GMAT Gurus Speak Out: Understanding the Author’s Argument

In Critical Reasoning questions, we know we have to understand the “author’s argument” – essentially his point of view that is expressed in the given paragraph, but it’s also important to narrow in on the “how” of the argument: the reasoning itself. The reasoning gives us the full “because.” For example, Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey might both agree an American Idol contestant shouldn’t move on to the finals, but their reasoning could be very different. Maybe Mariah Carey doesn’t think the singer can hit the high notes, while Nicki Minaj may not think their outfits have enough pink feathers. Let’s look at a CR questions where the reasoning helps us find the correct answer:

The United Nations General Assembly term runs from September to January. The greatest part of this time is taken up with useless chatter. Delegates debate endlessly, never arriving at decisions. The delegate from each and every 300-square-mile archipelago in the South Pacific must make a lengthy presentation on every topic that reaches the floor, yet almost no attention is paid to solving practical problems that are actually capable of being solved.

The author’s argument is based on which one of the following assumptions?

(A) The purpose of the General Assembly is to deal with specific practical problems.

(B) Too many small states with insignificant problems are members of the General Assembly.

(C) If the General Assembly spent less time debating, it would devote most of its attention to providing relief for famine areas.

(D) The term of the General Assembly is too short for any important work to be accomplished.

(E) Members of the General Assembly who are from large countries tend to concentrate more on global issues, rather than on minor topics.

Conclusion — No attention paid to solving practical problems; Assembly = useless chatter

Evidence — Delegates from archipelago’s present on every topic, “endless debate”

Assumption — these topics are not capable of being solved, “endless debate” = useless chatter

Rephrase — What’s the assumption?

Prediction — Something that continues to show the ineffectiveness of the Assembly

(A) — Assembly purpose is to deal with practical problems

(B) — Too many small-state members

(C) — Less debate = famine relief

(D) — Assembly term is too short

(E) — Larger countries focus on major topics

The answer choices that do not relate to the ineffectiveness of the presentations (and thus the assembly) are (B), (C), and (E). If the Author’s Argument is essentially “the Assembly sucks” then we have to examine the answer choices to find one that shows this, along the same line of reasoning as the Author.

(A) — Assembly sucks because it is not practical

(D) — Assembly sucks because not enough time to deal

So which of these is the closest alignment to the author’s reasoning? He mentions the term runs from Sept to Jan, but nowhere in the passage does it indicate that it’s the term-limit that is to blame for problems not being solved. Rather, his criticism is with how that time is spent, mainly too much debate/no decisions because of too much chatter. If the Purpose of the assembly is purely to debate, however, then his frustration is unwarranted. He’s assuming that the goal of the assembly is to actually make decisions and get stuff done; the assumption is that stuff should be getting done and isn’t.

The correct answer is (A). 

Keep a look out for answer choices with the same Argument, but different Reasoning! Just like on American Idol, only one answer choice can advance!

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Vivian Kerr is a regular contributor to the Veritas Prep blog, providing tips and tricks to help students better prepare for the GMAT and the SAT.