While preparing for the GMAT, there will be certain question types that will appear over and over again. If you’re studying math, you know that you’ll see at least a couple of exponent problems that you’ll need to solve through algebra. If you’re studying sentence correction, you know that you’ll see at least a couple of misplaced modifiers that need to be modified in the correct answer choice. Some question types are so obvious that you know you have to prepare for them, even if you somehow manage to not see a single one on test day (kind of like fishing).
However, there are other question types that you rarely see on the GMAT. Questions about the volume of spheres (or the winds of winter), or conjugating verbs in the subjunctive mood just don’t come up that often on the GMAT. This means that some people feel like they can skip these lessons and concentrate on the “big fish”, as it were (more fishing analogies).
The problem is that, when you inevitably stumble upon a question you haven’t bothered to prepare for, you start panicking. Sometimes, the panic is not noticeable, but subconsciously you begin to lose confidence and wonder how you’re going to answer this question. The sad truth is that there’s a good chance you’ll have to take an educated guess and move on. This isn’t so bad, as long as the negative effects are limited only to the question being asked. Unfortunately, these qualms tend to linger with most test takers for at least a few questions afterwards.
The best strategy for someone who wants to do really well on the GMAT is to know every type of question that can be asked of you. Understandably, you should spend more time on the broad topics that are sure to be covered more frequently, but there should not be any “oh gosh” moments on the GMAT (unless you took the exam in the ‘50s) to zap your confidence.
Let’s look at an example and what to do if we’re really not sure what to do on a question.
Economic analysts predict that by 2030 populations of urban areas will have increased by 60%. This will have tremendous impact on the demand for water in these areas. The increased demand will exhaust the local supplies of water and potable water sources will be drawn to urban areas from longer distances, resulting in a dramatic rise in the price of water.
Which of the following roles do the two boldfaced portions play?
A) The first is the conclusion of the argument; the second is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument.
B) The first is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument; the second is the conclusion of the argument.
C) The first is a conclusion that serves as the basis of the argument; the second is a prediction that follows from the conclusion and is used to support the argument.
D) The first is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument; the second is a prediction that follows from the conclusion.
E) The first is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument; the second is a consequence that follows from the prediction and is used to support the argument.
Questions that ask about the roles of boldface sections fall under the Method of Reasoning subsection of Critical Reasoning. These questions are somewhat rare on the GMAT, and as a result students don’t tend to have much experience with them. Trying to decipher them without much experience is eminently doable, but a little practice ahead of time will help ensure that your grade doesn’t sink on test day (I’ve definitely jumped the shark with these water metaphors).
The beauty of roles of boldface questions is that they’re asking you to evaluate two phrases, and the answer choices contain two elements. This means that you can look at them one at a time, independently of the other half of the answer choice, and eliminate the choices that don’t match up to your expectations.
Let’s look at the first section “Economic analysts predict that by 2030 populations of urban areas will have increased by 60%.” The five answer choices all have a selection that ends with a semi-colon to describe this phrase. Looking at the choices above, A and C state “the first is a conclusion of the argument”, while B, D and E state “the first is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument”. This section certainly seems like a prediction (the third word is even “predict”), but let’s dive into the passage more to identify the conclusion. This should be easy; as you’re tasked with finding the conclusion for any strengthen or weaken Critical Reasoning questions.
Using the “why?” test, it becomes apparent that the conclusion is the last line: “resulting in a dramatic rise in the price of water.” Why? Because of the increase in demand. Why? Because the increased demand will mean water will come from further away. Why? Because people are moving more and more to urban areas. Why? (I feel like Steve Austin here) We don’t know that, it’s just stated as a premise. Now that we’ve identified what the conclusion of this passage is, we can more convincingly knock off incorrect answer choices.
The first section is clearly a prediction, and the conclusion of the passage is the following sentence, so we can eliminate answer choices A and C because they do not correctly identify the role of this phrase. We then move on to the second bolded section of the passage: potable water sources will be drawn to urban areas from longer distances. Looking at the second half of the three remaining choices, we have:
B) “The second is the conclusion of the argument”
D) “The second is a prediction that follows from the conclusion”
E) “The second is a consequence that follows from the prediction and is used to support the argument”
Since we’ve already identified the conclusion of the passage, we can quickly eliminate answer choice B. The conclusion is that the price of water will increase given the increased demand, so answer choice D inverses the relationship between the bolded section and the conclusion. Logically, the fact that water will need to be drawn from further away will contribute to the increase in the price of water, not the other way around. Since this is used to support the argument, answer choice E will be the correct choice.
Logically, you should spend most of your time on question types you know are going to show up on the exam. That means that there may be some instances of seeing question types for the first time on test day. If that happens, remember that the GMAT is primarily a test of how you think, so use the same logical tenets you would use on any other question. Here, we identified the conclusion of a passage, eliminated answer choices inconsistent with our analysis, and ultimately found the only correct answer choice. If you do the same on test day, you’ll end up with a whale of a score.
Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam. After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.