GMAT Tip of the Week: Play Ball!

As spring sweeps the northern hemisphere during this first week of April, the beginning of a new season means different things to different people. Barbecues, flowers, the end of the school year, the beginning of the golf season… With baseball’s Opening Day taking place this weekend, spring means that April will be Baseball Month in the GMAT Tip of the Week space, and the beginning of that exciting season has no better place to start than… the beginning.

All around the United States on Monday, umpires will yell “play ball,” and the time-honored first pitch of the season will hit the catchers’ mitts with that familiar thump of baseball-hitting-leather. (Actually, the World Champion New York Yankees open the season in Boston on Sunday night. — Ed.) Pay attention to that first pitch, and you’ll notice that the batter almost certainly will not swing at it. Why?

For most hitters, there is a strategy, or for some a superstition, to not swing at the first pitch a pitcher throws you. Many reasons contribute to this strategy — the Bill James / Moneyball era dictates that batters should try to increase a pitcher’s pitch count, batters may take a bit of time to get comfortable with the angle of the sun and the feel of the batter’s box in that stadium, etc. — but, primarily, the batters do this for a reason that will likely help you succeed on the GMAT:

Before you commit to swinging, you want to have a feel for what the pitcher is throwing you. As a batter, you want to feel out the pitcher’s motion, the relative speed and movement of his pitches, etc. As a GMAT candidate, you want to get a feel for the scope of the answer choices to verbal questions, as the GMAT will often try to sneak a changeup by you on the first pitch (read: answer choice A).

Consider the question:

Some of baseball’s most-revered players of all time have led personal lives that are unworthy of the adulation they received from the public. Numerous players have served jail time for drug and alcohol-related incidents, and even the all-time leader in hits has been barred from the Hall of Fame for gambling on his own games.

Which of the following statements must be true on the basis of the statements above?

A) Some baseball players have participated in sports gambling
B) Most baseball players are scoundrels off the field
C) Players who gamble on baseball games will be barred from entry to the Hall of Fame
D) Not all baseball players have gambled on sports
E) Baseball’s all-time hits leader will never be admitted to the Hall of Fame

The correct answer to this question is A — we know that at least one baseball player has participated in sports gambling, so we can conclusively say that “some players have participated in sports gambling”. But A isn’t a particularly compelling choice — it’s an understatement. It’s not just “some players” who have participated in gambling, it’s one of the best players of all time, he bet on his own games, and it has thus far cost him his place in the Hall of Fame. We can prove several headline-worthy statements, but the correct answer is, although definitely true, weak and not very exciting. Many examinees would eliminate A, thinking along the lines of “sure, but I can do better”.

With choice A eliminated in the minds (and on the noteboards) of many candidates, the other, more compelling choices may seem more correct. However, none of them is definitely true. Choice B assumes far too much — some players are certainly scoundrels, but to say “most” requires a large assumption that more than half are. Choice C seems likely, but the passage only mentions why one particular player was banned from the Hall of Fame; it doesn’t say that every player will be treated the same, nor are the particulars (the player in the stimulus bet on his own games; in choice C, we’re dealing with players who bet on baseball in general). Choice D looks quite tempting. Because we only know for certain that one player bet on sporting events, it seems to reason that not players did; however, we cannot make this conclusion without evidence, and we don’t have evidence of any player who didn’t bet on sports, so D is incorrect. Choice E is also incorrect, as it infers that the player’s ban will stand forever; it could just as easily be that the commissioner of baseball is waiting for a contrite apology in order to reinstate the player’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Hypothetically, of course.

For your GMAT preparation, the following is the important takeaway from this question:

Don’t swing at the first pitch!

If you eliminated choice A because it “didn’t feel right,” you likely never returned to it as other choices became tempting and you knew you needed to make a selection. Because the GMAT likes to “hide” soft-but-correct answer choices in the A slot, if you cannot definitively eliminate choice A at first glance, treat it as “choice F” later, when you’ve had time to get a better feel for the scope of the other answer choices. Once you have other, “maybe,” choices to use as points of comparison, you’ll be much more able to effectively assess choice A, and you’ll avoid the common GMAT pitfall of popping out on the first pitch.

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