GMAT Tip of the Week: Easter Egg Hunt… On the GMAT?

The Easter Bunny's GMAT Tip of the WeekSpring is here and Sunday is the Easter Holiday. In North America that means the tradition of the “Easter Egg Hunt.” Throughout the United States, adults will be hiding plastic eggs filled with candy, toys, and even money. Children will then race around trying to find the eggs hidden in the flower beds, in bushes, inside the mailbox — just about anywhere!

“Easter Egg” has another meaning as well, one that applies to the Analysis of an Argument task on the GMAT. This meaning of “Easter Egg” is from the computer programming world. An Easter Egg is something that a programmer intentionally hides in a program for others to find. This is where the Analysis of an Argument comes in; Easter Eggs are intentional flaws hidden in the Analysis of an Argument prompt for you to find.

Not every argument has an Easter Egg, but many do. The key to identifying an Easter Egg is to look for mistakes made in an argument — specifically mistakes or changes in language that did not have to be made. In one example the evidence for the argument (the premise) talks about the amount of sales, but then the conclusion jumps to profits — as if the two were the same. This is not a mere typographical error, there are no typos on the GMAT.

Take a look at this prompt, can you spot the Easter Egg?

The following appeared as part of the business plan of an investment and financial consulting firm.

Studies suggest that an average coffee drinker’s consumption of coffee increases with age from age 10 through age 60. Even after age 60, coffee consumption remains high. The average cola drinker’s consumption of cola, however, declines with increasing age. Both of these trends have remained stable for the past 40 years. Given that the number of older adults will significantly increase as the population ages over the next 20 years, it follows that the demand for coffee will increase and the demand for cola will decrease during this period. We should, therefore, consider transferring our investments from Cola Loca to Early Bird Coffee.

Did you find it?

Remember that the Easter Egg is an intentional flaw that you can recognize because it makes a leap that did not have to be made.  Most people focus on the demographic trends here and wonder if they can correlate past trends with future trends. But they miss the biggest business point of all. Even if the demand for coffee does increase and the demand for cola does decrease, where is the justification for taking these general trends and advising the transfer of investment money from one specific company to another?

What does this prompt tell you about Cola Loca? You know the name of the company, but what about the quality of the product? Even when a sector is contracting there may still be companies that are doing well. Cola Loca might be the hot new company. And what about Early Bird Coffee? This may be the worst performing coffee company on the market. And even if Early Bird Coffee is performing well, the stock might be overpriced. (What is the price to earnings ratio?) Even if this is a great company it may not be a good investment. But it goes beyond even this, in fact, you do not know that the main product of these two companies is cola and coffee. What if the main product of Cola Loca is bottled water — remember that in the real world Coca Cola distributes Vitamin Water as well as Dasani bottled water. The point is that there are many questions that you need answers to before you can recommend the investment.

It is not that the test writers require you to find these flaws.  It is just that you can write such powerful essays if you point out these flaws. Instead of trying to explain one more point about demographic trends you can talk about something very concrete and effective, namely the lack of information about these two companies. So while not required, finding an Easter Egg can help give your essay direction.

The Easter Eggs that are hidden in the argument prompts are most often related to the action that the argument wants you to take and they are most often related directly to business concepts. The Easter Eggs can be based on unneeded word changes, as when the evidence for an argument says “resort hotels” and then the conclusion talks about all “hotels.” The key is that Easter Eggs are flaws that are intentionally made – so that you can find them.

Next year at this time we will be talking about the new “integrated reasoning” section, which will likely reduce the AWA to one task. But by that time you will selecting which B-school offer to accept, so do your best on the AWA now and look out for those Easter Eggs while they still exist.

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