Critical Reasoning: Some Common Mistakes

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomNow that we have seen some basic Integrated Reasoning question types, we will look at some tricky questions but not this week. This week, we would like to discuss a Critical Reasoning question. This question is simple and straight forward but still many people falter in it. The reasons for this are not hard to find. Let’s analyze this question in detail.

Question:

People often criticize their local government for not providing enough funds to the public libraries in their district. They complain of lacking infrastructure and out-of-date and worn out reading material. Surprisingly, the most frequent and vociferous complaints come from those who live in districts where the libraries are most well maintained and kept current.

All of the following, considered individually, help to explain the apparent paradox EXCEPT:

(A) People from districts of well maintained libraries are more likely to use the public libraries.
(B) People have no knowledge of the facilities and infrastructure provided by the other libraries in their district.
(C) Good facilities cause people’s expectations to rise leading them to demand even more.
(D) The people in districts with well maintained libraries are likely to complain when the library they use is not as well maintained as the other libraries in that district.
(E) Most complaints about libraries come from political activists, most of who live in districts with well maintained libraries.

Solution:

The first thing to note here is that it is an ‘explain the paradox’ question but with an ‘EXCEPT’. This means that four of the five options will explain the paradox and our answer will be the one which will NOT. Test takers are often used to looking for the option that does explain the paradox and hence select an option which does this well. They often forget that they were actually required to do the opposite.  This is the first reason why test takers answer this question incorrectly.

Let’s try to understand the argument now:

People blame their local government for not maintaining their public libraries. The surprising thing is that most of these people come from districts with most well maintained libraries. You would expect that people living in districts with better libraries will have less to complain about and would be happier! Hence, here is the paradox.

Let’s do some pre-thinking now. How can you explain this paradox?

Some reasons come to mind: People who visit well maintained libraries have even higher expectations. They visit the library more and expect more out of it. If they find out that their friends in the same district have a library with great facilities, they become unhappy with their own library etc.

Let’s look at the options now:

(A)   People from districts of well maintained libraries are more likely to use the public libraries.

People who visit a place more are more aware of its follies. They get used to the amenities and worry about facilities that are not available. Also, if a library is frequented by many people, its books, videos and infrastructure in general will wear out faster. Another thing that could explain the paradox is that if more people visit the library, the probability of some people complaining about it is higher. Hence this option definitely explains why these people may complain more.

(B) People living in districts with good libraries have no knowledge of the facilities and infrastructure provided by the other libraries in their district.

This does not help explain our paradox. It doesn’t matter whether they know about the facilities provided by other libraries. If they do know the status of other libraries in their district, their behavior might be different but if they do not know, it has no effect on their behavior. Knowing may make them complain less or even more.Not knowing doesn’t make them complain more. In fact, if they do know about the facilities provided by other libraries in their district, they might start complaining even more if they like the facilities of other libraries more. It doesn’t help explain why they complain a lot right now.

(C) Good facilities cause people’s expectations to rise leading them to demand even more.

This option tells us that people get used to amenities and start expecting even more. This explains the paradox.

(D) The people in districts with well maintained libraries are likely to complain when the library they use is not as well maintained as the other libraries in that district.

This helps explain the paradox too. If many people in their district are getting better facilities than them, they might complain about the not equally good or better facilities available at their own library.

(E) Most complaints about libraries come from political activists, most of who live in districts with well maintained libraries.

This option is the most frequently chosen incorrect answer. Test takers reason that it is out of scope since it doesn’t matter who lives where. Actually, this explains the paradox too. Think about it – the option doesn’t talk about doctors or hair dressers; it talks about political activists. Political activists are usually very vocal and critical of things around them. These are the people who complain about everything and will complain about their library too. They live in districts with well maintained libraries and visit them. Since they visit well maintained libraries, many complaints will come from districts with well maintained libraries.

Also note that most does not necessarily imply just a little more than 50%. It could imply 80%, 90% etc too. Some test takers feel that 51% complaints come from political activists and more than half of them (i.e. approx. 26% of total) live in districts with well maintained libraries. This accounts for only 26% complaints and hence doesn’t explain the paradox.  But ‘most’ could just as easily imply 90% and hence this option certainly helps explain the paradox.

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

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