GMAT Tip of the Week: Why Michael Bolton Would Fail the GMAT

GMAT Tip of the Week

The Jester of Tortuga

When you receive your MBA and go off into your own office space in the workforce, chances are you’d rather be Bill Lumbergh, boss man, than Michael Bolton — either the object of corporate downsizing or the singer-songwriter.  As such, it is imperative on the GMAT to not be Michael Bolton!  Consider this evidence, courtesy of Saturday Night Live’s most recent digital short:


Editor’s note: This is the uncensored version of the video, which does contain a few instances of “choice” words being sung, so be aware of that before clicking play.

In addition to winning over some fans in the born-after-1970 demographic for the first time, Bolton demonstrates the easiest way to miss a question on the GMAT.  He’s simply out of scope of the project the entire time, focusing on what’s on his mind and not on the task at hand.  To the dismay of his bandmates and the delight of the viewers, Bolton falls into this very common GMAT trap — he takes the bait to act on what’s on his mind and not on what is really being tested.  To avoid the fate that befell his namesake and Samir Nagheenanajar, Initech’s easy layoffs, make sure that you learn from Bolton’s mistake and focus specifically on the question being asked and the conclusion being offered when you take the GMAT.  Consider this example:

Company policy: An employee of our company must be impartial, particularly when dealing with family matters. This obligation extends to all aspects of the job, including hiring and firing practices and the quality of service the employee provides customers.

Which one of the following employee behaviors most clearly violates the company policy cited above?

(A) Refusing to hire any of one’s five siblings, even though they are each more qualified than any other applicant

(B) Receiving over a hundred complaints about the service one’s office provides and sending a complimentary product to all those who complain, including one’s mother

(C) Never firing a family member, even though three of one’s siblings work under one’s supervision and authority

(D) Repeatedly refusing to advance an employee, claiming that he has sometimes skipped work and that his work has been sloppy, even though no such instances have occurred for over two years

(E) Promoting a family member over another employee in the company

Note the subject of this Critical Reasoning question: nepotism.  Much like Michael Bolton has a clear mental inertia when it comes to the world of cinema, your mind is likely to make a quick judgment when you read about the topic of nepotism.  As someone seeking an MBA for the purposes of advancing your career, you’re quite likely anti-nepotism; why should someone get a job over you simply because of family relations?  You’re earning your keep!

With that mental inertia, you’re apt to read this prompt looking to justify your inherent anti-nepotism bias – you’re predisposed to selecting an answer choice that confirms that nepotism is wrong, perhaps even more so than you’re likely to answer the question directly. Here, you’re being asked quite directly to select an answer choice that violates the policy that “one must be impartial with decisions related to family matters.”  The most popular incorrect answer choices — C and E — are both consistent with your predisposed notion that “nepotism is wrong,” but neither is a direct violation of the impartiality rule.  In choice C, there is no evidence that any siblings deserved to be fired; in E, there is no evidence that suggests that the family member did not deserve the promotion.

Choice A, the correct answer, provides direct evidence that impartiality has been violated — multiple siblings who were the most qualified for their desired positions were not hired.  This is a clear breach of impartiality – the hiring manager made a decision that was based on grounds outside of the meritocracy or best interests of the company with regard to hiring policy.  A is correct — even though it goes counter to what you wanted to see.

This can be quite common on the GMAT, a test that knows how people think.  If you see a question about work-related fatigue, you’ll likely want to shorten the length of the workday… but the correct answer may well take a different tack and suggest shifting the same number of hours to a more conducive schedule.  A question that deals with prison work-release programs may catch your ire in light of safety concerns, but the question/conclusion combination may well support riskier actions.  Your job — your only job — on these questions is to directly answer the question being asked, regardless of your prior feelings or emotions on the topic.  Focus on the task at hand — no matter how much you’re compelled to prove your own point about fairness or sing your own song about Pirates of the Caribbean.  You’ll have plenty of time to set your own agenda when you’re the boss; as you work to get there via the GMAT, however, focus on carrying out your task directly; unlike Saturday Night Live, the GMAT is no joking matter.

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