The Critical Role of Reading in GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions!

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomMost non-native English users have one question: How do I improve my Verbal GMAT score?  There are lots of strategies and techniques we discuss in our books, in our class and on our blog. But one thing that we seriously encourage our students to do (that they need to do on their own) is read more – fiction, non fiction, magazines (mind you, good quality), national dailies, etc. Reading high quality material helps one develop an ear for correct English. It is also important to understand the idiomatic usage of English, which no one can teach in the class. At some time, most of us have thought how silly some things are in the English language, haven’t we?

For example:

Fat chance” and “slim chance’”mean the same thing – Really? Shouldn’t they mean opposite things?

But “wise man” and “wise guy” are opposites – Come on now!

A house burns up as it burns down and you fill in a form by filling it out?

And let’s not even get started on the multiple unrelated meanings many words have – The word on the top of the page, “critical,” could mean “serious” or “important” or “inclined to find fault” depending on the context!

Well, you really must read to understand these nuances or eccentricities, if you may, of the English language. Let’s look at an official question today which many people get wrong just because of the lack of familiarity with the common usage of phrases in English. But before we do that, some quick statistics on this question – 95% students find this question hard and more than half answer it incorrectly. And, on top of that, it is quite hard to convince test takers of the right answer.

Some species of Arctic birds are threatened by recent sharp increases in the population of snow geese, which breed in the Arctic and are displacing birds of less vigorous species. Although snow geese are a popular quarry for hunters in the southern regions where they winter, the hunting season ends if and when hunting has reduced the population by five percent, according to official estimates. Clearly, dropping this restriction would allow the other species to recover.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously undermines the argument?

(A) Hunting limits for snow geese were imposed many years ago in response to a sharp decline in the population of snow geese.

(B) It has been many years since the restriction led to the hunting season for snow geese being closed earlier than the scheduled date.

(C) The number of snow geese taken by hunters each year has grown every year for several years.

(D) As their population has increased, snow geese have recolonized wintering grounds that they had not used for several seasons.

(E) In the snow goose’s winter habitats, the goose faces no significant natural predation.

As usual, let’s start with the question stem – “… most seriously undermines the argument”

This is a weaken question. The golden rule is to focus on the conclusion and try to weaken it.

Let’s first understand the argument:

Snow geese breed in the Arctic and fly south for the winter. They are proliferating, and that is bad for other birds. Southern hunters reduce the number of geese when they fly south. There is a restriction in place that if the population of the geese that came in reduces by 5%, hunting will stop. So if 1000 birds flew south and 50 were hunted, hunting season will be stopped. The argument says that we should drop this restriction to help other Arctic birds flourish (conclusion), then hunters will hunt many more geese and reduce their numbers.

What is the conclusion here? It is: “Clearly, dropping this restriction would allow the other species to recover.”

You have to try to weaken it, i.e. give reasons why even after dropping this restriction, it is unlikely that other species will recover. Even if this restriction of “not hunting after 5%” is dropped and hunters are allowed to hunt as much as they want, the population of geese will still not reduce.

Now, first look at option (B);

(B) It has been many years since the restriction led to the hunting season for snow geese being closed earlier than the scheduled date.

What does this option really mean?

Does it mean the hunting season has been closing earlier than the scheduled date for many years? Or does it mean the exact opposite, that the restriction came into effect many years ago and since then, it has not come into effect.

It might be obvious to the native speakers and to the avid readers, but many non-native test takers actually fumble here and totally ignore option (B) – which, I am sure you have guessed by now, is the correct answer.

The correct meaning is the second one – the restriction has not come into effect for many years now. This means the restriction doesn’t really mean much. For many years, the restriction has not caused the hunting season to close down early because the population of geese hunted is less than 5% of the population flying in. So if the hunting season is from January to June, it has been closing in June, only, so even if hunters hunt for the entire hunting season, they still do not reach the 5% of the population limit (Southern hunters hunt less than 50 birds when 1000 birds fly down South).

Whether you have the restriction or not, the number of geese hunted is the same. So even if you drop the restriction and tell hunters that they can hunt as much as they want, it will not help as they will not want to hunt geese much anyway. This implies that even if the restriction is removed, it is likely that there will be no change in the situation. This definitely weakens our conclusion that dropping the restriction will help other species to recover.

So when people ignore (B), on which option do they zero in? Some fall for (C) but many fall for (D). Let’s look at all other options now:

(A) Hunting limits for snow geese were imposed many years ago in response to a sharp decline in the population of snow geese.

This is out of scope to our argument. It doesn’t really matter when and why the limits were imposed.

(C) The number of snow geese taken by hunters each year has grown every year for several years.

This doesn’t tell us how dropping the restriction would impact the population of geese, it just tells us what has happened in the past – the number of geese hunted has been increasing. If anything, it might strengthen our conclusion if the number of geese hunted is close to 5% of the population. When the population decreases by 5%, if the restriction is dropped, chances are that more geese will be hunted and other species will recover. We have to show that even after dropping the restriction, the other species may not recover.

(D) As their population has increased, snow geese have recolonised wintering grounds that they had not used for several seasons.

With this answer choice, “wintering grounds” implies the southern region (where they fly for winter). In the South, they have recolonised regions they had not occupied for a while now, which just tells you that the population has increased a lot and the geese are spreading. It doesn’t say that removing the restrictions and letting hunters hunt as much as they want will not help. In fact, if anything, it may make the argument a little stronger. If the geese are occupying more southern areas, hunting grounds may become easily accessible to more hunters and dropping hunting restrictions may actually help more!

(E) In the snow goose’s winter habitats, the goose faces no significant natural predation.

We are concerned about the effect of hunting, thus natural predation is out of scope.

Therefore, our answer is (B).

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and Twitter!

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!