Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Beware of Assumption in GMAT Critical Reasoning Options

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomSometimes, while evaluating the answer choices in in strengthen/weaken questions, we unknowingly go beyond the options and make assumptions about what they may imply if we were to have additional pieces of data. What we have to remember is that we do not have this additional information – we have to judge each option on its own merits, only. Let’s discuss this in detail with one of our own practice GMAT questions:

In 2009, a private school spent $200,000 on a building which housed classrooms, offices, and a library. In 2010, the school was unable to turn a profit. Therefore, the principal should be fired.

Each of the following, if true, weakens the author’s conclusion EXCEPT:

(A) The principal was hired primarily for her unique ability to establish a strong sense of community, which many parents cited as a quality that kept children enrolled in the school longer.
(B) The new library also features a seating area big enough for all students to participate in cultural arts performances, which the head of school intends to schedule more frequently now.
(C) The principal was hired when the construction of the new building was almost completed.
(D) A significant number of families left the school in 2010 because a favourite teacher retired.
(E) More than half of the new families who joined the school in 2010 cited the beautiful new school facility as an important factor in their selection of the school.

This is a weaken/exception question, so four of the five answer choices will weaken the argument, while the fifth option (which will be the correct answer) will either not have any impact on the argument or it might even strengthen it. As we know, such questions require a bit more effort to answer, since four of the five options will definitely be relevant to the argument. The important thing is to focus on what we are given and not assume what the various answer options may or may not lead to. Let’s understand this:

The gist of the argument:

  • Last year, a lot of money was spent to construct a new building with many amenities.
  • This year, the school did not see a profit.
  • Hence, fire the principal.

Based on the two given facts – “a lot of money was spent to make the building in 2009” and “the school did not see a profit in 2010” – the author has decided to fire the principal. Many pieces of information could weaken his stance. For example:

  • It was not the principal’s decision to construct the building.
  • The school’s revenue in 2010 took a hit because of some other factor.
  • The school’s losses reduced by a huge amount in 2010 and the probability of it seeing a profit in 2011 is high.

Information such as this could improve the principal’s case to stay. We know that for this particular question, there will only be one option that does not help the principal.

You will have to choose the answer choice which, with the given information, does not help the principal’s case. Let’s look at the options now:

(A) The principal was hired primarily for her unique ability to establish a strong sense of community, which many parents cited as a quality that kept children enrolled in the school longer.

With this answer choice, we see that the principal was hired not to increase school profits, but for another critical purpose. Perhaps the school’s finance department is in charge of worrying about profits, and so the head of that department needs to be fired! This answer choice makes a strong case for keeping the principal, and hence, weakens the author’s argument.

(B) The new library also features a seating area big enough for all students to participate in cultural arts performances, which the head of school intends to schedule more frequently now.

If true, this statement would have no impact on whether or not the principal should be fired. It describes an amenity provided by the new building and how it will be used – it neither strengthens nor weakens the principal’s case to stay, hence, this is the correct answer choice. But let’s look at the rest of the options too, just to be safe:

(C) The principal was hired when the construction of the new building was almost completed.

This tells us that the new building was not her decision. So if it did not have the desired effect, she cannot be blamed for it. So it again helps her case.

(D) A significant number of families left the school in 2010 because a favourite teacher retired.

This answer choice shows that there was another reason behind the school’s loss in profit. The construction of the building could still be a good idea that leads to future profits, which the principal’s case and weakens the author’s argument.

(E) More than half of the new families who joined the school in 2010 cited the beautiful new school facility as an important factor in their selection of the school.

For some reason, this is the answer choice that often trips up students. They feel that it doesn’t help the principal’s case – that because the new building attracts students, if there are losses, it means that the loss is due to a fault with the new building, and thus, the principal is at fault. But note that we are assuming a lot to arrive at that conclusion. All we are told is that the new building is attracting students. This means the new building is serving its purpose – it is generating extra revenue. The fact that the school is still experiencing losses could be explained by many different reasons.

Since the author’s decision to fire the principal is based solely on the premise that a lot of money was spent to construct the new building, which now seems to serve no purpose (because the school experienced losses), this answer choice certainly weakens the argument. The option tells us that the principal’s decision to make the building was justified, so it helps her case to stay with the school.

After examining each answer choice, we can see that the answer is clearly B. Remember, in Critical Reasoning questions it is crucial to come to conclusions only based on the facts that are given – creating assumptions based on information that is not given can lead you to fall in a Testmaker trap.

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