GMAT Tip of the Week: Verbal Answers Are Like Donald Trump

GMAT Tip of the WeekIn the winter/spring of 2016, Donald Trump is everywhere – always on your TV screen, all over your social media feeds, on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and, yes, even lurking in the answer choices on your GMAT verbal section.

Why are verbal answer choices like Donald Trump? Is it that they’re only correct 20% of the time? That they’re very often a lot of boastful verbiage about nothing? Hackneyed comedy aside, there’s a very valid reason and it’s one that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio learned just last night:

Verbal choices, like Donald Trump, simply MUST be attacked. If you saw last night’s debate (or read any coverage of it) you saw how the two closest challengers changed tactics immensely, verbally attacking Trump all night. The rationale there is that if you let Trump go unchecked, he’s going to attack you and he’s going to get away with his own stump speeches all night. The exact same thing is true of GMAT verbal answer choices. If you don’t attack them – if you’re not actively looking for reasons that they’re wrong – they’ll both beat you tactically and wear you down over the test. You simply must be in attack mode throughout the verbal section.

What does that mean? For almost every answer choice, there’s some reason there why someone would pick it (after all, if no one picks it then it’s just a terrible, useless answer choice). And so if you’re looking for reasons to like an answer choice, you’re going to find lots to like (and in doing so pick some wrong answers) and you’re going to get worn down by keeping wrong answer choices in your “maybe” pile too long. But if, instead, you’re more skeptical about each answer choice, actively looking for reasons not to pick them, that discerning approach will help you more efficiently find correct answers.

Consider the example:

If Shero wins the election, McGuinness will be appointed head of the planning commission. But Stauning is more qualified to head it since he is an architect who has been on the planning commission for 15 years. Unless the polls are grossly inaccurate, Shero will win.

Which one of the following can be properly inferred from the information above?

(A) If the polls are grossly inaccurate, someone more qualified than McGuinness will be appointed head of the planning commission.
(B) McGuinness will be appointed head of the planning commission only if the polls are a good indication of how the election will turn out.
(C) Either Shero will win the election or Stauning will be appointed head of the planning commission.
(D) McGuinness is not an architect and has not been on the planning commission for 15 years or more.
(E) If the polls are a good indication of how the election will turn out, someone less qualified than Stauning will be appointed head of the planning commission.

Here there’s a lot to like about a lot of answer choices:

A seems plausible. We know that McGuinness isn’t the most qualified, so there’s a high likelihood that a different candidate could find someone better (maybe even Stauning). B also has a lot to like (and it’s actually ALMOST perfect as we’ll discuss in a second). And so on. But you need to attack these answers:

A is fatally flawed. You don’t know for certain that a different candidate would appoint anyone other than McGuinness, and you really only know that one person is more qualified (and does he even want the job?). This cannot be concluded. B has that dangerous word “only” in it – remove it and the answer is correct, but “only if the polls are a good indication” is way too far to go. What if the polls are flawed and the underdog candidate just appoints McGuinness, too? The same logic invalidates C (there’s nothing guaranteeing that a different candidate wouldn’t pick McGuinness), and the word “and” makes D all the harder to prove (how do you know that McGuinness lacks both qualities?).

The lesson? Much like John Kasich may find on that same stage, the nicer and more accommodating you are, the more the GMAT walks over you. If you want to give each answer a fair chance, you’ll find that many answers have enough reason to be tempting. So follow the new GOP debate strategy and always be attacking. You didn’t sign up for the GMAT to make friends with answer choices; you signed up to “win.”

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By Brian Galvin.