GMAT Tip of the Week: Bush vs. Gore, Round Two

Exactly ten years ago, the world was in a state of limbo as the state of Florida recounted its votes to determine the next U.S. President, either Al Gore or George W. Bush.  You know the rest of the story: Bush was named President and feuded with Kanye West, Gore grew a beard and won a Nobel Prize, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, as we look back on that historical period, we’re presented with the handiwork of both presidential candidates, the titles of which are incredible GMAT study tools.  Gore gave us An Inconvenient Truth, and just this week Bush released his memoirs, Decision Points.  Which presidential candidate provides the greatest GMAT advice?  Let’s leave it up to you, the voter –  this time we’ll let the popular vote decide (and Katherine Harris will not be involved in any disputes) – read the below GMAT Tips and cast your vote in the comments field. Since Bush has an MBA from Harvard Business School, we’ll let him lead:

Decision Points

GMAT Sentence Correction is a more managerial and less grammatical task than many people realize.  While we often try to “govern” these sentences by feel and by what “sounds right”, the true masters of the discipline recognize that Sentence Correction comes down more to noticing the recognizable decision points within each answer choice and then making the familiar decision that each requires: does the subject agree numerically with the verb?  Does the pronoun agree numerically with its noun?  Does the modifier describe the noun adjacent to it?

To master Sentence Correction, you should actively seek out the decision points that you know to be actionable:  verbs and pronouns make excellent decision points; descriptive phrases – modifiers – that begin a sentence next to a comma should make for extremely quick decision-making; the first and last word of each answer choice also frequently direct you to decision points.  Instead of reading the sentence and reacting to how it sounds, look for the decision points that occur frequently and you’ll take much quicker and more decisive action.  As an example, consider the question:

Politicians and philosophers, early forms of democratic government and public discourse were pioneered by the ancient Greeks, laying the groundwork for much of modern society.

(A)  early forms of democratic government and public discourse were pioneered by the ancient Greeks, laying the groundwork for much of modern society

(B)   laying the groundwork for much of modern society, early forms of democratic government and public discourse were pioneered by the ancient Greeks

(C)   the ancient Greeks pioneered early forms of democratic government and public discourse, laying the groundwork for much of modern society

(D)  there were pioneered, laying the groundwork for much of modern society, early forms of democratic government and public discourse by the ancient Greeks

(E)   were the ancient Greeks who, laying the groundwork for much of modern society, pioneered early forms of democratic government and public discourse

Here, you have a descriptive phrase (“Politicians and philosophers”) beginning a sentence, separated by a comma.  Modifiers make terrific decision points because the rule for them is so binary – if it cannot logically modify the word that sits next to it, it’s wrong and you must eliminate it.  Here, we’re stuck with the phrase “Politicians and philosophers” — that simply must describe people and cannot describe “forms of government.”  What’s more, because we know that we’re stuck with a modifier (the phrase has a comma following it so it cannot be used as the subject of the sentence), the ONLY thing that can follow is a noun (or noun phrase) that is aptly described by the phrase “Politicians and philosophers.”  Accordingly, A, B, D, and E are all eliminated, and only C remains.  We don’t need to read any further than that.

Actively seeking Decision Points is a powerful Sentence Correction strategy on two fronts: it not only makes decisions clearer and more concrete, but it also aids efficiency and saves time for more-involved prompts in Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning.  As a GMAT examinee, you’re much like Bush as a “wartime President” – you need to consider not only how to win the battle, but how to do it in a way that makes sense in the context of a larger war, the entire section itself.  Identify the common Decision Points and you’ll have success on multiple fronts.

An Inconvenient Truth

When you approach Data Sufficiency questions, it is important to note that the statements that the GMAT gives you – both as part of the question and in statements 1  and 2 – are facts, and they are also assets.  They represent the tools that you have at your disposal to make decisions, and frequently the GMAT will make the tools more difficult for you to use by providing them to you in a less-than-optimal fashion.  The facts that you are given, in other words, are inconvenient truths – your job is to leverage your assets by rephrasing algebraic statements and determining all of your information, as often the piece of data you truly need is embedded within the information given.

To make inconvenient truths actionable for your use, manipulate algebraic statements to better fit the question stem; take note of situations that limit the range of available numbers (e.g. when solving for a number of people, you can’t use negative numbers or nonintegers); and turn word problems in to calculations to more quickly see what your assets are.  As an example, consider the question:

For integers a, b, and c, a/(b-c) = 1.  What is the value of (b-c)/b?

(1) a/b = 3/5

(2) a and b have no common factors greater than 1

Here, it might seem that with multiple variables and a fairly conceptual statement 2, you’ll need to plug in numbers to get a feel for the question.  But, in actuality, the GMAT has provided you with an inconvenient truth:

a/b = 3/5

There’s no mention of c in this statement, but if you look back to the question stem we are told that a/(b-c) = 1, which if we multiply the denominators to make it more convenient becomes:

a = b – c

We can then replace the a in statement 1 with (b-c), making that truth more convenient for us to answer the question “what is (b-c)/b?”

Now statement 1 reads:

(b-c)/b = 3/5

And that, conveniently, tells exactly what we want to know – statement 1 is therefore sufficient.
Statement 2 is not sufficient as there are infinite numbers for a and b that have no common factors (11 and 7, 3 and 5, 101 and 64, etc.), so the answer to this question is A, and we can determine that by taking the Inconvenient Truth that the GMAT gives us and making it fit our purposes better.  Much like Gore found in late 2000, sometimes you need to take bad news and turn it into a positive.

So there you have it – the GMAT is full of Decision Points and Inconvenient Truths, and to be an effective manager you need to recognize and use them to your advantage.  Put these tips in your lock box; they’re just good, sound strategery.

Your choice, America (and we’ll open this to the world, too) – which is more helpful?  Decision Points, or An Inconvenient Truth?  Bush or Gore? Please submit your votes in the comments field, and this time, Floridians, let’s vote properly!

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