Dealing with Except Critical Reasoning Questions

GMAT students often get CR problems that use words like “EXCEPT” or “NOT” in their question-stems wrong, and it definitely makes sense why. If we can’t really understand what a question is asking, how can we even begin to solve it? Let’s break down a tough one together.

A greater number of sports magazine subscriptions are sold in Town A than are sold in Town B. Therefore, the citizens of Town A are better informed about international sporting competitions than are the citizens of Town B.

Each of the following, if true, weakens the conclusion above EXCEPT:

(A) Town A has a larger population than Town B.
(B) Many citizens of Town B have second homes in Town A, and have all their leisure magazines delivered there.
(C) The average citizen of Town B spends more time watching cable sports coverage of international sports than does the average citizen of Town A.
(D) A weekly magazine devoted entirely to high school football is published in Town A, where high school football is considered the most popular sport.
(E) The average price of a magazine subscription in Town A is lower than the average price in Town B.

Let’s start with the argument:

Conclusion: A is more informed
Evidence: More subscriptions in A

What are the holes in logic here? The author claims “more subscriptions” —> “better informed” but what if all those subscriptions in A were purchased by 1 person? So there’s an assumption that there’s a wide dispersal of the extra subscriptions among the Town A citizens. There’s also an assumption that this sports magazine thoroughly covered “international” sporting competitions.

Rephrase: What does NOT weaken the Conclusion?

Prediction: Anything that STRENGTHENS the Conclusion, or at least the choice that is the most compatible with the presented Evidence and stated Conclusion. The correct answer will ideally continue to support the idea A is more informed.

Also, let’s remember the wording of this question tells us that 4 options will weaken the conclusion. So let’s look for those to eliminate first. Let’s find the “three worst” – i.e. the three that blatantly weaken the conclusion.

(A) A has more people
This could weaken – if A has more people then they could proportionally be as informed as the people in B, but still have more subscriptions

If we wanted to make the argument that (A) is correct, it would have to STRENGTHEN the idea that A is more informed. But more people does not necessarily mean better informed.

(B) Some B people get their magazines from A
This could weaken – if B are getting their magazines from A then B could be just as informed, but still have more A subscriptions

(C) B watches sports cable than A
This could weaken – if B is getting news from elsewhere, then it’s possible A is not more informed, even though it has more subscriptions

(D) there’s a popular mag in A
This information is more ambiguous than A, B, and C, but could weaken if we consider that it doesn’t touch upon B. B could have a similar magazine.

(E) subscription is cheaper in A
This is finally info that is strongly compatible with the Conclusion! If the average price is lower (and yes, you’re right, the word “average” does allow us to draw a bigger inference here) and more subscriptions are sold, then it’s reasonable to continue to assume A is more informed.

The “three worst” here are (A), (B), and (C) since those could strongly weaken the conclusion. Let’s examine the “final two.” One of these will STRENGTHEN and one will not. We just have to figure which information is more compatible with the conclusion/evidence!

If we wanted to eliminate (E), we’d need to prove that is strongly WEAKENS the conclusion. But cheaper prices in A does not weaken the idea that A-people are more informed. It’s gotta be correct! We cannot ADD information – this choice doesn’t SAY “and people from B buy magazines there.” We cannot add facts from Choice (B) into (E).

The correct answer is (E).

The key to avoiding the confusion on these tougher CR with “EXCEPT” in the stem? Use your scratch paper to

1) take apart the argument
2) rephrase the stem
3) predict what you’re looking for!

A little more time spent on the question-stem up front will save you minutes of frustration with the answer choices.

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Vivian Kerr is a regular contributor to the Veritas Prep blog, providing tips and tricks to help students better prepare for the GMAT and the SAT.