GMAT Tip of the Week: The Adam Carolla Approach to Critical Reasoning

GMATIt’s mid-June, which brings to mind one of the unsung gems in the catalog that is comedian Adam Carolla’s series of improvised fake movie pitches: when setting the scene for futuristic movies, Carolla has been known to note that “the year is 2055 and 1/2 — it’s mid-June.” It’s subtle, dry, and genius — that eerily-accurate date with the half-year thrown in reeks of the over-the-top Hollywood promotion that Carolla loves to criticize in his monologues, and the reference that half-a-year means that you’re nearing July 1 shows an incredible presence-of-mind and quick wit to slide that in.

It’s that quick-thinking-on-your-feet ability of Carolla’s that you will need to summon often on the GMAT; can it be true that emulating the former host of The Man Show and Loveline, and the current king of podcasting, will help you conquer the GMAT?

Arguably, Carolla’s most popular recurring feature on his podcast and his previous radio show is called “What Can’t Adam Complain About,” a bit in which callers and audience members suggest topics about which no one could possibly have a gripe: sunny days, walks on the beach, pizza… With his quick-thinking improv background, Carolla quickly adopts a skeptic’s view and launches into an 0ff-the-cuff rant about the negatives of that topic. Sunny days, for example, may create too much traffic headed to the beach and encourage less-than-fit neighbors to walk around shirtless; plus, he might add, sunny days make him feel guilty about staying inside to do housework or watch a movie. Sunny days aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

This skeptic’s attitude toward nearly everything around him has made Carolla a new-media sensation and a multimillionaire, and you can use it to further your own career via the GMAT. On Critical Reasoning questions, you should always read with a skeptic’s eye, as the arguments provided to you (or the answer choices themselves) will have subtle-but-significant flaws, and quickly honing in on them is often the key to answering correctly.

Consider the following question:

During the second World War, approximately 375,000 civilians died in the United States and about 408,000 members of the United States Armed Forces died overseas. On the basis of those figures, it can be concluded that it was not much more dangerous to be a member of the armed forces serving overseas in the war than it was to stay at home as a civilian.

Which of the following studies would be most useful in evaluating the legitimacy of the conclusion drawn above?

(A) Counting deaths among members of the armed forces who served in the United States in addition to deaths among members of the armed forces serving overseas

(B) Expressing the difference between the numbers of deaths among civilians and members of the armed forces as a percentage of the total number of deaths

(C) Separating deaths caused by accidents during service in the armed forces frm deaths caused by combat injuries

(D) Comparing death rates per thousand members of each group rather than comparing total numbers of deaths

(E) Comparing deaths caused by accidents in the United States to deaths caused by combat in the armed forces

Reading skeptically, you should note that the argument isn’t entirely airtight. If you see your job in reading as to find fault with the argument, the problem with the logic should be fairly apparent: there were likely quite a few more people staying home as civilians than there were serving in the armed forces. Children and the elderly certainly didn’t serve; those too sick or injured to be of much military use likely stayed home. Really only healthy males ages 18-30 would have a high likelihood of serving, and they represent a relatively small portion of the population.

So the problem with the argument, then, is one of relative sample size — a much smaller percentage of civilians died than did the percentage of soldiers. Therefore, a study like answer choice D, creating a standard sample size for each group to come up with a more accurate measure of deaths-per-thousand-members, would prove helpful in exposing that flaw. D, therefore, is correct.

Even though a question like this, may only ask “which study would be most useful,” a Carolla-like skeptical mind will prove helpful to you as you deconstruct the flaw in the argument. This mindset helps on other Critical Reasoning types, as well — because Inference answer choices must be true, a skeptical mind will help you find holes in those almost-but-not-quite wrong answers, and even Strengthen questions, because their conclusions need additional support, will allow you to employ this kind of critical thinking.

Summon your inner Adam Carolla on Critical Reasoning questions and you’ll not only find yourself more successful, but you may also learn to enjoy the process of thinking skeptically. In the end, “skeptical thinking” is a pretty close synonym for “critical reasoning,” so essentially that’s the name of the game.

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