GMAT Tip of the Week: Critical Reasoning the Bart Stupak Way

GMATTo become the most famous of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, at least for a short time (no need to worry, Nancy Pelosi — your longer-term celebrity status is assured), is an impressive feat. For Michigan representative Bart Stupak, however, that ascension to celebrity was a painful one — his family received death threats, fellow congressmen hurled verbal insults at him publicly during sessions, etc.

While Stupak asserts that his decision to not seek reelection was one that he had considered long before the debate on healthcare that led to these unplesantries, an argument can be made that such notoriety and controversy has led him to abandon his career in politics. And it’s all because Stupak understands the cardinal rule of Critical Reasoning: you must stay true to your objective.

The controversy surrounding Stupak centers around the notorious, recently-passed federal healthcare bill. Stupak, a staunch supporter of public healthcare, created a stir by insisting that such a bill not allow for federal funds to be used for abortion. In the end, after a series of meetings with President Barack Obama, Stupak agreed to vote in favor of the bill, with Obama issuing an executive order to protect against such funds for abortion. Such a position put Stupak in an interesting spot — during his presidential negotiations, he was criticized by the left for not aggressively supporting the healthcare bill, and by the right for softening on his pro-life stance. In the end, however, it can be argued that Stupak executed the tasks of his office perfectly by holding true to his stated objective.

Stupak was elected to represent his constituency, and his election platform included:

– a pro-life stance against abortion, nearly essential to be electable in rural, northern Michigan
– a pledge to aggressively work for a national healthcare program

Just as Critical Reasoning questions require you to either draw a conclusion that is perfectly consistent with the facts, or strenthen/weaken a conclusion using only an answer choice that is perfectly consistent with its terms, Stupak made the only choice that was consistent with his objective. You can turn his decision into a compelling Critical Reasoning question:

A congressman has promised his constituents that he will oppose abortion and support public healthcare.

Which of the following healthcare plans will allow the congressman to fulfill his promise to his constitutents?

(A) A public healthcare bill that includes insurance coverage for abortions

(B) A public healthcare plan that includes an executive order prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion

(C) No public healthcare plan at all

On a question like this, the correct answer must strengthen the ability of the party in question to accomplish its objective (at Veritas Prep we consider these to be the “plan/policy” subset of Strengthen/Weaken questions). Here, the objective is to represent a district that opposes abortion but desires public healthcare. Choices A and C are inconsistent with that “conclusion” or objective — choice A violates the constituency’s pro-life desires, and choice C violates the constituency’s healthcare needs. Only choice B is consistent with the objective, and is therefore correct.

Much like Stupak, you’ll face pressures in making your decisions on the GMAT — time will be a factor, your own biases or assumptions may come in to play, and the true objective can often become blurred as you read multiple passages in succession and internalize the generalities but not specifics of your task on the exam. However, the best way to solve Critical Reasoning problems is to focus on the specifics of your objective, and only choose answer choices that are consistent with each term of the conclusion/objective of the question.

The GMAT has an uncanny knack for replicating the pressures and distractions of business or political decisions, but rewarding the types of decision-making that leads to effective execution of objectives. In a world of Bernie Madoff, rogue traders, etc., the business world could use some more leaders who act accordingly to their mission statements and stated objectives. Stupak, though heavily criticized in the partisan media, acted that way, and if you can replicate that same process on the GMAT, you’ll succeed in demonstrating to business schools that you have what it takes to be an effective leader.

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