GMAT Tip of the Week: Standardized Parts

GMAT prepWhat do Eli Whitney and Honore le Blanc have in common? And what does their commonality have to do with your impending GMAT exam?

Le Blanc is widely credited with having invented the concept of standardized parts in manufacturing. A gunsmith in the 1700s, his idea was to standardize each component of a gun, so that when one part broke, it could easily be replaced by another instead of needing to be individually repaired by a blacksmith or replaced by another gun entirely.

His idea didn’t make it too far in France, where other gunsmiths and blacksmiths wholeheartedly opposed this threat to their business models, but the notion of standardization crossed the Atlantic, and with the support of Thomas Jefferson, Eli Whitney incorporated the idea of standardized parts in to his manufacturing. Standardized manufacturing revolutionized industry, and, perhaps just as importantly, made its way in to the realm of academic assessment with the eventual dawn of the “standardized test.”

The driving force behind the standardized test is the concept that a series of seemingly-unique questions written to be nearly identical in difficulty and skill assessment can uniformly assess a student’s academic abilities. In order to work, these questions need to appear unique to the test-taker, but be nearly identical to the test-maker. Knowing this can be a huge advantage to you as you study. How can you use your knowledge of Le Blanc, Whitney, and Jefferson to your GMAT advantage?

Knowing that the GMAT is committed to testing “standardized components”, you can avoid a frequent Sentence Correction mistake. Many students both intensively study and excruciatingly debate obscure idioms. While the GMAT will certainly use appropriate idioms in its correct answer choices, such idioms are difficult to fit within the “standardized components” framework of a standardized test. Consider the sentences:

At the time of the Civil War, more American soldiers died than during any other period in U.S. history.


During the time of the Civil War, more American soldiers died than during any other period in U.S. history.

Many might consider the difference in the sentences – “At the time of” vs. “During” – to be an idiomatic choice, but in actuality it fits the GMAT’s standardization well:

1) The GMAT requires that, when items are compared, they must be compared in equivalent form. Each sentence includes the phrase “…during any other period…”, meaning that we need to compare durations of time, and not a single snapshot of time to a duration. This suggests that the second, “during”, is correct.

2) The GMAT also tests logic moreso than it does “idioms”, and the first sentence is illogical. It suggests that, at one time (THE time of the Civil War), a large number of soldiers died. Because the war took place over a period of time, the phrase “at the time of” is illogical, as the action would have needed to take place over the duration of the war. Again, the second statement is correct.

As you study for the GMAT, the more that you can look for broader-scope reasons that answers are correct or incorrect, the better off you’ll be. The test has to assess your ability using standardized components – comparisons, the logic of statments – and, by nature, can’t afford to rely on solutions that are simply “idiomatic.” As Whitney and LeBlanc demonstrated, idiomatic solutions are too primitive to be largely useful in the new wave of industry.

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