GMAT Critical Reasoning in Real Life

As we wrote in this space about six weeks ago in a post entitled Five Things You Can Do Now To Succeed On The GMAT Later, one great feature of the GMAT is that the thought processed it tests are particularly relevant to your day to day life.  Critical Reasoning questions, in particular, are designed to reward you for not accepting shaky conclusions at face value; for noting gaps in logic between facts and what someone asks you to believe about those facts; for not simply accepting X + Y = Z without analyzing the relationship.  In the  third point of that article we suggested that you read critically and question conclusions in your day to day life to help sharpen that critical reasoning ability for the GMAT.  And today in the MBA admissions media sphere you have a fantastic opportunity to do so.

In a unique take on GMAT statistics, BusinessWeek published a quite-interesting study on the average GMAT scores of undergraduate alumni.  The average scores at MBA programs are tossed around quite a bit in this sphere, but this study shows how those with bachelor’s degrees from Harvard and Yale perform on the GMAT compared with graduates from other schools (as expected…they perform pretty well).  What’s most interesting to a GMAT tip blog author, however, is the conclusion that appears at the end of the study – a conclusion that provides you with an excellent opportunity to sharpen your critical reasoning skills (and hopefully raise your own alma mater in the rankings in the process).  With that in mind, we offer a Critical Reasoning question based on that article.  And now for the question:

A recent survey of Class of 2012 MBA students found that students who Harvard, Yale, and MIT for their undergraduate educations have, on average,  higher GMAT scores than students from any other schools.  Furthermore, of the top 30 undergraduate schools based on alumni GMAT performance, only three were public institutions, and the vast majority of schools with average scores above 700 were small, private colleges.  Therefore, high school students who wish to someday pursue a top MBA should attend private colleges where they will be better prepared for the GMAT exam.

All of the following statements would weaken the above conclusion EXCEPT:

A)     Students who can afford to attend private colleges are much more likely to be able to afford test preparation programs

B)      Private colleges are significantly smaller than are public universities, therefore creating less of a regression-to-the-mean effect

C)      Private colleges have, as entry requirements, higher average SAT and ACT test scores than do public universities

D)     Of the next 20 schools in the study to round out the top 50, six are public institutions

E)      Because of relative enrollment size of public universities, the top 10 public universities account for more 700+ scores each year than do the top 25 private colleges

Solution
Choice D does not weaken the conclusion — in fact, it adds more fuel to the same logic that private schools are disproportionately represented among the schools with high average GMAT scores. What may be tricky in this question is that it’s a declining percentage of that next group that is comprised of private schools (only 70% of the 31-50 group as opposed to 90% of the top 30), but the same logic holds that “by far, most of the schools with the top average GMAT scores are private.”

The other choices all weaken the conclusion.  It’s not safe to say that private schools prepare their students better for the GMAT, or that someone will have a better chance of success on the GMAT if they go to a private school.  As A suggests, the private-high score correlation may simply be one of financial means, and a public school student who springs for quality test prep may do better than a private school student who does not.  B is quite likely a contributing factor to the data in the study; larger, state-funded schools will tend to have a wider array of ability levels even for an elite school, and so their 780s and 790s will be dragged down by the inevitable 600s and 620s that come from an above average population.  Private schools will see their elite scores less impacted in the average by any “above average but not unbelievably elite” scores simply because they’ll have fewer such students in the population.  C is another factor that contributes mightily to this effect; a school with higher entry requirements is likely to have in its population students who are predisposed to higher scores in the future on similar tests, but it’s not anything about the school itself that causes those high GMAT scores.  And E would weaken the conclusion in another way – it shows that a great many public school students score freakishly high on the GMAT, as well.

Note that the GMAT loves to test statistics and conclusions.  It’s quite common in society and business to see correlations as predictions of future trends or decisions, but the savvy businessperson knows to look deeper than that.  Sure, elite private schools may have freakishly high average GMAT scores, but that doesn’t mean that the typical student would be better served on the GMAT by having attended one of those schools.  That student’s GMAT performance will be determined much more by other factors – her mastery of the skills she learned in high school; her own problem-solving ability; her GMAT study habits and regimen in the future; the way she chooses to prepare for the GMAT.  And if she is, indeed, predisposed to success, she’d likely have read the conclusion of this argument critically – those who question conclusions and note the limited scope of statistics in decision making will tend to succeed on the GMAT.  It just so happens you’ll find many of these students at elite New England private colleges…

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