GMAT Tip of the Week: Make J. Cole One of Your Critical Reasoning Role Modelz

GMAT Tip of the WeekToday, we’re going to discuss how a seemingly random hip-hop lyric relates to boosting your GMAT Score: “Don’t save her; she don’t want to be saved.” – J. Cole, “No Role Modelz”

One of the most common misconceptions that GMAT examinees have about the exam is that, while on quantitative questions, only one answer can be correct and everything else is wrong, on verbal questions “my wrong answer was good, but maybe not the best.” It is critical to realize that on GMAT verbal questions, exactly one answer is right and the other four are fatally flawed and 100% wrong! Visit a GMAT classroom or a GMAT Club forum thread discussing a Critical Reasoning problem, and you’re almost certain to see/hear students protesting for why their wrong answer could be right. “Well but what if the argument said X, would I be right?” “Well but what if instead of “some” it said “most” would it be right then?”

But students love trying to save an incorrect answer to verbal questions, and in particular Critical Reasoning questions. And to an extent that’s understandable: in high school and college, math was always black and white but in “verbal” classes (literature and the arts, history, philosophy…) as long as you could defend your stance or opinion you could be considered “right” even if that opinion differed from that of your professor. You could “save” an incorrect or unpopular position on an issue by finding a way to justify your stance, and in some cases you were even rewarded for proposing and defending an unorthodox, contrarian viewpoint. But on Critical Reasoning problems, remember this important mantra about incorrect answers:

Don’t save her; she don’t want to be saved.

Your job is to attack answer choices, looking for the flaw instead of looking for ways to defend. Each incorrect answer choice is specifically written so that someone will see something redeeming about part of it – otherwise no one would ever pick it and it would be a waste of an answer – so looking for ways to save an answer choice is a fool’s errand. If you’re looking for little things to like about answer choices you should find that in just about every answer choice you see. The operative word in “Critical Reasoning” is critical – you want to be as critical as you can, much like J. Cole is when he discusses his relationships in No Role Modelz.

Consider an example from the Veritas Prep Question Bank:

According to a recent study, employees who bring their own lunches to work take fewer sick days and and are, on average, more productive per hour spent at work than those who eat at the workplace cafeteria. In order to minimize the number of sick days taken by its staff, Boltech Industries plans to eliminate its cafeteria.

Which of the following, if true, provides the most reason to believe that Boltech Industries’ strategy will not accomplish its objective?

A) Boltech’s cafeteria is known for serving a diverse array of healthy lunch options.
B) Because of Boltech’s location, employees who choose to visit a nearby restaurant for lunch will seldom be able to return within an hour.
C) Employees have expressed concern about the cost of dining at nearby restaurants compared with the affordability of the Boltech cafeteria.
D) Employees who bring their lunch from home tend to lead generally healthier lifestyles than those of employees who purchase lunch.
E) Many Boltech employees chose to work for the company in large part because of the generous benefits, such as an on-site cafeteria and fitness center, that Boltech offers.

Less than half of all test-takers get this problem right, in large part because they try to “save” wrong answer choices. The goal of this plan is very clearly stated as “to minimize the number of sick days” but students very frequently pick choices B and E. With B, they try to save it by thinking “but isn’t being away from your desk a long time for a lunch really bad, too?” And the answer may very well be “yes” but the question specifically asks for a reason to think that the strategy will not achieve its objective, and that objective is very clearly stated as pertaining only to sick days.

“Well what if the plan was to minimize time away from employees’s desks?” students love to ask, committed to saving the bad answer choice. While that answer might be “yes,” the even bigger answer is “train yourself to stop trying to save wrong answers!” The study time you expend trying to create a situation in which your wrong answer would be right (“well with E, if the goal were employee retention then it would probably be right”) is time you spend reinforcing a habit that can get you in trouble on test day. Trying to save answers leads you both to wrong answers and to extra time spent on a hard decision, because, again, if your mindset is to look for the good in every answer choice those choices are written to give you something good to find!

So as you study, and especially on test day, heed the wisdom of J. Cole. If you fall into the trap of saving answers, tell the GMAT “fool me one time, shame on you; fool me twice can’t put the blame on you.” But most importantly, as you look at Critical Reasoning answer choices, don’t save her. She don’t want to be saved.

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By Brian Galvin.