GMAT Tip of the Week: The EpiPen Controversy Highlights An Allergic Reaction You May Have To GMAT Critical Reasoning

GMAT Tip of the WeekIt is simply the American way to need a villain, and this week’s Enemy #1 is EpiPen owner Mylan, which is under fire for massive price increases to its EpiPen product, a life-saving necessity for those with acute allergies. The outcry is understandable: EpiPens have a short shelf life (at least based upon printed expiration date) and are a critical item for any family with a risk of life-threatening allergic reactions.

But perhaps only a pre-MBA blog could take the stance “but what is Mylan’s goal?” and expect the overwhelming-and-enthusiastic response “Maximize Shareholder Value! (woot!)” Regardless of your opinion on the EpiPen issue, you can take this opportunity to learn a valuable lesson for GMAT Critical Reasoning questions:

When a Critical Reasoning asks you to strengthen or weaken a plan or strategy, your attention MUST be directed to the specific goal being pursued.

Here’s where this can be dangerous on the GMAT. Consider a question that asked:

Consumer advocates and doctors alike have recently become outraged at the activities of pharmaceutical company Mylan. In an effort to leverage its patent to maximize shareholder value, Mylan has decided to increase the price of its signature EpiPen product sixfold over the last few years. The EpiPen is a product that administers a jolt of epinephrine, a chemical that can open airways and increase the flow of blood in someone suffering from a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Which of the following, if true, most constitutes a reason to believe that Mylan’s strategy will not accomplish the company’s goals?

(A) The goal of a society should be to protect human life regardless of expense or severity of undertaking.
(B) Allergic reactions are often fatal, particularly for young children, unless acted on quickly with the administration of epinephrine, a product that is currently patent-protected and owned solely by Mylan.
(C) Computer models predict that, at current EpiPen prices, most people will hold on to their EpiPens well past the expiration date, leading to their deaths and inability to purchase future EpiPens.

Your instincts as a decent, caring human being leave you very susceptible to choosing A or B. You care about people with allergies – heck, you or a close friend/relative might be one of them – and each of those answer choices provides a reason to join the outcry here and think, “Screw you, Mylan!”

But, importantly for your chances of becoming a profit-maximizing CEO via a high GMAT score, you must note this: neither directly weakens the likelihood of Mylan “leveraging its patent to maximize shareholder value,” and that is the express goal of this strategy. As stated in the argument, that is the only goal being pursued here, so your answer must focus directly on that goal. And as horrible as it is to think that this might be the thought process in a corporate boardroom, choice C is the only one that suggests that this strategy might lead to lesser profits (first they buy the product less often, then they can’t buy it ever again; fewer units sold could equal lower profit).

The lesson here? Beware “plan/strategy” answer choices that allow you to tangentially address the situation in the argument, particularly when you know that you’re likely to have an opinion of some sort on the topic matter itself. Instead, completely digest the specifics of the stated goal, and make sure that the answer you choose is directly targeted at the objective. Way too often on these problems, students insert themselves in the larger topic and lose sight of the specific goal, falling victim to the readily available trap answers.

So give your GMAT score a much-needed shot of Critical Reasoning epinephrine – focus on the specifics of the plan, and save your tangential angst for the social media where it belongs.

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By Brian Galvin.