GMAT Tip of the Week: Who's on First?

GMAT prepWelcome back to Baseball Month in the GMAT Tip of the Week space, in which an intelligent discussion of baseball wouldn’t be complete without coverage of one of the most intelligent comedy sketches of all time: Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.

The comedy of questions-that-answer-themselves — Who is, indeed, on first, and What is the name of the player on second. Don’t know? Third base. — is so cleverly planned and brilliantly executed that this routine holds up after nearly 80 years. To create it, Abbott and Costello just replaced actual player names with short placeholders — Who; What; I Don’t Know; Naturally – and kept the structural positions of the baseball diamond — First, Second, Third — in place.

Essentially, Abbott and Costello gave you a blueprint to success on the Reading Comprehension portion of the GMAT.


Much like Abbott and Costello realized about the baseball diamond, on Reading Comprehension passages it’s the positions that matter, and not the details. If you focus on key structural terms — such as first, second, and third (like the Who’s on First routine), and however, also, and therefore — you can fill in the details later when you need to. The GMAT uses the details precisely to create a messy, hard-to-follow situation (again, much like the Who’s on First routine), and rewards the test-taker who can follow the structure of the argument.

Consider any technical passage fraught with details. If you can simply come away from such a passage with an understanding in the form of these notes:

Paragraph 1: The author discusses the old theory of immunological reactions. (Antigen-Antibody theory)

Paragraph 2: The author demonstrates flaws in the old theory and how they led scientists to adopt a second theory to complement it. (Cell-Mitigated Response theory)

Paragraph 3: The author details the second theory and predicts how it will impact future research.

You’ll be able to go back to specific cases for any particular details that the questions require, and you’ll also have a good understanding of what the author is trying to do – namely describe these two immunological theories and show how problems with the first led to the formation of the second.

Questions on the GMAT will either ask for specific information – which you can always go back and find if you know where to look — or general takeaways from the passage, which have much, much more to do with the author’s intent and structure than with the content matter. In either case, if you’ve read for structural intent, you’ll be able to respond efficiently, and you won’t bog yourself down with details during your first read.

To become a better Reading Comprehension test-taker, take a cue from Abbott and Costello and hold yourself responsible for “What’s in the first paragraph, and why?” If you avoid the pitfall of getting lost in the details, you can also avoid the exasperated frustration that Costello exemplifies in this time-honored sketch.

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GMAT Tip of the Week: Cause and Effect

GMAT prepWelcome back to Hip Hop Month in the GMAT Tip of the Week corner. One of the most underrated themes that one can find in 90s rap lyrics is the often-laughable unintentional use of cause-and-effect that rappers draw in their songs, using “(be)cause” as a connector of ideas with hilarious results. Take a line from the refrain of one of Biggie’s biggest hits, Big Poppa:

…You got a gun up in your waist. Please don’t shoot up the place. (Why?) ‘Cause I’ve seen some ladies tonight that should be having my baby…baby…

Really, Big? The primary reason that someone shouldn’t indiscriminately fire a gun around the nightclub is because you have an interest in some of the female patrons? Ethics…legality…these aren’t primary concerns?


Ice Cube has another classic logical misstep in the title single from his cult classic movie Friday, in which he describes some horrific consequences of a disease, followed with the line:

And that ain’t cool, fool, ’cause it’s Friday.

Again, the logic is ridiculous. Any other day of the week would be fine for the kind of (explicitly-described) pain and suffering that he predicts? Just not heading in to the weekend?

As a favor to yourself, listen to your favorite hip hop lyrics from the 90s and seek out the comical cause-and-effect relationships that the rappers draw. It can be incredibly entertaining, and may also help you with your approach to Reading Comprehension questions on the GMAT. How?

When Reading Comprehension questions ask for specific details, they often ask you for either the cause or the effect of a cause/effect relationship. Questions can take the form of:

According to the passage, plants in desert regions can survive for weeks without rainwater because…

or

According to the passage, which of the following results from desert plants’ retention of groundwater?

In either case, you’re likely to return to the passage to analyze the portion that deals with desert plants and how they retain water. However, each question is asking for something completely different. The first asks for the cause of the plants’ survival, while the second asks for the effect of the plants’ water retention. Either question could have the same set of answer choices, and the passage will likely be written in a way that the intended answer to the question – cause or effect – will be a step farther from the key words (maybe “desert plants”) for which you will be looking. The authors of these questions know that, when pressed for time and reading a passage that doesn’t fall within your typical range of expertise, you’re apt to simply find the answer choice that comes closest to the keywords from the passage and feel comfortable selecting that. In many cases, that answer choice will be the trap answer, giving you the cause if they ask for the effect, or vice versa.

To maximize your score on Reading Comprehension questions, look for and internalize the cause-and-effect relationships that are the subjects of the questions, and make sure that you know exactly which end the question seeks. Much like it will enhance your enjoyment of rap lyrics, isolating and focusing on cause-and-effect relationships will improve your score on the GMAT. And that’s cool, you know, because it’s Friday.

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