or But often indicate something the author wants you to pay attention to, but if you see a word indicating continuation, such as And, Moreover, or Additionally, you can sometimes get away with skimming—or in the most extreme cases, skipping that part of the passage entirely. After all, if it’s a continuation, it’s more of something you’ve already read.
Now try one more:
Here’s a specific example of how keywords can help. This next paragraph is structured exactly the same as the paragraphs above but with a different opening line. Can you make sense of it, even though it’s talking about technical math you’re probably not familiar with? I’m guessing you can!
The St. Petersburg Paradox would seem to imply that even unbiased games can be manipulated to ensure profit, contradicting Huygen’s results. However, _________________________. In fact____________. It’s true that____________________, but on closer inspection, _______________________________.
Finally, use your knowledge of keywords to deconstruct the question of the day (click here to learn about bolded statement questions first):
Although no script, playbill, or other theater record survives to provide indisputable
evidence, the presence of several references to a tragic character named
“Hamlet” in another dramatist’s diary entries that predate Shakespeare’s
play by several years indicates that there was probably another revenge tragedy
by that name from which Shakespeare found inspiration for his own play. It is true,
of course, that Shakespeare might have based his play only on earlier versions of
the “Hamlet” legend and not even known of the so-called Ur-Hamlet. But there
is reason to think that Thomas Kyd wrote a play featuring a character by
the name of Hamlet, and Shakespeare’s play bears remarkable similarity to
another Kyd revenge play, The Spanish Tragedy.
The two statements in boldface play which of the following roles?
(A) The first and the second each offer reasons to doubt the veracity of the position
that the author seeks to establish.
(B) The first and the second each provide support for the author’s main point.
(C) The first provides evidence to support the author’s main point; the second is
(D) The first is an assertion that would undermine the author’s conclusion; the
second is a refutation of that assertion.
(E) The first and the second each undermine a position that the author seeks to
Step 1: Identify the Question Type
In reading the question stem, we see that this Bolded
Statement question is asking us to determine the roles
played by the two statements. We know that the primary
roles in any argument are conclusion and evidence.
Step 2: Untangle the Stimulus
The conclusion comes in the middle of the stimulus—that
Shakespeare found inspiration for Hamlet in other revenge
tragedies of the same name. We see that the first bolded
statement is evidence to support this conclusion because
of the keyword indicates. The second statement further
provides evidence to prove that Shakespeare found
inspiration in other revenge tragedies, not just in the
general “Hamlet” legend.
Step 3: Predict the Answer
So, our answer must tell us that both bolded statements
are offered in support of the conclusion.
Step 4: Evaluate the Choices
(B) explains that succinctly—they both provide evidence for
the main point. (A) is a 180. Neither statement undermines
the author’s conclusion. (C) gets it half right. The second
statement, however, is not the main point, just specific
evidence about another play Shakespeare borrowed from
supporting it. (D) completely mixes up the relationship. The
second statement does not refute the first. If anything, they
complement each other. Finally, in (E), while the second
statement undermines the position that Shakespeare found
inspiration in the legends, rather than another tragedy (a
position the author does indeed want to weaken), the first
statement supports the author’s main point directly, not by
undermining a position the author wishes to weaken.
April 12, 2012
I love a good mystery. It’s always fun to try to puzzle out the solution to contradictory clues, or to watch a genius detective like Hercule Poirot or Nero Wolfe crack a case wide open. So it should come as little surprise that Explain questions are one of my favorite question types on the GMAT.
If you aren’t familiar with these questions, here is the background. Explain questions are an uncommon subtype of Critical Reasoning questions. You can identify them by language in the question stem like “explain” or “accounts for,” and also by terminology referencing a “mystery,” “paradox,” or “apparent contradiction.” Recognizing them is important. Unlike many other CR problems, such as Strengthen or Flaw question, Explain questions don’t have an argument. For most Critical Reasoning, the first step to solving is to find the author’s conclusion, but if you look for one here, you’ll search fruitlessly.
What you will see is a mystery. Two facts or points of data are presented in the stimulus to and Explain question, and those facts will—at first glance—seem to contradict. But while the paradox may seem perplexing, it will in fact have a perfectly sensible explanation. Here’s an example:
Choi: All other factors being equal, children whose parents earned doctorates are more likely to earn a doctorate than children whose parents did not earn doctorates.
Hart: But consider this: over 70 percent of all doctorate holders do not have a parent that also holds a doctorate.
Which of the following would explain how both Hart and Choi could be correct in their assertions?
Okay, so the question asks us to explain these two assertions, ID’ing the question type. And indeed, the statements do seem odd. But why? What exactly is the mystery, in our own words? Paraphrasing the paradox is the key to this question type. Give it a try.
Choi says that doctoral parents have children more likely to get doctorates themselves. But Hart points out that most folks who get PhDs don’t come from families with advanced degrees. So, we quickly jot in out notes:
Doctoral parents = more likely to get PhD, but most PhD’s don’t have doctoral parents.
And finally, we predict an answer. There are a few possible interpretations of this data, but one jumps out to me. Let’s see if you spot the same explanation as I did—post your predictions for the right answer in the comments. Good luck!